As physical beings we live on the surface of a sphere. Standing on the surface of this sphere, a line drawn from the head to toe of everyone, everywhere, converges at a shared center of being. Upright, we “radiate”!
In the realm of Nature biologists describe the growth trajectory of trees and many plants as “heliotropic”. If one draws a line following a stem or trunk it points to the Sun—the same line passing into the root zone converges at the center of our sphere. This Post opens with an image of flowers. They illustrate how heliotropism is not a suggestion—apparently, all the daisies received the memo. Because we are oriented by the center of our home-sphere, the Sun we orbit, thereby, is not “up”—it is “out”. The center of Earth is not “down” but “in”.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has a term for this in:out orientation—Lower Dan Tien. If you study Qi Gong or Tai Qi you learn about the Lower Dan Tien as a center of energetic poise for the entire body. If you study Pilates, its emphasis on core strength correlates with the Chinese notion of the Lower Dan Tien.
In: out, also describes the direction of air filling and emptying the lungs. This is helpful. At a simple level, it is even scientific. But its real importance, from the perspective of Wisdom Studies is this: we do not think of breathing as “up:down”! We are oriented “in:out” on our home-sphere, we breathe “in:out”. The beauty of this symmetry is a great ponderable.
Breathing is the focus of today’s reflection. The ubiquity of breathing allows it to be taken for granted– so any notion breathing might be genius can be temporarily pushed aside. In its place, a naive assumption holds sway: “I breathe therefore I am”.
Once breathing is assumed, its esoteric authority, at a waking level, goes largely unattended. This is particularly true in the West. And with it, a significant teachable moment waits for another day. What can breathing teach us?
In terms of the Western Mystery Tradition what we revere as sacred, or holy is as “nearby” as our breath. Religious experience, one’s sense of the noumenal* in everyday affairs, is profoundly personal–like breathing. A hermetic interpretation of prayer would equate prayer to breathing.
* Noumenal—“possessing the character of real rather than phenomenal existence.” Source: Dictionary.com
If Water is the first mirror, Air (breathing), likely, is the first prayer.
What about prayer? How one composes the body to make room for non-waking awareness to enter the wakened state is one way, in the West, to visualize the meta-physical mechanics of prayer. Prayer invites the symbolic world of the Imagination and Counter-intuitive insight to join Reason in quiet proximity; The inner life of the High Priestess, Key 2, meets Reason, The Emperor, Key 4.
Enter: Ecstasy and Enstasy.
Ecstasy and Enstasy
Ecstasy: “The term ecstasy (Gr., ekstasis ) literally means “to be placed outside,” as well as, secondarily, “to be displaced.” Both senses are relevant to the study of religion, the first more than the second perhaps, inasmuch as it denotes a state of exaltation in which one stands outside or transcends oneself.” …………Think: Inhale.
Enstasy: “The term enstasy (Gk., en-stasis, ‘standing into’). The experiences, or abolition of experience, arising as a consequence of those meditational, etc., techniques which withdraw the practitioner from the world, and even from awareness of the self.” ………..Think: Exhale.
In-Out—this is how we commonly describe the experience of breathing. We never think of breathing as only “in” or only “out”, but “in:out”.
Why, then, in the West, do we closely associate religious experience with the Ecstatic moment, “a state of exaltation” and less so with its more conservative compliment, Enstasy, “to withdraw”?
The East has known for a long while, because it delights the Mind, the West adores “the shiny object”. Religious experience as it is conceptualized in the West reflects this bias. Think: consumption.
The Ecstatic moment, with its outbound energy (The Fool), overshadows the Enstatic moment to withdraw (The Hermit). Think: Prophet v Hermit. The prophet “breaks out”. The Hermit “breaks in”. Radiance: Depth.
Key 9, The Hermit, while reaching great heights, is no less adept, inspired or illuminated (he stands at the top a mountain peak) than the Sunlit precipice occupied by the Fool. Keeping the company of isolation and darkness describes the Hermit’s vocation, albeit superficially. The color ‘gray’, for example, while it is absent The Fool key, it appears in the Hermit key as a warm robe to keep away the cold. The conflation of white and black, as gray, has long been a hermetic color for signaling Wisdom. The source of light for the Hermit is a lamp fueled by direct lived experience–not sunlight; the staff he holds, made by Nature–is something he no longer relies upon for climbing. The Hermit has arrived. The Fool is about to embark. Each figure is oriented to the West–towards the unknown. The work is ongoing. The challenge: to see the Hermit in the Fool and v.v.
“After the union of personality and individuality, which is the goal of human attainment [Key 9], there are still greater heights [unknowns] to scale [Key 0].” Paul Foster Case
Consider this observation: we opened this Post with an image of our home-sphere, a blue marble suspended in a black silhouette. Hermit or Fool?
The blue marble is visible because of the sunlight guiding The Fool. The blue “crown” of The Hermit, also surrounded by empty vastness, is mysteriously illuminated–divinely so. The face of G-d* is met, not in the Ecstatic state (of waking awareness and Sun), but deep within the Enstatic vaults of direct lived memory (of non-waking awareness and Moon).
The crown of the Hermit is shaped to represent the Hebrew letter Yod–the first letter in the holy name Yahweh. Enter: language!
Language has a tough time reaching into the Ecstatic state and returning in one piece–a prophet’s Ecstatic vision can be his/ hers alone.
The poet reminds us of the linguistic challenge in this regard:
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them.” (Source: “Burnt Norton”, 1935, T. S. Eliot)
Twelfth century Kabblists described Ecstasy as “shattering the vessels”-–awareness so intense it overwhelms mortal forms—and, mere words fail to convey the experience. The mystic or prophet is, simply, “out there”.
Is ultimate reality wordless or lingual? Is this akin to asking if breathing is inhaling or exhaling? The Western propensity to deconstruct everything is a slippery slope. There is no need to let Reason, Key 4, run rough over the imagery and symbolic grammar of our interior lives.
Ecstasy may be wordless. How odd, we are also advised, “in the beginning was the Word…”
Let’s see if some Western business terms are useful— even if they over-simplify to make a point.
Consider the following parallel—Enstasy: Ecstasy, Hermit: Fool—-Manager-Entrepreneur. The following illustrations should reach a Western audience:
If Ecstasy is wordless and entrepreneurial—do we infer, “in the beginning was the Word”….is all about the manager?
Answer: ask a manager!
The roles of the Fool and the Hermit are inseparable, no Fool: no Hermit; no Entrepreneur, no Manager; no Ecstasy: no Enstasy. Breathing is a unity. Waking and non-waking states, symbolically, respire in quiet proximity.
All unity is plural. The Scientist and the Shaman have known this to be true for some time. Energy and matter, “as above so below”, “on Earth as it is in Heaven”, waking and non-waking awareness, in:out. Breathing—Radiance: Depth.
Breathing, as a subject for the student of Wisdom Studies deserves much more attention than it is possible to convey in a single Post. On another occasion we will re-visit the subject of breathing and its esoteric authority.
Example: How is it, before Air, we were able to metabolize Water, in utero? Was our watery life with “Mom” our first experience with community? Is it reasonable, thereby, to associate direct lived experience ex utero with a sense of being marooned? The very term, marooned, includes a reference to “mare”—the sea.
We close with references to an “immortal sea”— lines from Willam Wordsworth’s poem, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”, published 1807 CE.
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.”
We bid you peace and comfort–and sea-breathing sleep,