Letter 1: A New Beginning
I would like to start this new cycle of Weekly Teaching with an Easter wish for you in the words of St Paul: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the all-glorious Father, may give you the spiritual powers of wisdom and vision, by which there comes the knowledge of Him. I pray that your inward eyes may be illumined, so that you may know what is the hope to which He calls you.”
We have heard how Abba Moses explained to Cassian and Germanus, that the final goal of the spiritual life is the Kingdom of heaven. We know from Jesus’ teaching in Mark (1:15) that the Kingdom of God is within us and amongst us. It therefore refers to a state of awareness of the Divine Presence. The way there arrive there, as Evagrius told us, is to purify the emotions by being mindful of what is within us and around us in ordinary life, so that we arrive at a ‘clean heart’ as Abba Moses calls it.
However, the first step on our spiritual journey to this state of mind is a leap of faith: “John Main says that meditation is a way of faith because he saw that in meditation ‘We have to leave ourselves behind before the other appears and without the pre-packaged guarantee that the other will appear.’” It is an intuitive trust that there is more to us than just the material reality. It is in the silence of meditation that we realise that we can experience this ‘more’, the Divine part of our being and our link to the entire Divine Reality, which we were not able to do with our rational mind. Laurence Freeman says in Aspects of Love: “St John says that God has never been seen. In other words, God can never be an object outside ourselves. . . . We need to go to that level of our being--the heart, the spirit--where there is nothing outside us, where we understand that we are in relationship, in communion, in the dance of being, with everything that is, in God.” As John Main says: “This is the reason for our meditation. To be open to the Divine Reality that is closer to us than we are to ourselves.”
The second step is to follow the difficult road – the narrow path - to ‘leaving self’ behind. But as we know from experience it takes courage to leave our thoughts and images, our ‘ego’ behind, to leave the comfort of our conditioning, to let go – however temporarily - of our sense of identity and individuality that we have shaped out of our thoughts. Yet our growth always depends on our relationship with our thoughts. But we must not forget that we are not alone on this journey. It is a way of effort and grace. The spiritual part of our being, the Christ within us, is there to help with insights and guidance that come our way in the silence that grows the more you persevere in the discipline of meditation.
Let me just summarise once more the various ways our ego tries to stop us entering the silence and leaving its control. The moment we try to meditate, our rational surface mind, the ego, gets into gear and floods our mind with thoughts. We never knew how many thoughts go through our mind until we sit down and try to focus on our prayer word. Moreover, these thoughts are so trivial and superficial that we cringe at ourselves. Quite an effective lesson in humility! Then the ego really gets going to tempt us away from the silence that is waiting for us. We hear his/her voice saying: ‘This is so boring, just repeating one word!’ If that doesn’t stop us, up comes the thought: ‘Don’t just sit there, do something! Reading a spiritual book would be so much better!’ Are you still meditating? Then we hear the whisper: ‘Is this really the right mantra?’ or even ‘Is this the right type of meditation?’ Becoming a spiritual butterfly seems really the only way to go. If you stay, then the ego projects out your frustration at all these thoughts and your perceived failure at meditation and says: ‘A better group leader would help!’ If none of these thoughts have stopped you, the one that is quite effective is: ‘This is self-indulgent. You should be out there helping others, rather than turning within. We don’t need contemplation, we need action in this world!’ The final attack is ‘holy dozing’, which makes us mistakenly believe we have reached the peace and silence promised. Yet, all we need to do is acknowledge them, and realise they all come from the ego. They are only thoughts, not the truth. All this is interspersed with periods of silence that encourage us to persevere.
We have already explored, how this silence can be interrupted by emotions being expressed you had suppressed many times in the past: sudden tears, feelings of irritation, waves of anger, boredom, feelings of dryness and pointlessness. And the ego then thinks it plays its trump card: ‘What is the point if you feel worse afterwards?’
The last type of thoughts the ego uses to prevent us leaving his/her sphere of influence are the most difficult, as they are based on our wounds caused by real or perceived unmet survival needs in our childhood: ‘God can’t love you unconditionally. You are not lovable! Besides, there is no such thing as unconditional love!’ – playing on your perceived lack of love in your childhood. Equally powerful is the question: ‘Aren’t you out of control?’ accompanied by ’I don’t know whether this is safe!’ – a feeling that your control and security needs are being compromised. Perhaps you were not valued or esteemed, then this question may work: ‘No one prays like this. You are the odd one out!’ and ‘This is not the way my parents pray. I can’t be disloyal to them.’
Finally with Divine guidance the voice of the ego is stilled by being transcended, and now St Paul’s prayer could become a reality for us: “our inward eyes may be illumined”, allowing us to experience the Divine Reality and in doing so realise that it enfolds all of humanity and creation. Thus we remember that we are all “children of God”, (2 Cor 7) and that “the consciousness that was in Christ is also in us”(Phil 2:5)
A very Blessed Easter to you all!