Visualizing the soul as a garden helps us really feel an inner space that is both sacred and filled with life. Here, we can sow the seeds of all our most cherished experiences and weed out the self-defeating doubts we have acquired from the time in which we live. In this sense, it often seems like we have to make our way through the thicket of habit-thoughts to reach the secret garden gate of the soul, where time stands still and all our experiences are suddenly seen as organic, growing embodiments of the life lessons that are ennobling us.
Every spiritual tradition I am aware of agrees that it is essential to take time outs from our routines and spend some time in quiet prayer, contemplation, meditation, or other form of spiritual exercise, such as yoga. Yoga is illuminating in this context since the word yoga means yoke, implying the yoking together, or uniting, of body and soul. Regardless of spiritual tradition, however, the goal is the same: to establish our awareness more firmly in the present moment so that we can experience our souls more consciously. Such efforts can be distilled down to a central, core practice -- one of quieting the habit-mind and concentrating fully on the moment at hand.
I would like to recommend a few exercises that many of my students have found useful in reaching this goal. They are part of a practice of soul-thoughts that center us in the still, timeless garden of the soul. Soul-thoughts differ from normal thoughts by the fact that they are intended to be felt emotionally and physically, not just held as a mental abstraction. This practice teaches us that when the heart thinks, the mind feels. In this open-heartedness, we are able to become ever more sensitive to the union of our body and soul -- and thereby ever more sensitive to the bond of joy and love at the root of that union. Attuning ourselves to this upwelling of joyousness connects us to the very source of emotional healing and physical well-being.
This source of peace, healing and wholeness is the well in the garden of the soul. Its water is named happiness and it nourishes all that it touches. Its unbounded joy is that of a living being aware of its indestructible belonging-together with all other beings making up the indivisible living mystery carrying us all from an unimaginable past to an unimaginable future. Aware of the love out of which the universe was -- and is -- created, the soul has no response but to pour out bliss into the universe surrounding it with love.
1. The "Enough!" Exercise
Relax with eyes closed. Instead of following your normal thoughts, however, silently repeat the word "Enough!" as a way to block habit-thoughts before they get started. If self-defeating thoughts arise, silently repeat the word "Enough!" in an authoritative manner, as if you were cutting off a trivial and insulting conversation before it could even get started. At first, it's necessary to practice this exercise nearly all the time, but as it replaces the old habit of self-defeating thoughts, this new habit of inner dignity and self-possession become the rule -- at which point, you begin hearing the word "enough" differently, for it has subtly taken on the connotation of having enough and being enough.
2. The One Breath Exercise
Sit quietly with eyes closed, breathing slowly from the abdomen. Visualize yourself as an open window in an ancient stone wall that runs across a vast plateau ringed by mountains and crowned by clouds. The wind blows this way and then that way, constantly shifting, rushing first from one side of the ancient wall and then from the other. As the wind pours through you, first this way and then the other, silently repeat the catchphrase "One." After practicing this for a while, visualize the wind passing through you in one direction with each inhale and then shifting to pass through you in the opposite direction with each exhale. With each inhale, silently repeat the catchphrase "One." With each exhale, silently repeat the catchphrase "One."
3. The Well of Happiness Exercise
Sit quietly with eyes closed and visualize an upwelling of joy, a rejoicing in the perfection of all creation, surging out of you as you silently repeat the catchphrase, "I am a well of happiness, overflowing into the lives of others." View all around you as perfect. Allow the emotional logic to sink in: A well of happiness is not changed by happy or sad things around it -- it changes things around it by nurturing their deepest essence at that point where perfection recognizes perfection. The important thing here is to feel the emotion of joy upwelling in you and flowing out toward everything all at once, silently repeating the catchphrase, "I am a well of happiness, overflowing into the lives of others."
The path of the cocoon doesn't lead to the cocoon -- it leads to the path of the butterfly. For the butterfly, the well of the soul is found flitting from one perfect blossom to the next, consuming only the nectar produced by perfect beauty and, in so doing, propagating the next generation of perfect beauty.
Those of us who drink from the well of happiness find ourselves sharing the path of the butterfly!
'The Toltec I Ching,' by Martha Ramirez-Oropeza and William Douglas Horden, has been released by Larson Publications. It recasts the I Ching in the symbology of the Native Americans of ancient Mexico and includes original illustrations interpreting each of the hexagrams. Its subtitle, "64 Keys to Inspired Action in the New World," hints at its focus on the ethics of the emerging world culture.
Two companion volumes, The Five Emanations, and The Spiritual Basis of Good Fortune, have recently been published, in print and e-book formats, that expand on carrying the practices forward in the modern world. http://williamdouglashorden.com
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