In a meditation group that I am a part of someone recently asked ‘what do I do with my breathing during meditation, while saying the mantra?’ There are no fixed guidelines about this. Some people are attentive to the mantra as they breathe out, others as they breathe in. Still others split the mantra and say ma-ra on their out breath and na-tha on their in breath. It comes down to whatever works for us. The combination of breathing and mantra soon finds a rhythm that we are comfortable with. Our breathing comes to serve attention to the mantra.
As the mantra deepens into our bodies, as it falls over time from head into heart on its gently integrating way, our breathing can fall with it. At this time many are breathing a little more deeply and from gut. Once again, there are no fixed guidelines here.
I hesitate to talk about this because we need to keep things very simple. Meditation is not about sitting back during meditation to consciously experience and evaluate what is going on. Meditation is about growing in a whole-hearted practice of forgetting self-consciousness. It is about losing our conscious selves in the moment of meditation so that we can experience without awareness, that is without active interior sense, the deep silence of God and have this God, this divine Love, effect the all of us. Any inner activity, no matter how well intentioned it may be, is a distraction to growth in silence, to being inwardly transformed for and by this silence.
One of my great challenges in meditation is growing in the letting go of curiosity. My conscious mind can be quick to pick up and look at any experience which might be going on. Again and again I need to come back to the essence: simply and faithfully giving attention to the mantra. Once again, meditation is about the primacy of leaving the conscious self behind. It is not about the gathering of knowledge, of insight. Any wisdom given because of our meditation practice is given as gift. This gift must serve the leaving of conscious self and not become a distraction to it.
Wisdom rises from the heart. A silent intellect, precisely because it is silent, can ‘marinate’ in this wisdom, doing so without reference to itself or this wisdom. Wisdom (which is the love-life of God moving and acting within us) can then enlighten the intellect about the meditation experience while this intellect is passive, that is, while the intellect is not relying on the senses to make sense of the experience. It is in this way that our mind and our intellect are transformed, or divinised, by divine Love. It happens without us knowing about it, without us being aware of it, because the desires to know and be aware are let go, put aside, forgotten. In this way wisdom can have its unimpeded way with us.
Divinisation is the Christ consciousness within becoming more and more uniquely our consciousness. It is in this way that Christians become Christ-ians, or ‘little Christs’. As St. Paul says ‘..it is no longer I, but Christ living in me’ (Gal2:20). This is something our intellect, by itself, will never understand. It makes no sense because it is a ‘senseless’ happening. When inner sense is quiet, when consciousness has forgotten itself, divinisation happens.
A forgotten self-consciousness is thus the meditator’s full yes to this process of divinisation. It is a full yes that we grow into over time as we grow into our own forgetting. This process of forgetting is deeply relational. Any love relationship will invite us to put the other first, to practice the forgetting of our own ego-selves. A relationship with divinity (the relationship within all relationships) is no different.
Because it is so relational and loving, the yes we say to God is a yes of faith. Each time of meditation is a yes of growing faithfulness. To self-consciousness this yes can feel like risk. To our deeper selves this yes is as natural as breathing.
So what of my breathing and its relationship to the mantra? Well, it does seem that wisdom often speaks with analogy. Without analogy we can engage too much in analysis and rationality. So: it’s like sometimes my breath combines with the mantra to quietly breathe the mantra into embers of divine intimacy deep within. While ever attention is on the mantra this continues. As soon as attention falls away from the mantra the divine glow coming from these embers ceases.
The glow from the embers is warm and consoling. Its warmth is peace and joy. These are some of the fruits of the Spirit that St. Paul writes of to the Galatians (5:22-23). They are available for all. They can be given as we meditate.
This consolation does seem to be gift (a grace), that is, something that I am not creating for myself. The experience of divine intimacy, however, is not the divine life itself. It is best not to conflate the gifts of the Spirit with the life of the Spirit.
We meditate so that the whole of us would be in union with the divine. This union happens in a silence without thought, image, or indeed conscious consolation. Silence is about the absence of these things. On the pilgrimage into silence even the consolations of God are let go and left behind. This is part of the journey. If this were not so prayer would simply be an exercise in waiting to be consoled.