A DIFFERENT CHRISTIANITY
A Personal Synopsis
A Personal Synopsis
Robin Amis' book, A DIFFERENT CHRISTIANITY, Praxis Institute Press, Chicago, USA, 2003, is an excellent comprehensive analysis of the Inner Christian Tradition. I believe the author explores and explains in scholarly fashion what Jesus meant when he said, "The Kingdom of God is within you." Thankfully, Amis goes beyond dogma and doctrine to workings of the mystery of God within us. He talks at length about inner experience.
I will try to be faithful to the many elements of his remarkable work. I would not attempt to improve in any way upon what the author has said. My purpose is to arrange a different order of his masterpiece with personal comments and interjections that would benefit me and my friends in our meditations and spiritual life. I will also introduce the findings of recognized experts relevant to our goal. No matter what Amis gives us, and the cup he offers is overflowing, the reader must make it his or her own to benefit, especially since we are dealing with personal experience. One of Amis' prime intentions was to take the values and riches of Mount Athos and apply them for people living outside monasteries. There is the possibility for this adaptation throughout his writings, and there is a concerted effort to do this at the end of his book.
When I read a great book like this, I like to say, "This is great! This I must do!" I will have to omit much of what Amis is saying, for mine will be a highly personal and briefer adaptation. I think Amis would agree with me when I say that God knows no bounds except those which we put on ourselves. I will also make use of his later work, VIEWS FROM MOUNT ATHOS, Praxis, 2014, and two of his talks, "Asceticism," and "Transformation of Eros." Unless noted otherwise, all page numbers refer to those in A DIFFERENT CHRISTIANITY.
Amis' work is extremely valuable and yet "weighty." The author took on the Herculean task of trying to make Christ and the Inner Christian Tradition meaningful and relevant in today's world. There is so much power here that it is difficult to absorb except in small doses. I will attempt to break down and to entitle each of Amis' subjects as the personal synopsis moves along.
After an extensive review of A DIFFERENT CHRISTIANITY, in a separate paper I will turn to other renowned teachers to enlarge upon and develop what Amis has laid out for us. It's as though our Englishman has planted many seeds, not unlike the English explorers of old who sowed their culture around the world. I would like to investigate what fruit might be brought forth from those plantings.
I will also quote Scripture abundantly, and recent scholarly research of same, as main sources for this endeavor.
Amis sees a contemporary separation between the doctrinal and the experiential, with the good seen as something beyond experience and in the future. God is seen as far off. He feels that we must restore the link between doctrine and experience. Translators have put the states that the early Fathers talked about into the past and the future, whereas they are really present reality. Man and nature, fallen nature and ecstasy, are now. The Fall happens all the time with every breath. As does the Resurrection. Modern man is thrown out into the world. That is not surprising because so much is going on out there. And it's easier to deal with than the spiritual. We must restore the balance and emphasize the experiential part of Christianity, for, he says, faith without confirming experience does not lead to hope. What is needed is more trusting and loving.
I see three elements that set the stage for Amis' extensive work. They are like directional pointers to where the author is taking us. In his Introduction he says that in the development of reason, humanism, and then the physical sciences, the inner tradition has been effectively forgotten or lost. It is that inner tradition that Amis wants to restore. Secondly, the effort is compounded by what he mentions in his first chapter. Much of the knowledge of the Way belongs to a time when theology and psychology, philosophy and science were all one discipline. With the specialization of modern thought, we simply don't approach the subject in the same way. The rifts formed by these separations can be bridged only through appropriate experience, and not in merely conceptual ways.
The third element takes some explanation; it is grounded in the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches. The word used by the Eastern Fathers, such as St. Gregory Palamas, to describe the emotional stillness found in prayer is HESYCHIA. This stillness is a very important factor in all the more significant experiences. Those following this school were known as hesychiasts. They were opposed by the Italian philosopher, Barlaam, who proclaimed the intellect was the means for knowing God. The debate took place in the early thirteen hundreds. Amis concludes: "Thus the schism between the two churches was at root a schism between head and heart. On Mount Athos today, considerably more than a thousand monks follow the Royal Way of the heart as practicing hesychasts."
There are two general observations that Amis makes which I think prepare for his work, although they are not made at the beginning of his enterprise. Not only do they have a bearing on his work, but they pertain to appreciation of the developing value of the individual in our society, at least in the West.
The first of these comments concerns the Emperor Constantine's official adoption of Christianity in 313. John Romanides, a professor of theology and the Greek church's representative to the World Council of Churches, understood the church in Constantine's time to be a therapeutic form of religion. He says the adoption of Christianity by Constantine the Great had as its mission the healing of society by healing the individuals who form that society. Christianity then and now has a strong moral code.
Romanides "claims that it cured effects on the mind similar to those which act almost hypnotically on certain kinds of fundamentalists today. These effects were said to originate from certain pre-Christian religions active in the Roman Empire." If this view is correct, then what is now known in the Eastern churches as THEOSIS--'divinasation,' was linked to what in our times might be termed a change of consciousness. "Romanides claimed that pagan religions in the Roman Empire caused a 'short-circuit between the head and heart. Instead of leading participants in these religions to a real relationship with a living God, their minds and emotions became dispersed and fragmented." Religion can have a hypnotic effect.
Amis sees strong connections between that ancient event and the human situation of our day. He explains,"It seems likely that this problem, the hypnotic effect of religion, and the possibility of a Christian cure, both still exist today, but very few people understand them."
In his later work, VIEWS FROM MOUNT ATHOS, Amis mentions the second general observation that contributes to the increasing value put upon the individual as such. He quotes from Archimandrite Placide of the Monastery of Simonas Petra, "Mount Athos can help to return to Europe an awareness of what its own, unique contribution among the great civilizations of the world must be, that is: to comprehend the meaning of the human person and of a person-centered society."
These two transformative occurrences served to free the individual from external restraints. Such was necessary before the person could develop from within. For that development, and to get to the purpose of Amis' work, divinization requires, perhaps universally, psychological therapy or a change of consciousness.
A great obstacle, perhaps the greatest obstacle to the spiritual life, is so much attention directed outward. There is so much out there! And it's easier to deal with and to control. We even see our own demons as outside. I have been brought up to trust my parents, my teachers, the church, the government, etc.
When I look within, a great danger is to belittle inner experience. Can I trust it? What do I hold onto, and what do I let go? Amis says that "esoteric psychology works a transformation in someone who makes appropriate efforts...So that God's work is done by man, and also ON man, in alliance with man's work upon himself." We should not put all our trusting hope in the scriptures written in ink, for divine grace writes on the "tablets of the heart" (2 Corinthians 3:3) the laws of the spirit and the heavenly mysteries. "For there, in the heart, the mind abides, as well as the thoughts of the soul and all its hopes. This is how grace penetrates through all parts of the body."
