Thursday, November 19, 2009

I am more or less on the other side of jet lag. It is unseasonably warm here on the banks of the Hudson River. The mornings are dark and filled with promise.

Today I was reading the writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, translated by E. Kadloubovsky and G. E. H. Palmer, faber & faber, 1975. On page 280 I came across this passage from Hesychius of Jerusalem to Theodulus:

"Attention is unceasing silence of the heart, free of all thoughts. At all times, constantly and without ceasing, it breathes Jesus Christ, the son of God and God, and Him alone, it calls upon Him, and with Him bravely fights against the enemies, and makes confession to Him who has the power to forgive sins. Such a soul, through continual calling on Christ, embraces Him Who alone searches the heart; and it seeks to hide its sweetness and inner attainment from all men in every way, lest the evil one should have an easy entrance for his wickedness and destroy its excellent working."

Well then. Here, encapsulated, a brief summary of esotericism, and how to hold your work close to yourself -- and, perhaps, even why.

This passage is particularly interesting in the connection it draws between the heart, breathing, and the presence of Christ. It touches on the need for a more intimate organic relationship: the relationship with the higher is received within the body, and if we do not develop an inner attention, an inner relationship to sensation, we cannot receive anything from a higher level.

Even more interesting is the stress that the writer puts on the need to hide what one is given. This, certainly, is not the way of the world today: everything is on display. Glossy magazines and slick books sell us the words we supposedly need to hear about spirituality; but what is it that remains unsaid amidst this cacophony?

What lies between the lines that are written? What delicate insight and intuition is needed to find one's way between the letters, and sense a vibration of a different kind?

It is, in fact, so often what is not said that counts. The noise that is made is not the heart of the soul; it is just the sound of a stick beating on its skin. It touches only the outside. It looms so large that it seems to fill the room; but it is only when the stick pauses, and the noise slowly fades inside the vessel from which it emanated, that we begin to get the sense that there is a vessel.

Yes, the noise is just an echo of the action, which takes place in emptiness. It takes place in the place that waits; it takes place in the darkness, at the root of things. It's true that we lie at the base of this root; it's true that we can receive light from above, that it is possible to engage in what one might call photosynthesis, a fixing of magical substances (for a brief moment at least) in positions where they can do work. But this is not work meant for the public eye, or the public ear.

And how great the temptations of the ego! Of course we must hide the best of ourselves, even from ourselves. For we are our own thieves, the enemies of our own most precious efforts. No sooner do we work for something, then we lose it again, or we destroy it in anger and reaction.

How different this idea of concealing any attainment is from our expectation, that we should attain and be recognized for it. This is truly confusing to all of us.

It's only with long effort, and a patience that comes only after our own patience is utterly exhausted, that we can begin to understand how silently and how secretly we must work. Do we know this? Do we understand it? It can only be through signs and miracles that the first taste of such an understanding arrives, and even those are things we wish to have as our own.

Well then, these are indeed somewhat private musings. And they touch lightly on the motive force of some of the poetry I have been writing lately. But in the interest of intimacy -- a subject I bring up quite often -- it seems at times to make sense to offer something a bit more intimate, rather than ongoing clinical analysis of work ideas, which there is plenty of out there.

One theme that has occurred to me recently is a question about self-observation. One of my good friends Red Hawk has recently written a book on the subject. Apparently, it's quite popular. That's good to hear; it's encouraging to think that the subject has become of greater interest to people.

For those of us, however, who have heard this phrase for most of a lifetime, there may be in need to reinvent the question under slightly different terms. For myself, it is no longer so much a question of self-observation as self-inhabitation.

How can we inhabit ourselves more fully, in a more three centered manner? How do we overcome the clinical, the intellectual, the analytical aspects of work in order to discover a more vibrant and living relationship to ourselves?

Is it possible to make this an active question that originates not just in the mind, but also in the body and feelings?

This is a subject worthy of daily study.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

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