Rhythm Concepts and Practices
March 11, 2014
Greetings and a warm welcome to all. This practice reviews some basic concepts and practices on rhythm, with perhaps the added feature of suggesting how to experiment with its practical uses in everyday life. We find it intriguing that powerful spiritual practices, experiences and even concepts are sometimes compartmentalized from most aspects of life, as if the spiritual domain is behind some impermeable membrane, divorced from our other more “worldly” and “material” aspects. This often gives rise to comments as to how some spiritual teachings may seem out of date, and not resonant with our modern life; that they need to be updated somehow. We hope that these contemplations and practices focusing on rhythm will help clarify how modern and useful these teachings are.
First, some basic concepts to re-contemplate and experience. Even if these are familiar to you, please consider reviewing them to form a firm base for the coming months. Keep your intention on “rhythm” and allow yourself to re-experience old friends in a new light.
1: a. Concept: As long as there is life, there is rhythm. All of life vibrates, and where there is vibration, there is rhythm. If you like, refer to Newton’s law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This “action-reaction” sequence is rhythm. You may not perceive it as such, it may not fit your idiosyncratic definition of “rhythm,” but it is. This sequence is the basis of the soul’s journey: from Zat, where vibration is implicit, to the Big Bang and the explosion of Sifat: the qualities of God with which we are impressed.
b. Contemplation: All of life vibrates, even when I cannot perceive it.
c. Exercises: (1) Awareness training: Sit. Begin to settle. Notice the gross movements of body, breath and mind settling into smaller ones. Notice that even when still, there is movement: feel the pulse, the movement of the breath, the subtle movement of the thought and imagination. Notice perhaps how one movement generates another unless we become consciously aware and withdraw our energy from it; how one “fidget” begets another, one thought develops into a story. All of this speaks to the power of rhythm, so natural and intrinsic and sometimes so bothersome that we often forget that it is what gives us life.
(2) Settle into a natural rhythm of the breath. Keep the body and mind still, do not yet impose a rhythm to the breath. Just let the breath take its own course. Watch and note how the breath changes. Watch and notice the reciprocal effects of the body and mind with the breath: the rhythm of each affects the other until there tends to be one generally predominant rhythm established.
(3) Pick a rhythm, often a 4 beat inhalation and 4 beat exhalation. This is a balanced rhythm of the breath. Do this for a while until you feel its effects. Keep it natural and without strain, but balanced. Then increase the inhale so it is slightly longer than the exhale (perhaps 6:4). Don’t do this too long. Notice what happens, especially with regard to your energy. Then do the opposite, exhale slightly longer than you inhale (4:6 or 8). Again, note what changes. To really notice the effects, try breathing in deeply and exhale strongly and very quickly. Does it remind you of a certain kind of energetic zikr? In zikr, often the inhale feels quick and short, but really it is deep and supports a very strong and quick exhalation. The strong exhalation is the key. And when you reverse this: an exaggerated but short inhale and longer exhalation, it is like sighing, relaxing into the arms of the beloved.
(4) Now take this on the road (walking, that is). Breathe without any awareness. Breathe naturally but with awareness. Breathe in a balanced rhythm. Breathe with a longer inhale, then a longer exhale. Find out for yourself what the effects are. You might even try doing this while engaged in a conversation. If you do, notice how the awareness of your breath rhythm affects your conversation: when and how you speak, perhaps even the content. Finally, pick a time every day or few days where you are not just noticing and experimenting, and now consciously use a rhythm of breath to support a specific purpose. If you are a type who learns from opposites: pick a rhythm of breath which in your experiments is the antithesis of what you wish to accomplish and see what happens e.g. sigh and relax when you need to move quickly. Use your judgment.
d. Final contemplation: The only sin is not remembering the divine energy that pervades all of life. The divine energy is Breath. The closer we are to our breath, the closer we are to awareness of the divine energy. Awareness of rhythm leads to awareness of breath and to a greater awareness of the divine.
Blessings to all.
Wadud Henry Cretella and Zanyab Kathleen FitzPatrick