"It is on this eternal factor within us that the mind can rest and become still. Here, at the center of one's being, one finds Christ. Here lies truth, and here opens the doors of that love that cannot betray."
Amis goes on to explain what trusting the inner work can lead to. "One becomes what one is, becomes for the first time not an imitation of someone else, but oneself...one becomes whole, for a moment, or for the rest of one's life--by becoming wholehearted; becomes complete by refusing to compromise one's best....Becomes whole by not escaping from the sorrow of emptiness into continual distraction. Becomes whole by giving, not asking, by perceiving with care instead of jumping to conclusions; above all, one becomes whole by acting from the heart, by overcoming division in oneself, by acting from the real facts and not from illusions."
Looking at Amis' work so far, It is extremely important to realize three things. First, how necessary it is to direct attention inward. Second, in this inner work, the intellect plays a lesser role than the feelings, the emotions, the heart. And third, how crucial it is to trust my own inner work.
It is obvious that this human work connects with the divine. It calls to mind certain Biblical teachings such as 'the narrow way,' 'the straight gate,' with often the hidden plea to look beyond what I can see, and beyond what I can control.
A change in consciousness may involve surrender. Surrender is often thought of as weakness, but it is not submission or attachment. Some want to surrender to hold the ecstatic state, and that makes surrender difficult. I cannot stop at ecstasy. I must let go of all results.
What is it to surrender? Surrender is letting my finer self rule. This makes surrender far more palatable to me, and centers on the inner transformation required. I can trust it if it is a movement toward goodness, toward Godness. It reminds me of a more recent translation of Jesus' words. The old rendering says, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." A more recent translation closer to the Aramaic, reads "Blessed are they who soften what is rigid within, for they shall receive power and strength from the universe." This is the kind of surrender I want to make, for it empowers me and those around me, moving us closer to our goal.
WATCH AND PRAY
In moving toward our goal, I don't think we can have a simpler or better summary as to what is needed than that found in Jesus' words, "Watch and pray." Amis builds on this when he says, "WATCHFULNESS in the head and PRAYER in the heart both play important roles in esoteric development. The nature of the psychological method is that before we can practice these key elements in the Way, both head and heart must be subject to major changes in the way they perform. These changes are much greater than those who have not experienced them can understand" (p.273).
Amis quotes a bishop who says, "Prayer is a living reality, a personal encounter with the living God, and as such is not to be confined within the limits of any rigid analysis." He lists three degrees of prayer as (1) Oral or bodily prayer (2) Prayer of the mind (3) Prayer of the heart or ('of the mind in the heart'): spiritual prayer."
Both prayer and watchfulness are so broad and important that I could devote this whole treatise and barely scratch the surface. I must start somewhere. Prayer and awareness, often brought together in meditation, aims at connecting my heart to my highest aspirations. Their purpose is to merge the human into the divine. Amis gives a very apt quote from one of the Athonite abbots: "A God who does not deify man can have no interest to man." The quote subtly suggests God's grace enticing man's interest.
The Biblical statement that "No man has ever seen God" (John 1:18) is really telling us that we cannot perceive God in the way in which we perceive the things of this world. But there is another layer of truth that these words point to. Divinization, Amis' and our purpose here, is not to see God but to become God, to merge with the divine.
Jesus specifies for his followers how this divinization is brought about:
"Let me firmly assure you,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood,
you have no life in you.
He who feeds on my flesh
and drinks my blood
has eternal life.
And I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food,
and my blood, real drink.
The man who feeds on my flesh
and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the Father who has life sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so the man who feeds on me
will have life because me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike those ancestors who ate and yet died,
the man who feeds on this bread will live forever" (John 6:54-59).
A little while later, in explaining his words, Jesus gives one of the great keys to the inner life of the Christian Tradition. What Jesus calls flesh is in fact Spirit, as is clear from verse 63:
"It is the Spirit that gives life;
the flesh is useless.
The words that that I have spoken to you
are both Spirit and life."
Jesus is affirming that man cannot gain true life on his own. If Jesus is divine revelation come down from heaven like bread to nourish men, his purpose is to communicate to them the principle of eternal life. The man who accepts the words of Jesus and puts them into practice will receive the life-giving Spirit.
KNOWING GOD AND THE BREADTH OF PRAYER
It is sometimes said that the way to know God is not direct, but is through knowing our own "True I." Consciousness is spirit; our job is to make it into The Spirit, to realize our oneness with God. The "Real I" patterns itself after Christ as the image or icon of the Father. The idea of the icon is that man is made in God's image, the image perfectly manifested in Christ. God's will is already in us in seminal form.
I don't just want to know God with my mind; I want to experience God. And I can know God by the way He acts upon me. It has been said that we cannot know God's essence, but we can know Him by His energies. This takes me right back to prayer and watchfulness. Amis offers many good points about prayer which highlight the role I can play in it. He quotes a bishop's wise advise in saying that we can present to God our weaknesses, our needs, but not as desiring to be rid of them, but as problems to be helped with in a way God knows would help us best in the long run.
The prayer of petition should take us to a deeper level of seeking and directs us inward. "Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened for you" (Matthew 7:7). Knock where? Seek what? Ask for what? Matthew also gives a clear answer to these questions: "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness" (Matt 6:33). Where are we to seek the kingdom? That question also is clearly answered: "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).
THE MAGNETIC CENTER
The living relationship with God is deep, existing only in the secret world of the heart, the "closet" into which we must go to pray. Amis' idea of a MAGNETIC CENTER is primarily a description of the psychological "inner room" or "closet" which makes it possible to practice prayer of the heart. "To pray seems to bring pious feelings and attitudes into action, leading to a quickening or kindling of life and forming a spirit of devotion" (p. 256). The idea of magnetization to God expresses the higher stages of noetic prayer in which, when the soul reaches a certain point on the path, it is then RAPT IN GOD, being drawn away from the attraction of the world by the glory given by God within (p. 257).
It may be said that unless the magnetic center is reached, unless one abides there at least temporarily, real knowledge (gnosis) cannot be gained. It is there deep in our true nature that all the work of the senses and intellect coalesce or fuse with the heart into a knowing and loving reality. There duality dies and One is born.
I submit that the magnetic center or my deepest nature consists of consciousness, free will, and love. The greatest of these is love, but it needs the other two to abide in love, to prevail in making me into what God is: Unconditional Love. At any particular time it may be good to concentrate on any one of these, depending on circumstances and my own bent. We can help our own cause by being aware of exactly what I am doing at the time: minding, willing, or loving, on my way to Oneness.When I am still and quiet enough, the second or the other does not exist. Simply, I am consciousness.
