27. THE BEATITUDES AND ATTENTION

 

Saint Symeon - nicknamed 'the New Theologian', emphasized the importance on the spiritual path of attention (Gr: ˜prosoche'), when he wrote about the Beatitudes. He said that we can transform our will and desires by the transformation and purification of  emotions, returning each of our feelings to its basic state, which is love.

The early Christian Tradition provides a number of powerful means for this process, not the least the transformation of negative emotions. We should add that this idea of purification is not the same as elimination of sexuality.  From this we may recognize that the ˜purity of heart' that leads to blessedness is a state of the psyche free from identification in any of its many forms. This freedom from identification opens the doors to improved attentiveness and self-control.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

"Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness 'sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you,

and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

"Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven:

for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.  (Matthew 5.)

The first signs of purification are a tightening of the muscles of the belly around the solar plexus. This is hara, in Japanese thought; its initial location when it is first sensed is the tandem of the martial arts. In modern terms this is a shift of self-control which is normal to true adulthood, but in most Westernized people is still absent at the end of normal education and  often right to the end of life. Under certain conditions, injection of insulin when it is lacking will reinforce and demonstrate this inner sensation, but this should only be done under skilled medical attention

The second stage is concerned with a struggle against ˜forgetting'. Freeing our attention from one or another of the main currents of everyday activity in the psyche: with thought, with feeling, with habits of action and with freewheeling imagination. In any struggle of this kind, the presence of new energy in the belly rises until it becomes an active presence and a focus of warmth in the chest. The uncontrolled activity within the psyche should then begin to dwindle, and exercises such as prayer of the heart can then be used to move into the transcendent state which is the precursor of true spiritual experience.

Is the kardia simply the source of warmth, or of light and memory deep inside the psyche? Without being able to answer this question, how can you navigate in the pursuit of awareness? The Beatitude, when it emphasizes purity of heart, speaks of something little understood by Western man today. Saint Symeon, when he wrote about the Beatitudes, emphasized that the achievement of all the beatitudes is the part played by attention (Gr: ˜prosoche') We transform our will and our desires by the transformation and purification of the emotions, returning each to its basic state, which is love. The Tradition provides a number of powerful means for this process, not the least: The transformation of negative emotions We should add that this idea of purification is not the same as elimination of sexuality, although it takes this form for monastics. From this we may recognise that the ˜purity of heart' that leads to blessedness is a state of the psyche free from identification'.

To begin with, as I understand it, the real element in modern Christian spirituality “ the 18th/19th century ˜mystical experience' - is what the Church of the Fathers knew and knows as Theosis. This is not the repetition of one experience, always the same, but a whole different way that takes the form of all sorts of experiences, often purely subjective. Theosis includes many of the varied experiences of uncreated light, some of them claimed to be the experience of the first Pentecost - Our Lord's transfiguration. There is the story of the man who saw Saint Seraphim of Sarov outlined in light, for example, but the light is just an indicator. Although it is an impressive signal, it must pass through stages as a human being approaches closer to God.

Those who seek this truth must start by getting detailed information about what is possible to them. They must learn that spiritual growth does not occur spontaneously, or by chance, but only occurs as the result of: ˜certain intentional inner efforts'. Thus: within the darkness that transcends the ordinary activity of the psyche, we may discover the experience of Theosis. Our highest experience of Theosis is to have it active within our kardia or inmost heart, so as to integrate nous and psyche. A non-Christian source that seems to touch on this question goes centuries further back into human history: "In the field of the square inch of the house of the square foot, life can be regulated. The house of the square foot is the face. The field of the square inch in the face: what could that be other than the Heavenly Heart? In the middle of the square inch dwells the splendor. In the purple hall of the City of Jade dwells the God of utmost emptiness and life. The Confucians call it the centre of emptiness; the Buddhists, the terrace of life: The Toaists, the ancestral land, or the yellow castle, or the dark pass, or the space of former Heaven.  (Richard Wilhelm, C. G. Jung: The Secret of the Golden Flower: A Chinese Book of Life, p. 24, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd. London 1945)

The experiences collectively known as Theosis, which can be known by us when our hearts become more pure, are so varied they cannot easily be defined. The early Church understood them as representing the uncreated presence of the 'unknown God': He Who has no physical source or form, yet Whom we can learn to perceive as acting in our lives: a light, a love, a freedom, an energy, a decision; a pearl of great price whose oyster is the spiritual world.

"And now, when Your spirit descends from heaven upon Your Mysteries, may I ascend in Spirit from earth to heaven, At this time, when Your power is mingled with the bread, may my life be commingled with Your spiritual life."