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Excerpted from The Ecstatic Journey by Sophy Burnham. Copyright 1999 by Sophy Burnham. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.
 


"'This intellect is so wild,' Saint Teresa wrote in her Life, 'that it doesn't seem to be anything else than a frantic madman no one can tie down.'"

Sophy Burnham, The Ecstatic Journey, Part 6

Many books describe how to meditate. You sit quietly with your back straight, either on the floor or in a chair. You close your eyes, scan your body, and relax, then set your attention on your nostrils and watch your breath pass in and out through this gateway, the portal to your life. At each inhalation, you take note: In, you say silently to yourself; on the exhalation, you say out.

The Tibetan monk Sogyal Rinpoche advises that you let your mouth drop slightly open, as if saying "Ahhh." He teaches that rather than express "in ... out," you simply watch.

The Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, on the other hand, who teaches crowds of disciples at Plum Village in France, counsels that you repeat an entire sentence to yourself.

Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.

Now your thoughts leap like wild horses on a lead, crashing through the underbrush in fear and untamed rage. Thinking, you interrupt, naming the concept rather than being swept away by the horses of thought. Then quietly you return to your breath: In ... out ...

For the breath is the only true, factual, indisputable reality we know. Everything else is happening within our minds, planning, remembering, daydreaming, teaching, criticizing, judging; all things are reflections or projections of our minds. In addition to noticing when you are thinking, you begin to name emotions--mind-states, as the Buddhists call them: anger, fear, jealousy, boredom, irritation, happiness, desire, longing, rapture, joy. They rise up, move like clouds across the limitless, blank, empty sky of your being, and pass away. You watch and return to your breathing. In ... out ...

It requires attention. Saint Teresa of Avila called this practice mental prayer and deplored her leaping thoughts. "This intellect is so wild," she wrote in her Life, "that it doesn't seem to be anything else than a frantic madman no one can tie down."

Finally you grow so quiet that you differentiate the varying physical sensations in your body: a pain in your knee, a twinge in the neck, an itch or throbbing, a pulsing or tingling; and slowly, as you do this day by day, you become so still that soon you hear your own heartbeat, sense the blood pulsing through your veins. In ...out ...

You have visions. In the early days, violent, psychedelic thunderstorms assailed me with swirling colors--red, black, purple, green--or else sequential waves of light moved in toward me or flowed outward in waves that reached to the farthest stars. These would be followed by periods of deep calm, the quiet of a mirror-sea on a windless summer day. Then I watched my thoughts lift in a gentle swell and imperceptibly subside.

One of the common early phenomena is the "eye of God." It appears as a luminous bright disk, a golden "eye" with its black pupil watching you. It is similar to the blinding spot that assails you when you step from a brilliant white snowfield into a dark room. In meditation, however, you cannot attribute this effect to the adjustment of the retina, for you are only sitting, eyes closed. What is it?

In ... out ... and soon the image of an eye fades, to be replaced by the sound of a birdsong or a numbness in your foot, or by the desire for a cup of tea; still you watch attentively, attaching no importance to any of these visions or events, sensations or ideas.

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