Friday, June 19, 2009

What Did We Learn About Attentiveness from Basil?

What is the lesson from Saint Basil's discourse on attentiveness? What can we gain from this in a practical sense? Here is what I think.

First, we must learn how to have a quite mind. Basil tells us that it is with a quiet mind that we can grasp the truth contained in the Gospel. He is not referring to the reading of Scripture, but the underlying truths that the Scripture represents. This is the starting point to knowing our soul, the working of Spirit, and our relationship with God. But just a quiet mind is not sufficient. We also need a critical skill.

With an quiet mind we can learn to become attentive to the action that is taking place in our mind. This is what he calls attentiveness. Other Fathers call it watchfulness.

Learning the skill of attentiveness is what is most important because this allows us to get at the source of our sinfulness. Our mind is not physical so things happen it it very fast and without effort. Thoughts quickly arise that lead us to react even faster than we can think with actions and emotions. These can be good or evil. They can lead us to anger, to speaking out words that harm others, and to physical violence. By being attentive to what is taking place in the mind we can intercept thoughts, cast them out before they lead us to action. We can also recognize automatic patterns of response to stimulus received by our senses, our eyes, earns, nose, mouth and sense of touch. and work at changing them as well. This is all a process of knowing intimately our inner self.

In addition, because the mind and body is a microcosm of the universe, as we become attentive we can lean about the true nature of all of Creation through self-knowledge. As we appreciate the make up of our physical and spiritual being we begin to know the energies of God. We come closer to God. This is our aim.

So attentiveness is teaching us about a fundamental skill we need in the spiritual life to become more like God and to know Him. The question he leaves with us then is the following, How does one develop the quite mind so we can become attentive of this inner life?

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