The words of Jesus himself draws me to Him like nothing else can: "When you pray, GO TO YOUR PRIVATE ROOM AND, WHEN YOU HAVE SHUT YOUR DOOR, PRAY to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:6). Such words highlight the singular value of the individual praying, but even more astounding to me, is the invitation of Jesus to ineffable intimacy with God the Father.
The Magnetic Center is a recurring theme in A DIFFERENT CHRISTIANITY, which Amis expands and connects with other key notions of his thinking. I will take them up in kind as we move through his work.
Since the magnetic center is a human creation, I must do something to have it. Amis says ceaseless prayer is the best means, which usually means the mind and will and heart must be somewhere else from where it is now. It is necessary to change and to keep on changing, which is the same as continual learning. To reach the goal, internal change is almost as important as life itself. A change of being requires a change in what I want.
This brings us to the Jesus Prayer. It is variously described by different praying communities. Abbot George of Grigoriou said the "principle export of Mount Athos is the Jesus Prayer," and for the Athonites it is not a method. Rather, "it is a relationship, something personal, emotional. If one treats it as a method, intellectually, then you are missing the whole point, the main point of it, which is a slowly developing relationship with the person of Jesus. Just like speaking to someone in the ordinary way. Only then will it grow, will it change, will it lead to something new. Then everything else will grow from that relationship" (p. 254-256). To do something personal and intimate helps in the Jesus Prayer. I like to "picture Jesus," with slender sun-tanned hands in a long white frock, and see my prayer as a way of "keeping in touch" with him. I'll talk to him as I would to a friend, and listen to any response that may make.
Amis widens the scope of his investigation in commenting on what this kind of prayer leads to. He says "the inner experience that results from this kind of prayer...is the exact Christian equivalent of the Indian DYANA (transcendental) meditation, although technically different." The experience is that of "inner light, the light that shines in the darkness, the light of what is called in Sanskrit SAT-CHIT-ANANDA: being-bliss-consciousness, the UNCREATED LIGHT" (p. 61-62). Others have described it as ABSOLUTE BLISS CONSCIOUSNESS, absolute signifying one without another, or one without a second. Some of my friends who have combined a Buddhist practice with Christian devotion have described their experiences. They said that sometimes in deep meditation when they were outside of thought and time and felt a oneness with everything, they were extremely alert but conscious only of overwhelming bliss, bliss upon bliss. This description came only later when they were out of meditation, and, as they said, when their mind could move again. Needless to say, they were wrapped in wonder and hoped that that kind of meditation would happen again.
"Along with the intellect, the soul too prays in the heart, and the body is attentive to the prayer. In the Jesus Prayer of the mind and heart, or noetic meditation, all three parts of the human triad are most fully and perfectly unified in one common activity of their powers. This integrating and synthesizing role of prayer is one of its great secrets....There is no other practice in which the powers and functions are so ideally interrelated as in prayer" (p. 216).
Westerners often have trouble with the approach of letting things "grow" at their own pace, and prefer the activity of "doing" something. The spiritual life doesn't cling to methods. It is not something we do but is instead a form of inner growth. Prayer as it progresses depends more on a relinquishing of control than on its intensification. Prayer does require attentiveness, a directing of attention. Even then, it is not an active control. It involves what one can only call a kind of "effortless effort." Overactivity is a symptom of the absence of true prayer of the heart.
A monk of Mount Athos told Amis that prayer, especially the Jesus prayer, was the key. "If one was praying in the heart, then everything would be all right." Amis since discovered this to be true for himself.
I am digressing to another author here while adhering to the notion of "a relationship, something personal, emotional" that Amis says is necessary in the Jesus Prayer. I think Amis would agree with what Evelyn Underhill says in her masterful work, MYSTICISM, A Study in the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness, E. P. Dutton & Co, Inc., 1974. She highlights the warmth emerging in our endeavor when the will and the heart play their necessary roles. It is another description of how the Magnetic Center is formed, although Underhill does not use that term.
Her outline is an excellent psychological profile of the different human faculties engaging in spiritual and mystical pursuits, "Metaphysics and science," she says, "seem to offer to the intellect an open window towards truth; till the heart looks out and declares this landscape to be a chill desert in which she can find no nourishment. These diverse aspects of things must be either fused or transcended if the whole self is to be satisfied; for the reality which she seeks has got to meet both claims and pay in full....Love, all wings,..is a quest, an outgoing towards an object desired, which only when possessed will be fully known, and only when fully known can be perfectly adored."
Underhill continues: "Aristotle said, 'The intellect by itself moves nothing,' and modern psychology has but affirmed this law. Hence (man's) quest of Reality is never caused, though it may be greatly assisted, by the intellectual aspect of his consciousness, for the reasoning powers as such have little initiative....They stay at home, dissecting and arranging matter that comes to hand, and do not adventure beyond their own region in search of food. Thought does not penetrate far into an object in which the self feels no interest--i.e., towards which she does not experience a movement of attraction, of desire--for interest is the only method known to us of arousing the will, and securing the fixity of attention necessary to any intellectual process" (pp. 46-47).
"None think for long about anything for which they do not care; that is to say, which does not touch some aspect of their emotional life. They may hate it, love it, fear it, want it; but they must have some feeling about it. Feeling is the tentacle we stretch out to the world of things." Underhill points out the need for integration, and places the emphasis in the heart rather than in the mind.
THE ROLE OF FRICTION
Amis says there are two main methods of reaching what Sacred Scripture orders as the "one thing needful." One is prayer; the other "is to create friction, to bring into being an interior struggle with the associative mechanism of the mind. They both become effective when they lead to inner separation." In quoting St. Theophan, he says that "any kind of struggle with habits of mind, if it is combined with an emotional remembrance of God, is indeed prayer" (p. 243).
It is a matter of making opposite choices, which the monastic method calls a "perpetual forcing of nature," in which one denies his will to self-satisfaction and attempts to make his whole life revolve around God in order to transform the heart which, no longer receiving satisfaction from any outward source, begins to love only the source of the inner satisfaction that is the grace of God" (p. 229). The aspirant must deal effectively with his two sources of passions, those that arise from the body and those which occur in the psyche for purely psychological reasons. Love and egotism are incompatible. Friction is acting contrary to my norm. It may be the refusal to get even when I am slighted. It may be forgiving someone when I am hurt. I need to look at anything that disturbs, offends or irritates me, for that is friction and an opportunity to deal with it
I see a graphic instance in myself in which I turn from getting satisfaction from outside myself to loving the inner joy that follows. Before entering the seminary, I dated many women, falling in love once. At that time it was perfectly normal to look admiringly on a beautiful face and seek to make conversation. Because I like women, that tendency is still with me. Now when I am tempted to look and admire, I deliberately turn my eyes away. I know there is nothing wrong with looking and appreciating. I do it so as to separate myself from an earthy satisfaction. I avert my eyes to think of the One who made her beautiful and gave me this urging for good reasons. Out of the two masters waiting my decision, I deliberately choose the one I want to serve. I try to let my heart and mind stay with Him. When I succeed, I know it's a form of prayer and a personal lifting up of myself. I frequently feel good all over. I know it's a way of separating myself from earthly pleasures that spiritual masters advocate. It may be a small step, but changing my attention can be huge. The gospel tells us that no man can serve two masters, and the obvious conclusion is that we cannot have two different kinds of consciousness focusing at one and the same time.
