15B TWO KINDS OF ATTENTION

 

Saint Gregory Palamas (dates) tells us that: "The true heart, says Solomon, looks for perception." In another place, he calls that perception noetic and divine. He adds that:  All the Early Fathers of the first Church seek this perception, for they repeatedly say that: "The intelligent nous continually seeks to acquire noetic perception, so let us not cease to seek that sense inside us as well as outside."

The nous is called the eye of the psyche. its attention takes two different forms. One of the forms turns out into the outside world. The other way turns the nous inward into our body, then into our psyche, sometimes called the heart because it is regarded as the deepest or most subtle component of the body, and finally the nous turns back into itself, and from there pays court to God. This sounds complicated, but in practice it is not so complex, because in its later stages we naturally gravitate towards God, and this is the origin of the idea of recent teachings that speak of a Magnetic Centre. 

So Palamas wrote: "Do you see that if we desire to combat sin and acquire virtue, to find the noetic perception, pledge of the reward, we must bring the nous back into the body, and into itself? The opposite, to look for noetic visions by making the nous ˜go out,' not only from thoughts about the flesh, but out of the body itself  - that is the greatest of the Hellenic errors, the root and source of all corrupt doctrine. This doctrine engenders folly and is the result of mad foolhardiness, an invention of daemons. This is why those who speak by daemonic inspiration find themselves beside themselves, not knowing what they are saying."

To adapt Palamas description of this to modern terms, he tells us that here are people who say that the nous is not separate from the psyche but is inside it, and so they question how we can recall it into ourselves. These people, he says, seem to be ignorant of the fact that the essence of the nous is one thing, its activity another, or they are aware of this and do not accept the simplicity of the spiritual teaching.

Otherwise, the saint says, it would not have escaped them that the nous is not like the [physical] eye, which sees the different visible objects but cannot see itself.  The saint then continues: The nous operates in one way in its function of exterior observation: (This is what the great Dionysius calls the movement of the nous along a straight line.) In the modern terminology, this is symbolised by an arrow with a single point. But St. Gregory also tells us that it has another way of acting in which: "it turns back to become aware of itself, and in this case: when it has become aware of itself, it can also act from itself. This movement the same Dionysius calls circular. By this most excellent and appropriate activity, the attention  comes to transcend itself, so we become consciously united to God. "

In the modern terminology, this is symbolised by a double-headed arrow, one with a point at  each end: in modern times this is called the double-headed arrow of self-remembering. For the nous, when it is not scattered abroad, says Saint Basil the Great, returns to itself, and then, through itself, mounts towards God as if by an infallible road. A real observer of things noetic says that the return  movement of the attention is not subject to any error, while Saint Basil, again, says this is because the nous, whenever it is not scattered, automatically turns back into itself, and then, passing through itself, mounts towards God as if by an infallible road.

But the reality is that we first have to overcome this fragmentation, since this gravitation towards God only happens when our attention is no longer scattered, (For what is scattered needs to be collected again, and as long as our attention needs to be collected, because of this our attention follow its outward path.) He also quotes Saint John Climacus, who writes, in his Ladder of Divine Ascent, that: "The Hesychast is someone who seeks to enclose the bodiless in his body."