Monday, July 5, 2010

Illumination: Mental Rest or Stillness of the Mind

We have been discussing the highest elements of Orthodox Spirituality that are of necessity preceded by much work to tame the passions.  The stage we have arrived at is one where the mind is still and at rest. This is a stage one attains prior to receiving the gift of the divine light, but involves a strong feeling of God's presence.

Fr. Dimitru outlines the characteristics of this standstill of mental activity:
1. This cessation is produced because the mind has reached the peak of all objects received by thought and has given up all understanding, no matter how well defined; it has realized that no definite thought whatsoever can see God... It realizes that its activity no longer has any purpose, but on the contrary, that it is harmful because it brings it down once again to finite things.
2.We can draw two conclusions: First, the experience of God by the motionless of the mind is superior to the consciousness gained by the affirmation or negative activity.  Secondly, this shows that this inactivity ins't a simple inertia or insensibility, but an experience of the divine reality which it doesn't try to define further.
3. The mind has left all things behind, even its own function which it had directed toward these things.  It finds itself now before the Master, at the end of the earth, looking intensely and astonished at the ocean of life which is contained in Him.
4. It has given up all things and stands motionless, praying that a vessel will be sent to bring it into the open sea, which will open the door for it.  This reveals a state of great love before the divine infinity.
5. In the measure that the warmth of prayer has grown, so has the love, that it might reach its fullness in pure prayer, the highest step of prayer. This love also remains after the ceasing of pure but unlimited prayer; love will constitute together with the coming of the Spirit to help, the bridge of crossing from the coast of created land, to the vastness of the divine ocean.
6. The experiencing of the feeling of the boundless divine mystery, the state of boundless prayer and the warm firm love for God are other characteristics which distinguish this apophaticism from negative theology, in which the intellect is more active.

Finally, he again cautions us:
This experience isn't reached without a freedom from all cares, from those intended to produce pleasure, or from all that can cause pain or need.  Now once that the feeling of this divine ocean is reached, it controls man with such charm, that he remains quiet in tasting it, unaffected by anything from the outside.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 294 - 299

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