Where I used to consent in a deliberate way, I now choose to assent in another way.
ASSENT SERVING THE NOUS
On this subject, Amis beautifully connects assent with asceticism. "Assent is an act of free will and involved in the mysterious process by which free will aligns itself with the will of God" (p. 172). In today's world, people have difficulty understanding the value and purpose of asceticism. It's real purpose is not physical, nor simply psychological. "The real goals even of physical asceticism are noetic. In esotericism, ascesis is practiced only with the aim of purifying and enlightening the nous, (which we will elaborate below), and it will only be successful if it is practiced from an understanding of that fact; if it emerges from the heart by assent--and that because, as a result of our seeing it to be necessary, we care enough to make the effort easy. True assent can be taken as a test: as evidence that our ascesis comes from the heart. Ascesis that does not come from the heart is false ascesis; it comes from pride, or is a discipline imposed on us by others, and either of these leads to destruction. Another unknown thing about ascesis is that it is used as a means of testing oneself. For this, above all, it must be used intelligently and not destructively. If this is done, it will serve to help us to discover the intentions of the heart" (p. 140).
Amis says the nous is experienced as the single organ of consciousness which contains all our knowledge in itself, not verbal or diagrammatic knowledge, but direct knowledge, entirely different from the descriptions and definitions that most people pass for knowledge (p.106). It is the cognitive power of the heart, which must be transformed or enlightened by preferring God over Mammon. "No form of discursive thought can reflect clearly upon itself without the aid of the still and undivided NOUS (p. 338).
"The task of the inner tradition is the healing of the human NOUS, sometimes described by the early Fathers as THE EYE OF THE SOUL. The NOUS is the garden in which the sower went to sow (Matthew 13:3), the field in which an enemy sowed tares (Matthew 13:24)....This NOUS is the background to the whole drama of inner Christianity. The whole struggle between truth and illusion occurs in this hidden place but is imaged out in the visible world....This is the great myth of our civilization, the struggle between good and evil. Here lies our difficulty, and here is our hope" (p. 337). In talking about myths, I am reminded of that wise saying: "A myth is something that never happened but is always true." The truth lies in us, which is always happening.
The role assent plays in asceticism shows how important discrimination is in our spiritual choices. What do I assent to and what do I refrain from? Can I trust what I feel? Discrimination is a power of the nous. "As the soul's discriminatory power," teaches St. Maximos the Confessor, "the NOUS persuades the soul to cleave to the first and to transcend the second." The second is the influence of the world; the first is a spiritual influence that draws us out of the ordinary concerns of the world.
Amis says it is mandatory to discriminate the knowing mind (nous) from the activity of mind. This is discrimination of the unchanging element in oneself from everything that changes. Even this is not enough, for it leaves one powerless in the world.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL METHOD OF GNOSIS
The author does a great service in showing what is necessary for us to advance in the spiritual life. In it, I would say, he takes us along for a prolonged stay in Mount Athos. He is referring to the method of GNOSIS, which is a psychological method. It is a method for active esoteric work that does not demand a change in our way of life, and allows one to progress, and that more quickly compared with that in the monasteries.
This method has three essential elements:
b. doubled attention or PRESENCE;
c. constatation or presence without judgement.
Prayer is prayer of the heart, a form of prayer that begins as a practice but ends as a state. Doubled attention is awareness in and out at the same time, often referred to as "two-headed arrow." With these three the student of this path should act as if he or she possessed a complete MAGNETIC CENTER. They represent the states--the two "conscious shocks"--needed before the active psyche is able to serve as a vehicle for higher consciousness, or as the
Eastern traditions simply describe as consciousness.
The cure of the nous requires watchfulness and prayer. As Paul said to Timothy, "Remain watchful through everything" (2 Timothy 4: 5). It's as though Paul is heeding the words of Jesus: "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26: 41).
Watchfulness is both a state and a practice. My friends and I have shared some of our meditation experiences in which while focusing, for example, on the breath, the person is also very aware of something else going on, seemingly in the background, such as a presence, or a being lifted up, or a pervading peacefulness.
Watchfulness is continual fixing and halting of thought. We cannot stop thinking by effort, but we can prevent associative activities from entering which, in turn, continually strengthens our focusing ability. This constant reinforcing paves the way to the time when thoughts indirectly die away and the subject enters a state of pure consciousness without an object. It implies a stillness of the nous, sometimes regarded as "dwelling with God."
Amis says that "unless we are present, a state of watchfulness does not exist....God becomes real to me only when I am real or, to put it another way, I can sense the PRESENCE of a person only when I am at least partially present, only when I am in the 'present moment'....This presence is the 'image' that, when fully developed, makes us a 'real person.' Amis is referring here to the divine IMAGE within each human being which must be realized before we can be what God would have us be, and so before we can know God...."This state of presence is also implied in the following well-known verse from the psalms: 'Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth'"(Psalms 46:10) (p. 274-282).
A favorite meditative tool among several people I know is to gradually decrease the breadth of this prayer so that one's focusing narrows accordingly. They say that they concentrate more on less, and spend the time according to what attracts them the most. To follow them, the meditator goes from:
"Be still and know that I am God,"
"Be still and know that I am,"
"Be still and know,"
Presence and awareness go hand in hand. It takes awareness to know that I am in the present moment. I know that I am not in the now if I am thinking, for I cannot think and watch at the same time. It is my experience that the sense of presence increases to the degree that I am consciously aware.
Watching my thoughts instead of acting them out puts me into the here and now. Awareness grows, getting wider and deeper. I notice that if I keep watching my thoughts, they get weaker and weaker and at times totally disappear. It is then that I watch the witness. With the witness witnessing, one can experience that "only I am." The observer is looking at himself. He IS THAT, consciousness itself. The movement is from watching to being, from consciousness to outer and all reality. The experience can be that in watching the witness, the witness expands to become universal. Some call it consciousness without an object.
Presence and watching are voluntary processes. Behind both, almost a forgotten partner, resides the will. Our makeup requires a will to watch. With a fixed posture of gazing, all images conceivable are viewed. Surrender has been called the greatest act of will. Can I surrender to simply watching? As said elsewhere in this paper, surrender is not submission or attachment; surrender is letting my finer self, my higher self, rule. We must climb the ladder to get to our highest self.
