Apophatic/Cataphatic Meditation

By on Oct 14, 2018 in Pathways, Posts | 1 comment

God has said,
“The images that come with human language do not correspond to me,
but those who love words,
must use them to come near.”

Just remember, it’s
like saying of the king,
“He is not a weaver.”
Is that praise?
Whatever such
a statement is,
words are on that level of God knowing.

In all my years of meditating I have mostly focused on the breath and or visualization of energy flow, with some use of mantra and mudra. In this mode of meditation, one mostly avoids thoughts, feelings and ideas. In the process the intellect is somewhat by-passed. But I have recently run into a very different style which I find delightful and very instructive. Part of what I like so much about it is that while it can be very deep and powerful it also feels playful to me.

The method comes from the Apophatic/Cataphatic tradition. This form of meditation was practiced by early church leaders and theologians in the first through fifth centuries. It is also associated with Daoist meditation. And engages with words and the mind more directly.

In the Cataphatic stage one makes affirmations about God. In the apophatic stage one approaches the Divine through negation, that is, discovering what can be said and negating it. This furthers the sense that God is essentially incomprehensible and transcends all human knowing. And then going on, one continues by negating the negation which in my experience broadens all meaning of what the Divine is or is not.

For example:

God is here. (affirmation)

God is not here. (negation)

God is not not here. (negation of the negation)

This is only one example of a statement. Others examples include God is love, God is wise. God is all powerful. The meditator can use any affirmation he or she chooses.

Continuing with this post, I will share a very simple version of the process and then suggest links to much more extensive explanations.

1. Begin sitting in meditation focusing on the breath for a few minutes.

2. Then take a piece of paper and make a list of several attributes of God (Spirit, Yahweh, Allah or any other word you are comfortable using for the Devine.)

3. Then return the focus to the breath and as you inhale repeat your first affirmation for several rounds of inhalation and exhalation.
God is here.

4. Next, as you continue breathing focus on the negation for several rounds of inhalation and exhalation.
God is not here.

5. Then, breathe and focus on negating the negation.
God is not not here.

6. Then breathe in the complexity, confusion and whatever else comes up as you proceed.

My experience with this is that my mind twists like a pretzel with lots of spices and herbs on it. It reminds me of a Zen koan, an unanswerable riddle like question Buddhist monks are supposed to meditate on for years. What is the sound of one hand clapping? Or What did your face look like before your mother and father were born?
When practiced at length, they (Koans and this form of meditation) can take us to the end of knowing where new knowing arises. And in the process, I experience a sort of delight in what is new for me.

Two ways of finding more about this form of meditation:
1. Like everything else there are you tube videos. Just go there and type in Apophatic Meditation.
2. A more extensive explanation and two-week program of it can be found on line at https://faithingproject.wordpress.com/.

(In the service of full disclosure, the last name of the person who sponsors this site will be familiar. It is my son with whom I have shared the spiritual journey for many years.)

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