Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Being Within - "Self-Gathering"

"Hold your consciousness in your heart and forcefully gather there all the powers of the soul and body," says Saint Theophan. "Whoever is locked within the heart is gathered, and whoever is gathered is within the heart."

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind," (Lk 10:27) And this can be achieved by no other means than concentrating all the natural powers of the soul in a single desire for the Creator alone, writes Nicephorus about the life of St. Theodosius. (Philokalia, vol 4, pg 196)

What he is showing us is the need to concentrate all the powers of our soul in the heart.  These powers are mind, will and the senses.  This involves attention of the mind in the heart, vigilance is the will in the heart, and the gathering of the senses in the heart is soberness.

Attention: "Direct our inner eyes."
Vigilance: "Tense the muscles all over the body in the direction of the breast."
Soberness: "Reign in the humors as St. Nicephorus calls them (they are the enervating movements flowing to the heart from the lower parts of the body), and suppress pleasures and bodily comfort."

Here is how he describes this.
In the first minutes after awakening from sleep, as soon as you become aware of yourself, descend within to the heart within the physical breast.  Then summon, draw in and compel toward it all your powers of soul and body––your mind's attention, the gaze of your eyes, and the vigilance of your will.  With a tension in the muscles and soberness in the senses, with the suppression of pleasures and bodily comfort––do this until the consciousness settles there as if in its own dwelling place––clinging and attaching itself like something sticky to a strong wall  Then remain there and do not leave as long as you are conscious, also repeating often the action of self-gathering in order to renew ti and strengthen it––for it weakens minute by minute  and even falls apart.

He emphasizes that this is not a matter of thought or the same as meditating.  It involves more than the mind. Meditation involves only the mind.

Saint Theophan clarifies,
Being within is lower and deeper than everything we have––or rather it happens in such a way that everything takes place above it, before its eyes; and some things are allowed while other things are forbidden. From this it is self-evident that being within, in its true form is the condition for man's true lordship over himself, and consequently of true freedom and intelligence, and therefore also true spiritual life... All spiritual work and all ascetical labors in general should be performed from this fortress, otherwise it is not spiritual.

This is what is meant in Scripture when the Lord says, "The kingdom of God is within you" (Lk 17:21), and when he commands, "enter into thy closet and...shut thy door." (Mt 6:6)

This gathering is always connected with warmth. It makes us strong.  We have a heightened awareness.  Theophan likens this to standing in the center of a spoked wheel.  He says, "Someone in the center of a circle see what is along every radius.  He sees everything around him almost at the same time, while one who steps out of the center sees only that along one radius."

Being within is all important to prepare us for the spiritual warfare ahead.  This warfare involves a war with the thoughts, desires and emotions of the heart and placing restraints on the demands of the body and its passions.  All this is necessary so we can live externally with love of other. It requires much labor to gain this.

The means for descending within:
"Remove anything that might disrupt the three indicated activities...the mind and the feelings, the will and the muscles, the heart and the flesh.  The feelings are distracted by outer impressions, and the mind by thoughts.  The muscles are weakened by the relaxation of the members, the will by desire, the flesh by comfort and the heart by captivation or by clinging t anything.  Consequently one must keep the mind free of thoughts, the senses undistracted, the will without desires, the muscles unrelaxed, the heart uncaptivated, the flesh without pleasure or comfort."

Gathering is where all spiritual work takes place––warfare, reading, divine contemplation and prayer.  Whatever the ascetic does, he should always to within and work from there.  Saint Theophan

Caution: The above teaching by Saint Theophan assumes that you already have the knowledge and experience of the "fire" of God within.  This approach is aimed at maintaining what for many is a yet to be reached spiritual level.  His focus is on bringing our full attention to the spirit in our heart that we experience after our awakening to God.  It's a holistic or integral approach to bring the whole being into its presence and dominance.  This is quite different than many Far Eastern meditation approaches that focus only on the mind.  The above should be sen as an exercise to awaken the inner spirit but as one to maintain it.

Ref: Path to Salvation pp 222-226


  1. Fr. Deacon, can I use this method simultaneously with the Jesus Prayer?

  2. Gathering within is important for all prayer. The idea is concentration on the prayer with total sincerity and humility.

  3. Are all the physical and mental techniques included in this act of concentration? I'm a bit confused on why we must tense our muscles too.

  4. For some it's an aid for concentration and bringing your focus inside, setting aside all that is happening around you. The method is not what is important but the concentration it brings for you. When you concentrat your muscles you may find that it does draw your attention inside. It is important not to remain centered in you head, your brain, but to move your concentration towards your heart, the center of your being.

  5. Thank you Fr. Is it the physical organ I concentrate on or a more spiritual heart? If it is the latter, how do I do so?

  6. The Church Fathers say different things. Some say the physical heart. There are actually a small number of brain cells on the heart. Most instruct to focus on the center of your being. The inner center which cannot be defined.

  7. How then do I start doing the latter?

  8. There is no one way to pray. When you pray ask for guidance and experiment. Over time if you have the intention to bring your prayer to your heart, grace will guide. Above all approach prayer with sincerity and humbleness. You will be guided as needed. Pray is nt based on a technique as you find in eastern meditation. It's based on love of God and a sincere effort to be in communion with him. Pray regularly in morning and evening. Don't focus on the technique in the beginning. Concentrate on the words of the prayer.

  9. Here is a link to our website Orthodox Prayer.org with some advice from Saint Theophan
    Hope this helps. You can explore this site for teachings from various saints. As on teacher told me, "just do it.

  10. I tend to have images when I try St. Theophan's advice. For example, when I try to meditate on God being the Lord of the Universe I see images of stars and outer space. I've tried ridding myself of these images and I've found that when I can do this I'm left only with feelings that I would, with hesitance, classify as pious (reverence, awe, contrition). However, I've heard mixed views concerning feelings ranging from an encouragement to cultivate positive feelings to rejecting them altogether. What is the right way?

  11. There is no one way. Let your heart speak. With sincerity you will be guided. Let His will work in you. Reverence, awe and contrition are surely proper attitudes for prayer.

  12. Amen, thank you. Sincerity and attitude. Are these keys. I think that for the longest time now I've been mixing sincerity/contrition and attitude with feelings. Thank you Fr Dn!