Any device is to be used that helps navigate the obstacles, for as Amis says, the human mind is vastly complex, and so the actual process of transforming the mind is equally or more complex. "It is to deal with this complexity and describe the progressive development of this process that the tradition uses an image that in its modern form is known as a MAGNETIC CENTER, sometimes described as a cage....In a cage, nothing can enter or leave, yet you can see put quite clearly.
The ark is another image of exactly the same thing. It refers to the traditional doctrine that the inner teaching serves as an ark to preserve all that is good when mankind is threatened with disaster (282-283).
St. Theophan described an advanced stage of spiritual development as magnetization or gravitation to God, which is presumably the source of the name MAGNETIC CENTER, which in its character is close to the infused contemplation of Western spirituality. The basic idea of the magnetic center, the idea of an artificial "center" in the psyche formed of special disciplines, applies as much to true monasticism as it does to nonmonastic processes, and in both is clearly linked with noetic prayer. Higher knowledge stills the mind, and continuity of attention produces inner stability (285-286).
MAGNETIC CENTER TO THE WAY
If the Magnetic Center receives sufficient nourishment, it begins to influence the man's orientation, obliging him to turn round and even to move in a certain direction. And when the Magnetic Center attains sufficient force and development, a man already understands the idea of the "Way" and he begins to look for the "Way."
The Way forms the foundation of future growth, for it COMBINES two qualities in harmony:
1. It has had to bring us knowledge of a particular kind; and
2. It has had to increase our sensitivity to certain subtle forces in life,
By continuing to develop these two, thought and feeling, in a harmonious way, the infant magnetic center plays an ongoing role in our progress on the way to which it has led us. The magnetic center is a slowly developing "complex" of ideas that are our own, but they are "formed from above" that draw the individual to the esoteric path. This artificial center or man-made psychological organ, formed and balanced, enables man to connect to the divine (286-287).
In the formation of the magnetic center, likened to mounting a STAIRCASE, a mature form of watchfulness "is a state in which we remain uninvolved while the mind presents various things to us. While in this state, we remain free to choose which of those things we will act upon. The other element of complete watchfulness is clear and nonreactive recognition of all that is presented to the nous: of thoughts, of perceptions, of physical sensations....This reaction is a characteristic of an entirely different state of awareness from that which is normal to us, but this is only developed through practice, and this practice is of perceiving while not reacting."
It is important to express in words this special knowledge and special discipline of the ESOTERIC tradition. "If this is expressed in words," says Amis, "but then assimilated to, and its mystical content reinforced by direct, mystical experience of that realm, the resulting combination of word and direct experience forms a link between that mind and our higher, spiritual faculties: it begins to cause the emergence of the image or ICON of God within the soul; this is not just a reflection of, but an active connection to, the CHRIST WITHIN....Then the Personality, as well as the "I" of the body, submit themselves entirely to the real "I," who becomes undoubted and absolute master."
During our magnetization to God, prayer is a "graduated scale" leading from wholly verbal prayer with no emotion, at one end of the "rule," to wholly emotional prayer--often without words--at the other. It is then said that, "Prayer is abandoned, a superior good having been obtained. The mind is in ecstasy, and knows not whether it is in the body or out of the body, as the Apostle says....prayer is the seed and this is the harvest....The fathers call such a condition prayer because this great gift has its wellspring in prayer, and is bestowed on saints during prayer. The depth of our prayer...depends on the degree to which we can live our life at other times in awareness of God....Where the spirit in someone previously acted compulsively, it now begins to abide in God's willingly and quietly without strain, with feelings of reverence, fear and joy....This immersion in God is called 'silence of the mind' or 'rapture in God'....It may be very fleeting at first, but the ultimate aim is that in time it should become constant."
"There are, then, three clear stages that can be recognized in the formation of the magnetic center: discovering the reality of the spiritual impulse within us; forming a center of inner separation and control; and the flowering of that fully formed center into a life of spontaneous prayer of the heart."
DISCRIMINATION: THE SPARK FOR METANOIA
Discrimination's aim is separation from the world. It "is the means by which the esoteric Christian finds the narrow way of the gospel and, each time he loses it, finds his way back....It is by action of nonverbal discrimination that you can recognize a true conscious influence" (p. 296).
"The intellect, when it is tied to the body through the senses, discriminates in one way. The pure nous, when it is free of these ties, discriminates in a quite different way." As the soul's discriminatory power, the nous persuades the soul to cleave to a unity of eternal and spiritual.
As a practical example I'd like to share an event that occurred yesterday. While my wife and I were eating dinner at a restaurant, my wife remarked how irritating the waitress' high pitched voice was. I noticed it too, then we decided to talk about it. "What are you thinking?" she asked. I said, "We are having an aversion for something and easily object to it." "So?" she questioned. I replied, "It's causing an irritation in us." Then Helen said, "Why not first of all just be aware of the voice, and be even more aware of the automatic resistance we raise? We slow down our reaction time and its intensity by taking in the whole picture." I then said, "Why not accept it for the next hour as part of the life we are given and see what happens?"
We both were surprised! Awareness of what we were doing and acceptance of our waitress, her voice, and our interplay, immediately took away our irritation! We both still heard her high-pitched voice, and remarked that it no longer bothered us. It was a 180 degree turn around INSIDE ourselves. I think we both opened ourselves to actively engage the experience we were having. We did not take for granted our old way of reacting, but allowed ourselves to question it. We decided to do the same thing with each other when one of us feels irritated about something the other has said or done. I did not say this to Helen at the time, but I was secretly pleased with the discrimination we were both making.
There are many factors in life, some very subtle, that inhibit choosing the high road. Knowledge sometimes obscures life. It is not that knowledge itself is harmful, but rather the kind of knowledge and the way we react to it. The mistake we make is in elevating ideas and representations of things as if they were the things themselves. It is then that we no longer see the reality. Thinking we know, we no longer search (p. 298). I think it is implicit in Amis' work that we can never stop learning. The words of Socrates need to be taken to heart: "I know that I don't know."
"The garden is the nous as heart, the wordless unifying part of the mind: mind beyond thought, the cave of the icon, the dark water....it was of this that St. John of the Cross could write: 'Transcending reason with my thought.' Of this, too, Jacob Boehme said: 'He that can throw himself into this, even for a moment, shall hear the unspeakable words of God.'"
"It would not be a lie to say that The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the visible created world, for this world by its nature is subject to the contradictions that cause pleasure and pain."
"There is another fruit that grows in this garden. It is what some call CONSCIENCE. This fruit grows only in a special soil, in a deeper stillness, when our wants too are stilled: 'the space between desires.' It is of this that it was said: 'Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth'"(Psalms 46:10).
