Saturday, May 23, 2020

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 23, 2020 - Breathe and Begin

Look up the word kenosis. First, comes up a Christian theological definition, and then second, a Kenotic Christological definition (which contradicts the first one), and then you’ll come to what would be, in my opinion, a more useful starting point: the Greek meaning of the word.

Kenosis means ‘to empty.’ In spiritual terms, it describes a process of inner allowing so profound, it asks the ego to step aside entirely and relent to the danger of becoming lost. For that’s exactly what the ego feels when faced with what it fears to be its own destruction. And it feels it as dramatically as that as well, destruction. The ego is very dramatic. And convincing.

This part of us, this ego, which makes hasty decisions based on emotional reactions, does not like to step aside. This part of always thinks it’s right because it has to. That is its survival mechanism. Surety. Immovability. And to whatever degree our ego has been harmed in the course of our lifetime determines just how confident and sure that ego must be in the correctness of its position. And at what cost.

Genuine honor and dignity can never be damaged or insulted. Only our ego tells us that we must avenge the insults we’ve received. Actual honor never needs to lower itself in such a way. Remember that when considering your grudges. Let them go. Let them empty from within you.

In Christian theology, the word kenosis refers to the belief that Jesus let his humanity step aside to allow the nature of God to fully enter. Admittedly, there are many variations to how this concept is perceived in various Christian traditions, so allow some room here for flexibility. But suffice it to say that kenosis in Christianity means the act of Christ’s self-emptying so that something greater than his human self could be subsumed into him.

This is an elegant thought. And there’s a fair amount of spiritual logic to the metaphor as well. You’ll find the thread of this idea in nearly all world scripture. Which, of course, always gets my attention. It advises us that our first step is not about what choice or task or journey we should take next, but to simply empty ourselves in preparation for the unknown to come. It tells us to not worry just yet about what comes next. After the emptying, we’ll understand it better.

Because what’s to come next cannot be seen unprepared. It can’t be discerned through a lens of how we see and do things right now. Who we are today, and recently, will be gone. We can only see the light in this new part of the spectrum once we’ve allowed the scales to fall from our eyes. It’s revealed in the process of allowing ourselves the existential risk of simply existing in a vacuum for a moment. Let go of trying to control this future. It’s changing too quickly to even try. Be at peace about this. And breathe.

It’s a scary thing, actually, depending on how big the chip is you’re carrying around on your shoulder. But just like the moment when you let a friend off your shoulders whom you’ve been carrying around on your back at a pool party, the lightness of your true weight is suddenly very noticeable. You’ll be okay. And so will your friend.

The first step of all mindful thinking, practices, debates, or mitzvahs, is the breath. The breath is the first of all things. It is the first hopeful step Dorothy takes onto the yellow brick road. Taking a breath before beginning something changes it from a mindless activity to a mindful one, all on its own. Even taking out the trash takes on a different character when we breathe first before doing it.

Just one, sizable breath. Nothing more. You don’t have to sit and close your eyes and start alternately squeezing your nostrils (although that is a great breathing exercise). Just keep it simple. One good breath, a medium-to-slow exhale, and proceed with whatever you’re about to do. No one even has to realize you’re doing it.

The Hebrew word ruach refers to the spiritual concepts of spirit, mind, breath, and wind. It is the part of God released across the waters prior to the creation of light. The ruach was the divine breath which formed our reality from the void. It is was what entered the vacuum of kenosis. Mythologically speaking, sacred breath was the beginning of all existence.

Buddhism places the breath so centrally in all of its actions that it’s indistinguishable from all of the teachings. The breath is literally everywhere. Symbiotic and ubiquitous. Focusing on the breath as an activity allows for the past and the future to fall away so that we only engage―even if temporarily―with just the present moment. That’s when healing occurs in the body. Entering this parabolic arc of emotional gravity slows down the aging process. That’s when the damage we do to ourselves everyday begins reversing itself ever so slightly. Just from the breath.

So what hints are there in this for us? How do we get some peace and quiet in our heads? It’s the starting point which matters. It’s how you choose to begin. Because it’s often the constellation under which something is born that determines its fate most. Breathe first. Let that be what sets the tone for all else. The answers will come.

You know, the ego never notices the breath. The ego doesn’t think to put up its defenses or justifications or arguments just from us breathing. Breath slips in under the radar of its warning systems. Since we breathe all day and night the ego is largely deaf to it. Good. Use that. Don’t judge your ego for existing, by the way, just work around it. Breathe. Let it go that our egos sometimes embarrass us or make us say regretful things. Make amends when necessary. Be at peace about it.

When we breathe, we systematically uncouple our fight or flight systems. As necessary as they are under the right circumstances, we don’t need them all the time. And every minute you spend not pumping cortisol and adrenaline throughout your body is a minute you are actually healing it. Better than that, you are allowing it to heal itself. Our bodies are constantly working toward achieving a peaceful balance. All we have to do is stop hindering the process. So breathe.

Breathing and meditating is the very first thing you should do when coming down with something. So much of your immune system hinges on your stress levels. And there are more studies showing how mindful breathing and meditation improves the immune system than there are studies showing the effectiveness of vitamin C against a common cold.

We can become our own largest obstacles when facing a crisis. Take a step to ignore the problem for the moment and empty yourself for a split second. Take a breath. Let the exhale represent the flooding out of all worry, concern or shame. Purposefully let those inner rooms remain empty, but without closing the doors.

You never know what inspiration will slip in just before the ego realizes what’s up and the gate closes again. I am the same way with vegetables. I have to eat them first, and quickly, before my brain realizes how much I don’t like them. But some of that nutrition gets in there anyway. How much opportunity does the Universe really need to show you what It would have you know? Even a fraction of a second might do.

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