Breathing Space Practices for the Fertile Darkness
Stillness, Silence, Surrender and Gratitude

In the wee hours of the morning of January 31, as the sun and the moon and the earth were doing their celestial dance, the Celtic season Imbolc (the Irish Spring) arrived to loosen winter’s hold.

True to the paradox of nature’s conundrums, this is not the late spring of blossoming but the early spring of seeding —- the time when all that will come to bloom lies buried in the fertile darkness of the earth womb amidst the muck and  mystery of creation where, oddly enough, all things are born anew in the creative tension of that messy mix. In the waxing light of day edged with winter’s chill, this is a time to nestle into the stillness and silence of our fertile darkness — the place of own own muck and mystery. To listen to the voices of our own angels and demons. To be present to our wonderfully flawed selves. To seed the creative energy of our dreams, our gifts, our gratitude for being fully alive.

Below are four spiritual practices – stillness, silence, surrender and gratitude — to usher you into the fertile darkness during this season of Imbolc.

May all be well.

Stillness is the shift from the external realm into the internal realm. It is the movement into the Breath that breathes through us. To enter our breath is to enter our body. To enter our body is to enter into the tabernacle of our story – our communion with the Mystery that abides in us and our neighbours. Stillness is the observation and adoration of being alive.

Practice: Entering the Breath
“Pay attention.
Be astounded.
Tell about it.”
~Mary Oliver~

Begin by entering the body with your breath.
Breathe deeply 3 times and then follow the breath into a place in your body that feels peaceful.
Bring your attention to the bottom of your feet. Feel the connection with the earth.
Breathe up the energy of the earth into the sole of your feet.
Continue moving the breath through your body all the way to the crown of your head.
Return your breath to the soles of your feet. Breath deeply bringing the breath to the crown of your head. Exhale. (Repeat two more times)
Rest in your breath.

Silence is the movement into the mind where our humanity speaks to us in voices of consolation and desolation. Silence can be the territory of our worst fears or the gateway to our best selves. In Silence we listen to the beckonings of the inner spirit to accept all our contradictions. To break away from who we are not and return to who we are. This practice of the “digital” Angelus is a reprieve from doing and a release into being where we find the space to stop whatever we are doing and listen to ourselves with kindness.

Practice: Digital Angelus
You do not have to be good.
 You do not have to walk on your knees 
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
 You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. 
~Mary Oliver!

The Angelus is a spiritual practice that date backs to the 12th century when church bells (rung at 6 AM, Noon and 6 PM) would summon the village to prayer. It was a moment to pull back from the routine of the day and find a moment of peace in the reassurance of ritual. The digital version of the Angelus is the same — only the tools have changed.

On most phones, you can find a “chimes” ringtone.

• Set the chimes to ring 3x a day at whatever intervals are suitable to your life style.
• When the chimes ring, as soon as you are able, gently put aside your activity.

Focus on your breath.
Be Still.
Be aware of your body and/or your environment.
Be Silent.
Listen to the Silence.
Observe and welcome your thoughts and feelings.
Bless the Silence with a prayer (e.g., “May all be Well”)

As you continue with this practice on a daily basis, notice any shifts in your energy, perspective and clarity as well as in your attitudes towards yourself and others. Notice what you love.

Surrender is the movement into our heart where we find the courage to be the image of God’s delight. To have the courage to imagine a God who keeps on imagining us. To then have the courage to play in and with Divine Imagination … which means having the courage to step outside the routine of doing life and wander into the ritual of being fully alive … TO WANDER INTO WONDER … where we bow before the Holy Mystery within us.

Practice: Wander into Wonder
“Expect Nothing. Live frugally on surprise.”
~ Alice Walker~

Wander into the wonder of playing with Divine Imagination. Make space in your heart and your day to source your birthright as the image of Divine Spirit and a co-creator of the universe. Surrender the egoic control of outcomes, the drive for productivity, the greed of accomplishments and the need for recognition and indulge in spontaneity. Take out the crayons. Put on the music. Roll down the window in the car and feel the wind. Read a poem at work. Write down ideas. Wake up in the morning and wander into the gracious spaciousness of your creative spirit and wait for the extraordinary moment.

The most extraordinary moment in any day is the moment when we are grateful. Gratitude is the alleluia of being fully alive to everything in our lives – joy and sorrow, beginnings and endings, wellness and illness, possibilities and limitations, our loveliness and our fearfulness. And then being generous with that abundance by telling our story, listening to another’s story, remaining present to wonder in the midst of it all.

Practice: Examen of Consciousness*
“Be grateful for whatever come because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
~ Rumi~

At the end of the day, take a moment to reflect on how you were fully alive with these questions:
1) How was I fully alive?
2) What took away my spirit?
3) How was I loved?
4) How did I love?
5) For what am I grateful?

*This practice comes from Ignatian spirituality (inspired by the life of Ignatius Loyola) and is most often referred to as the “Examen of Conscience.” But, I have taken some liberty in renaming it as the “Examen of Consciousness” because I think the practice brings us into a deeper consciousness of who we are as participants in Holy Mystery.