We eat this other fruit not by doing what we wish, but by doing what we know to be right. This too is the ROYAL WAY, because once we learn the taste of this fruit, once we learn to 'know what we know,' this path can be followed whatever our way of life" (pp. 299-300).
Amis says full discrimination leads to APATHEIA, or dispassion. I believe this applies to souls far advanced on the ROYAL WAY, for most of us live with passions. He quotes Clement of Alexandria: "This is the really good man, who is without passions." Amis explains that "This APATHEIA is the test by which effective discrimination can be recognized. The higher knowledge, the gnosis, when first tasted, creates the inner struggle that leads to APATHEIA, but when it is known and assimilated in full it actually ends one's dependence." I think ending 'one's dependence' can be translated as 'becoming free,' which connects this Christian APATHEIA with the spiritual quest of many other mystical traditions.
"In theoretical terms, to discriminate is to distinguish one thing from another; but we are speaking here about discrimination between different kinds of truth--for instance, between scientific truth on the one hand, and inwardly certain, otherwise ambiguous, experienced or understood truths that cannot be demonstrated, on the other."
A PARALLEL IN EASTERN TRADITION
Athonite discrimination parallels Shankara's descriptions in his famous book VIVEKA-CHUDAMANI, or its translation, THE CREST JEWEL OF DISCRIMINATION (Translated with an Introduction to Shankara's Philosophy by Swami Prabhavananda's and Christopher Isherwood, Vedanta Press, Hollywood, CA, 1947). Shankara, born around 686 A.D. in southern India, says the all-important discrimination is between the Atman and the non-Atman. The Atman is the knowing entity within us, which Shankara calls "a self-existent Reality....That Reality is the knower in all states of consciousness.... That Reality sees everything by its own light....That Reality pervades the universe.... Its nature is eternal consciousness....This is the Atman, the Supreme being, the ancient....It is revealed as God dwelling within; as unending, unalloyed bliss; as the supreme and self-luminous Being."
Amis says his second discrimination is identical with the "second qualification" or emotional discrimination in Shankara's CREST JEWEL, which is one of the keys to the Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita. "It is through this faculty of emotional discrimination that we recognize, somewhere inside us, that Christ, in his actions and in his words, shows us something unworldly in a literal sense, something coming from beyond the world we know, so that it was perfectly consistent that he taught us:
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.
If any man love the world, the love of the father is not in him."
Shankara pursues the need for discrimination so that the listener can realize the unspeakable joys found in the Atman, man's true nature. "The Atman dwells within, free from attachment and beyond all action. A man must separate this Atman from every object of experience, as a stalk of grass is separated from its enveloping sheath. Then he must dissolve into Atman all those appearances which make up the world of name and form. He is indeed a free soul who can remain thus absorbed in the Atman alone....The fool thinks, "I am the body." The intelligent man thinks, "I am an individual soul united with the body." But the wise man, in the greatness of his knowledge and spiritual discrimination sees the Atman as reality and thinks, "I am Brahman."
I recognize many similarities between Shankara and what we have seen so far in Amis. Amis says that Christ dwells is inside us, in his actions and in his words. Shankara teaches that the Atman dwells within and one is free when he can remain absorbed in the Atman alone. The Athonite sees that man must take steps to get out of his immersion in a world that obscures his inherent nature, and Shakara, applying an image, says his true being is like a stalk of grass that must be freed from its enveloping sheathe. Both writers are aiming at separation from the world. The more we can separate ourselves from the world's enticements, the freer we become.
For all their similarities, I see a pronounced difference in emphasis between these two reformers. Amis stresses the means to be taken to get to our goal, while Shankara likes to dwell on the prize to be won. While Amis details metanoia, asceticism, and discrimination, Shankara feasts on the joy and peace and beauty of the Atman. He does not ignore the price to be paid but chooses to verbalize as far as he can the incomprehensible bliss of arriving at the far shore in this life. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive, for I think some of each unfolds all along life's path.
An example from the Gospel of John says both can be taking place simultaneously. In 15:12 he declares the means par excellent: "This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you." And in many places in his Gospel he talks about the end to be gained: "The man who hears my words and has faith in Him who sent me POSSESSES eternal life...he has passed from death to life" (5: 24).
This reward, as declared, is not only when we die. John is clear that for his followers eternal life is a present possibility. John probably has a penchant for joining contraries: "an hour is coming and is now here" (4: 23; 5: 25); "believers may die or never die at all" (11: 25-26). Johannine eschatology is not only future but also realized. John's Gnosticism differs from another prevalent in his day. That other Gnosticism held that the path of its followers must be independent of history and where life is gained by leaving the world and the flesh.
A RELATIONSHIP TO SOCRATES
While still on the subject of discrimination between the two kinds of knowledge, Amis gives credit to Socrates for seeing the difference. "Pre-Socratic philosophy begins with the discovery of Nature; Socratic philosophy begins with the discovery of man's soul. The life of Socrates found its appropriate motto in the Delphic inscription, 'Know Thyself.' We now know that other civilizations possessed that knowledge before Socrates."
"Esoteric science is inner science,...and Socrates first turned the attention of Athenian civilization to that inner knowledge which they were ignoring at the time, leaving it to St. Paul some three centuries later to turn their attention to the fact that their UNKNOWN GOD could In fact be known: that not only could they possess inner knowledge, but in this way it could become COMPLETE. 'For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore Ye ignorantly worship, him declare I into you' (Acts 17:23).... The 'new' kind of knowledge, taught by and represented by Socrates, was in fact an EMOTIONAL KNOWLEDGE, a knowledge of the heart or of the nous, a feeling of being" (pp. 306-307).
"We have to discover the limits of reason: the limits to what intellect can discover with the aid of the body and the senses. These limits are real. Intellect, in our modern sense of this term, can tell us some things, but there are things it cannot tell us. This point is that at which Socrates discovered that he did not know, and because he discovered this he was said to know more than anyone else. In this, the Platonic philosophy comes close to the esoteric tradition; Clement of Alexandria called Plato "Moses talking in Greek" (p. 313). "As Socrates once discovered, only when we recognize that in a special sense ideas are not knowledge--and in what sense this is true--can we link the mind to the heart" (pp. 20-21). (In the East, the intellect is generally considered on the same level as the senses. This means other faculties must get involved to arrive at true knowing.)
DISCRIMINATION OF SPIRITS
"When the early Fathers describe discrimination between the two kinds of knowledge as the "differentiation of spirits," it becomes clear that the word SPIRITS refers not to individual beings, in the modern materialist or spiritualist sense, but to the INFLUENCES that shape our lives, to forces or energies that influence out thoughts and all that comes from them. This word SPIRIT, which is sometimes capitalized as referring to the Spirit of God, represents the one thing in two ways: 1. as an influence in our lives: 2. as an energy that INFORMS our awareness....To see that we have nothing of our own is to be free: "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (p. 311).
