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 Meditation
Book by Inayat Khan
Try to prolong the exhalation further and further on each breath.
When exhaling, first contract the abdomen, then the chest.
When inhaling, first dilate the abdomen, then the chest.
Imagine that you are nothing but energy/life fields coalescing and cascading.
(i) static magnetic field
(ii) electromagnetic field that derives from the dynamic nature of of body functions (like mitosis)
(iii) gravitational field you might feel in an elevator in motion
(iv) chi force: experienced when shifting one’s concentration from chakra to chakra.
(v) etheric body that pulses with your breath
Per, Oxford English Concise (OED), ETHER: DIETHYL ETHER, for example*.
(vi) the aura (bioluminecense)
(vii) celestial body
Per, the OED: positioned in or relating to sky/outer space.
Consider the arrow of time (horizontal vector) and the transcendental dimension.
Consider the way we extrapolate between two vantage points–confess further dimensionality on our consciousness.
Consider your personal vantage point and the antipodal divine point of view.
Sufi’s endeavor to bring the divine viewpoint to light by Experience rather than Conception.
“Divinity is human perfection and humanity is divine limitation,” Hazrat Inayat Khan
Our breath reflects the ebb and flow of the divine breath.
Sufism validates what is gained in the existential state, the dervishes endeavor to explore the manner in which this timeless state flows into the process of becoming (p57). Note that on page 30, “process of becoming” is used to describe the first of two dimensions we consider in time–the arrow of time and its vectors.
Imagine a Pendulum
When a pendulum is displaced sideways from its resting, equilibrium position, it is subject to a restoring force due to gravity that will accelerate it back toward the equilibrium position. When released, the restoring force acting on the pendulum’s mass causes it to oscillate about the equilibrium position, swinging back and forth.
The time for one complete cycle, a left swing and a right swing, is called a period. The period depends on the length of the pendulum and also a slight degree on the amplitude, the width of the pendulum’s swing.
“What seems to be coming and going is really the result of becoming and manifesting. When the owner of ‘waqt’ (instant of time) comes into possession of hal (that is: it becomes a permanent state) he is no more subject to change, and is made steadfast in his state.” p58 Abu’l – Hasan al-Hujwiri
*I was unfamiliar with what ‘ether’ meant, so I figured I’d include it here: 1. a pleasant smelling, volatile, highly flammable liquid used as an anesthetic and as a solvent 2. Chemistry any organic compound with an oxygen atom linking two alkyl groups 3. (also aether) Chiefly literary the clear sky; the upper regions of air beyond the clouds. 4. (also aether) Physics, historical a substance formerly postulated to permeate all space and to transmit light.
ORIGIN ME: from OFr., or via L. from Gk aithêr ‘upper air’, from the base of aithein ‘burn, shine’.
ethereal: 1. extremely delicate and light, in a way that seems not to be of this world 2. chemistry (of a solution) having diethyl ether as a solvent.