The Sufi tradition practices a personalized method of aspiring to study the alchemical arts. Raised as a member of a Methodist church as a youngster, I became disillusioned with organized religions during my teenage years. Studying physical/medical anthropological at university, I came to realize that the practice of Academia faculty seemed quite similar to religious institutions. I grew disillusioned seeing how much more interest professors appeared to put towards their own research. Perhaps, these are burdens imposed on them by the administration. PhD candidates and grad students served as substitute teachers and ghostwriters.
Coming from the Dirty South, the debate between religion and science gets a little extra hairy. Scientists were speaking with the same pomp and pretense and puffery as those they were accusing of being ignorant. University professors preoccupied with needing to make tenure. University professors who made tenure and should have retired long ago. I then investigated the esoteric, hermetic groups and loved their texts and mythos, but I do not like secrets.
Sometimes the appearance of a secret is more alarming than the content of the secret itself.
I came across several wonderful texts by Sufi writers over the last three years. What resounded most for me was the simplicity of the practices recommended. There is no dogma to be institutionalized, no one forces their thoughts on others, but neither do they fear engaging in a lively discussion. These practices are so wildly simple. They made such a substantial difference in my life over the last year that I wanted to share some broad strokes.
Four fundamental models of breathing correspond to four fundamental alchemical processes.
Consider each mode of breath as a re-attunement to the world around you.
Perform each mode of breath three to five times before moving to the next breath.
Each mode of breath begins on the exhalation.
The rhythm of breathing must be natural. No retention of breath.
(i) Filtering: exhale through your nose/inhale through your nose. EARTH. Yellow Square. Taurus sigil. North.
(ii) Liquifying: exhale through your mouth/inhale through your nose. WATER. Silver Crescent. Scorpio sigil. West.
(iii) Burnishing: exhale through nose/inhale through your mouth. FIRE. Red Triangle. Leo sigil. South.
(iv) Distilling: exhale through your mouth/inhale through your mouth. AIR. Blue circle. Aquarius sigil. East.
On breathing, think to yourself: I am turning within; withdrawing from any external environment and into myself. I am drawing the environment into myself to convert and transmute it.
Between inhalations and exhalations, suspend any thoughts other than preparing to resume your breath. Note that there will be a rest, a tacet/tacit pause in between the inhalation and exhalation & again between the exhalation and the inhalation. Feel that slight pause and think only of preparing to change the direction of your breath.
“Sense the emergence in yourself of something new–not the way you ingest the environment–but something that lay in wait within you and that emerges when catalyzed by its counterpart in the environment. We are recurrently reborn” (p40).The Ecstasy Beyond Knowing: A Manual of MeditationBook by Inayat Khan