Within the notion of influences, another idea is applied, that of a different kind of knowledge, of emotionally meaningful knowledge...." The true higher knowledge, the heart of knowledge, is the emotional knowledge that is born of direct experience rooted in love." Amis does a great service to the soul sojourner because modern man often feels that true knowledge must not be tinged by emotion. Amis insists that true knowledge has to be emotional to get the heart involved.
"In modern times, as we choose to receive the Spirit that was sent by God, this will form in our mind a CLEAR SPACE--initially small. We will sense this as a stillness, and it was this stillness...that was taught by the early Fathers, including St. Augustine, as a sign or test by which we will know when we are touched by the Spirit of God."
THE PROCESS OF THE ROYAL ROAD
At the end of chapter 13, Amis gives a kind of summary of what he has been discussing. I give it verbatim: "The ROYAL ROAD of the Fathers is the NARROW ROAD of the gospel. It can be walked only with continual and intense efforts to discriminate. Discrimination then becomes the motivating force for METANOIA. Repentance leads to PURITY OF HEART, and purity of heart is the real basis of Christian PSYCHOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT. In an alchemical process in some ways analogous to the process of photography, the film must first be SENSITIZED, and after exposure it must be developed so that the divine image perceived in the purified heart of man emerges spontaneously into the open. The final stage is that it must be FIXED, or made permanent."
In his last chapter, "Chapter 14 Provocation," Amis says, "It is necessary to understand more fully the inner struggle that leads to the formation of the INNER SEPARATION, since this is the slow restoration of our power of choice which has been lost to us since early childhood. One of several very different ways of understanding this is in terms of the idea of PROVOCATION: the idea that the active mind, with its associations, is constantly presenting stimuli to the nous to which the undiscriminating nous habitually responds indiscriminately."
Amis' key sources wrote about these provocations: "There are eight general and basic categories of provoking thoughts in which are included every provoking thought. First is that of gluttony, then impurity, avarice, sadness, anger, accidie (apathy), vainglory, and last of all pride....We have said more than once already that provocation is necessary in order to test our character so as to make us aware of what we are like. It tests us by discovering to what we ASSENT at a particular moment...and this testing sometimes will continue until we have gained control over our moments of assent....TESTING is the lot of all."
If the ego really wants something and gets it or doesn't get it, it sets up all kinds of conditions that follow, all of which are detrimental because they were spawned by the ego. They are fruit from the poisoned tree. The light of consciousness is there, is given us, to always choose the better, to act according to our higher self. Let yourself change from a readiness to confront to a calm letting be. Don't fight; don't follow. Feel and flow. Flow effortlessly into the divine. Consciousness enables us to take in everything. Where awareness goes, love can follow. The great task forever and for everyone is to connect consciousness with love.
Growth and goal are a move toward oneness which is born of love. One eye must always be kept on oneself, not just to fix or correct, but to be in awe of the changes I am undergoing. When I do some small thing for my wife that I think is not that important, she says, "It's the thought that counts." It made me become aware of the first movement of my mind or heart, and it doesn't matter which comes first. It's the follow-up that counts. And eventually the result can be, "Behold the glory of the Good Spirit Paraclete manifesting as me and my life." So much of what Amis says is to get us beyond our stagnation to a higher level. I am reminded here of a saying from the TAO: "When you cultivate internal power, it begins to accumulate within you."
I like to see provocations as temptations, and each as a kind of judge. The verdict is out until it is seen whether or not we have succumbed to the allurement. Everyone of these enticements is in us to some degree. Recognition and acknowledgement play huge roles in the outcome. "We can decide if these provocations will be kept in our minds for a while, and we can decide whether or not they will be free to stir up our passions--and this power of decision is a crucial key to all practical inner work....The struggle with provocations...is crucial to the development of APATHEIA (dispassion), the opening of the heart that occurs in the final stages of development of a mature magnetic center in us....The activity of the intellect in the heart begins at the moment when the intellect is strong enough to remain in the heart and not leave too soon. If the intellect remains in the heart, it means that the passions are overcome and the Holy Spirit is beginning to work in the heart....The Holy Spirit attracts the nous to itself, drawing it into the depth of the heart and preventing its usual wandering about."
I think a good question each of us can pose to our self: "Is my intellect sturdy enough to survive living in the heart? Or does my intellect retreat back into its familiar role of mind games: thinking, comparing, and judging?"
"Each time we lose the battle by reacting to these provocations we create new impurities--called 'passions'--that are formed from our past experiences of the things most attractive to us. It is these powerful images that distract us from reaching the final stages of prayer of the heart." Remaining in the heart means trusting, engaging, committing, and ties in so well with some of Amis' principles, namely metanoia or the change of mind and heart, and his extensive therapeutic practices. These human movements to trust, engage, and commit are the basic meaning of what BELIEVING is in John's Gospel. The Greek word for faith is PISTIS, which NEVER appears in John's Gospel! Not once! John prefers the verb PISTEUEIN, which appears 107 times in Johannine writings, to the noun, showing that the evangelist is not thinking of faith as an internal disposition, but as an active and on-going commitment. Knowing, in the biblical sense, means direct, immediate experience with intimacy. (See Raymond E. Brown, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN, 1-12, THE ANCHOR YALE BIBLE, vol. 29, Yale University Press, 2006, p. 512. Scriptural quotes and commentaries used in this writing are taken from Brown's trilogy; his other two works are THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN, 13-21, THE ANCHOR YALE BIBLE, vol. 29 A, Yale University Press, 1970; and THE EPISTLES OF JOHN, THE ANCHOR YALE BIBLE, vol.30, Yale University Press, 1982). I might say that the intellect can lead us to the water, but once there, it must let the heart drink its fill. This could be one of discernment's finest decisions.
The part of the mind which discriminates is the NOUS, described by the Fathers as "the eye of the soul," which may be filled at one time with thoughts and images, but at another time may be free from all this, or separated from, it all. The whole purpose of the inner tradition is to provide "tools to help us remember God...in ourselves, in the universe, in other people...tools to help us love....The love of the soul is its salvation."
In this context, Amis quotes an eloquent passage from St. Maximos on the sanctification of love, which I offer entirely: "The one who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of detachment knows no distinction between his own and another's, between faithful and unfaithful, between slave and freeman, or indeed male and female. But having risen above the tyranny of the passions and looking to the one nature of men, he regards all equally and is equally disposed toward all. For in him there is neither Greek nor Jew, neither male nor female, neither slave nor freeman, but Christ is everything and in everything?" This describes a state of being which may be experienced, a place in the universe that may be reached by us. Far greater than this, it describes a permanent state of being which, it has been said, may be accomplished, may be reached in this life, "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11: 12); (pp. 191-196).
