Over the past two weeks I have been writing a series on Hesychastic Prayer as taught in the Greek Orthodox tradition. If you have a moment please see the last two posts for the introductory remarks on this subject.
Those who are not Christians, and those who are atheists, please bear with me. There is no reason at least some aspects of this powerful contemplative practice cannot be adapted to your chosen path.
A central feature of Hesychastic Prayer is to find ways to move beyond mere vocal prayer said by rote, and mere intellectual concepts of God, and to proceed to access the depths of your heart and thereby attain a state known as, “The prayer of the heart.”
What I can say is that writers such as Bishop Kallistos Ware strongly encourage beginners to not seek to access the depths of their emotional and spiritual heart without the guidance of an experienced teacher. I have seen the same admonitions from certain Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist writers. More on this at another time.
But for now in regions such as North America or Western Europe this creates a problem as there are very few people who are masters of Hesychastic Prayer. But I assume there are a few somewhere that would have insights that are both profound and practical.
Possibly someone reading this blog may know of someone they can recommend. Please let me know if that is the case.
But Bishop Kallistos Ware does offer very useful general insights on this topic in his essay, “The Power of the Name.”
First, by heart he means we are more than just our intellect and our reason. You would be surprised how many people forget this most basic point.
He also cites Boris Vysheslavtsev’s comment that the heart is the “…center not only of consciousness, but of unconsciousness, not only of the soul but of the spirit, not only of the spirit but of the body, not only of the comprehensible but of the incomprehensible; in one word it (the heart) is the absolute center.
Merton and Hesychasm “The Prayer of the Heart” edited by Bernadette Dieker and Jonathan Montaldo Fons Vitae Louisville KY 2003 page 59
Bishop Ware goes on to say, “For the heart has a special significance in the spiritual life: it is both the center of the human being, and the point of meeting between human life God.” This last point is important and it closely echoes the Hindu teaching of the overlap between the Atman and Brahman.
Ibid Page 59
But how one is to find this heart when there is little specific guidance, at least in public writings.
Here are a few suggestions:
Replace the chatter of the mind with a repeated word or mantra such as the Jesus Prayer or some variation on it. Remember that the spiritual heart is not to be confused with the physical heart. For example many find the spiritual heart to be located pretty much in the chest just above the solar plexus. In short in the place where Hindu’s say the Heart Chakra is located. Still your experience may be much different from that described in any of the writings.
The important thing is to call forth your best degree of sincerity and earnest longing to find the depths of your spiritual heart as you repeat your sacred word or mantra.
Another tip is to find the place in your inner life where you feel the experience of loving, and observe your love as it streams up from this tender place within you. Seek to feel the love you have to give to those you love and then silently in prayer offer this love to them. For those who believe in God, you can also choose to offer this gift of your silent tender love to God and open your heart to receive the gift of God’s love for you.
I believe Bishop Ware is right. The center of the heart is the meeting place between our finite life and the infinite life of God. Cultivating your most tender and sincere skills with love will help you find this meeting place in the secret chambers of your deepest heart.
Whether this is just poetry or actual truth I cannot say. What I can say is the times I have been able to dwell in this silent loving embrace have been the deepest experiences of peace and grace I have known in my life.
Of course I then return to my usual cranky, frustrated, and insecure self and head off to work. But hey, a guy has to start somewhere right?
Please let me know your thoughts and experiences. All constructive comments will be responded to and posted if you feel comfortable having them posted.
Will Raymond Author of “The Simple Path of Holiness” host of Meditationpractice.com
will at meditation practice dot com (spelled out to limit spam)