In his chapter, "Metanoia and Ascesis," Amis stated that the purpose of change of heart and mind (metanoia) is for the love of God: "Everybody knows that the Bible tells us 'God is love.' But at this point Abbot George takes this idea further by quoting Saint Maximos, who wrote: 'At times scripture refers to God as desire (eros), and at other times as love (agape), and at still other times as the desirable and the beloved. Being Himself desire and love, He moves towards us while, as desirable and beloved, He moves all those creatures toward Himself who are capable of desiring and loving.'" So that we can respond to this overture, the primary objective of ascesis is to purify the emotions: "The ascetic life is the spiritual method for cleansing the affective part of the soul" (pp. 212-214).
The heart is the true springboard for loving God and for our own growth in that love. Although usually undetected, the ruling part of the psyche is the heart. "God is love” (1 Jo 4:16) may be the most revealing and revolutionary sentence in the Bible. The full passage reads: "God is love, and the person who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him." St. Augustine in the fifth century had written superlatively about this passage: "If nothing else in praise of love was said in the rest of the epistle, nay in the rest of Scripture, and we had heard from the mouth of the Spirit of God that one statement, 'God is love,' we would not have to look for anything else."
THE NATURE OF TRUE SPIRITUALITY
In his "Postscript 2--2003," Amis deals with The nature of True Spirituality. "The gospel tells us that no man can serve two masters, and common sense suggest that we cannot possess two different kinds of consciousness at one and the same moment in time." What was known as THEOSIS, or DIVINIZATION might today be described as a change of consciousness, and be called salvation. There was then "a common tradition of experience." It was a successful, established pattern, but a barely visible survival of the early church. It "is the Inner Christian Tradition, sometimes known as Esoteric Christianity."
Today, "modern doctrine dominates and fights the truths of spiritual experience." It is "doctrine over dedication." Amis has given us the blueprint for return, but, unfortunately, as he admits, for "no more than 10% of monks and nuns even in and around Mount Athos...have these truths become part of their very being." This is not hard to understand when we realize how few reach sainthood in this lifetime. I try to pick a man or woman whom I would regard as a saint, and I have a hard time. Maybe my own perception is at fault, or maybe true saints hide their true colors. Regardless, if 10% of the Athos people become saints, then, I would say, their system works. I don't regard the number or percentage important. Isaiah 1:18 reminds us of God's almighty power and our capability when he says:
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool."
Amis closes his book with THREE RENUNCIATIOS which he says provides a non-monastic solution.
1. A first renunciation is turning away from the body and from the world.
2. A second renunciation is the relinquishing by the personality of its
claim that the content and activity of mind is our true inner nature,
the whole man.
3. A third renunciation goes beyond what we normally recognize as the
activity of the psyche, or separation from ignorance.
Amis sees this Inner Tradition AS A DIFFERENT CHRISTIANITY. We know it "Only by knowing its uniqueness, by the singular fact that its fruits are not of this world." As he says elsewhere (p. 142), "we draw our spirit away from the here and the visible and we do so in order solely to contemplate the things to come. Our passion is solely for the unseen."
In this section we are taking comments from different places in the book where Amis talks about recognition. It may be regarded as a kind of summary detailing the qualities of recognition. The aspirant may ask, "What is it I am to recognize?" I think it is fairly obvious that for recognition, discrimination plays a huge role, and that discrimination is non-verbal. Amis quotes the Bible in talking about the discrimination of spirits. The differentiation of spirits does not refer to individual beings but to influences and energies that inform awareness.
So one of the first things to recognize are these influences. Influences include an emotionally meaningful knowledge. The true higher knowledge, the heart of knowledge, is the emotional knowledge that is born of direct experience rooted in love. Emotional knowledge is a knowledge of the heart or of the nous (the soul's higher discriminatory power); it's a feeling of being
It is by good influences that spirit is first recognized. We want to link them to our own inner experiences which increases our ability to discern or discriminate and absorb further such influences. These influences are conscious.
All I have is from God. I have nothing of my own. I must feel this to be true. If the idea feels unreal to me, it's because the idea of God is not sufficiently real to me. What we remember to a considerable extent determines what we perceive. We may have to deepen and expand our notion of God, our beginning, end, and all of life between.
Amis explains the kind of knowledge needed. This kind of knowledge is not acceptable to the mind that still has not discovered the limits of its capabilities, that continues to believe that scientific theory is able to plumb the depths of reality. It must be liberated from the narrow intellectualism of the Western world. TRUE GNOSIS is a truly spiritual form of knowledge that transforms those who experience it. A person with this kind of knowledge may consider the divine as un-manifest. Or short of that, they can instead consider the important principles of life: love, truth, beauty, mercy, goodness, forbearance--and even principles like infinity, eternity, perfection--and they can contemplate God by contemplating these qualities taken to their furthest possibilities (pp. 69-71).
As we wait to receive the Spirit sent by God, this will form in our mind a CLEAR SPACE--initially small. We will sense this as a stillness, known as hesychia, that was taught by the early Fathers, including St. Augustine, as a sign or test by which we are touched by the Spirit of God. This NOETIC HESYCHIA is the stillness of the nous. It is, sometimes at least, regarded as synonymous with "dwelling in God."
Here in seminal form lies the possibility of ever-expanding consciousness. Space is inclusive. The larger the space, the more room there is for inclusion. Spaciousness, as such, is all inclusive. Reality, ultimately, has no boundaries. Anywhere! That perception allows one to see that the imposition of boundaries comes out of human imagination. Unbounded space frees the onlooker from artificial reality, and has the possibility of uniting him with all reality. "Behold but One in all things; it is the second that leads you astray"-Kabir.
It appears that here Amis gets to the goal of the ruminating he has spelled out for us. He says this spaciousness sensed as stillness is Noetic Hesychia, a sign we are touched by the Spirit of God. At this point he does not choose to further elaborate. In his Karitas lectures, however, he says that attention turns into the Kardia and the psyche falls quiet. Yet the nous remains aware of itself, being in control like a charioteer. The nous is the eye or witness of the psyche. It integrates the diverse parts of the psyche. This is the beginning of contemplation. With the nous going into the heart, there is an illumination.
The intellect, tied to the body through the senses, discriminates in one way. The pure nous, when free of these ties, discriminates in a quite different way. As the soul's discriminatory power, the nous persuades the soul to cleave to the unity of the eternal and spiritual.
This is the Royal Road of the Fathers, the NARROW WAY of the gospel. Once SENSITIZED, the purity of the heart is the real basis of Christian PSYCHOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT.