A State of Prayer

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 The great sages and seers have always said that we are to know ourselves

 How’s the search going? Are we knowing more? And getting better at it? 

 Hardly. As philosopher, Peter Kreeft, puts it: "Despite the fact that more than half of all the books on all the sciences that are sold in bookstores today are written about some aspect of psychology, there is no science with less agreement, less certainty, and less confidence about what we know…” (Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Jesus

 Which is to say that we remain as much in the dark as ever. If not more so.

 The common pattern - the story of the average life - is a descent into darkness. An ascent is rare. 

 A point about which transpersonal psychologist, James Hillman, agrees: “We’ve had a hundred years of psychotherapy - and the world is getting worse.”

 Indeed, according to Kreeft: "We seem to know ourselves less well as a result of all this modern self-scrutiny than we did before.” 

 Insightfully he says: “the more we look, the less we see."

 For, as he explains - "when we look at ourselves, we get in our own way.” 

 And that's the problem.

 When we look, we can’t get past ourselves. We somehow stand in the way of our own ability to be self-aware. 

 Now I think that this proclivity towards self-blindness has to do with where we stand, that is, with the posture we take.   

 Specifically, the barrier to self-knowledge is that we are standing in our own light, instead of standing in the Light. 

 For when we are standing in our own light, we are measuring ourselves against a low bar.

 And of course, against your low bar, you look good, or at least, good enough! And remain therefore self-satisfied and ignorant

 It is, however, an entirely different scenario when you expose yourself to the Light - to the penetrating and revealing Light of the Absolute. 

 Before that Light, exposed and vulnerable, you are not so quick to think you know something.

 Rather, as the Light reveals us to ourselves - scum and all - we wonder if we have ever actually known or understood anything!

 In the light of the Absolute, you will not only be taken down a peg or two but infinitely further, as your conscience is stricken and shaken. 

 Struck by the Light, you are bowed and humbled. 

 For in the light of the Truth, you are not a pretty sight.

 But then, as you stand in the Light, you are now assuming that posture of humility that could lead to true understanding. 

 It follows therefore that unless we are blessedly struck down and exposed by the Light, we will continue to play self deceptive games with ourselves. 

 And it will continue to be our way of life not to know, and not even to care.  

 For when you stand in your own light, you are actually standing against the Light. It’s called being in an unregenerate state - a condition of moral and spiritual blindness.

 In such an unregenerate state, you will be in touch only with a shadow of yourself - abysmally unaware of your real self.

 Which, however - sad to say - does not prevent us from identifying with our shadows.

 For we humanoids prefer shadows instead of the light. 'We love the darkness rather than the light.' (John’s Gospel, the Prologue)

 It’s the human condition - to identify with something less, though there’s so much more!

 And so we identify with shadows. It's the common thing to do.

 And therefore our sense of ourselves is but a self-delusion - what Father Thomas Merton called the false self.

 The false self is the shadow self - the self we imagine we are - mighty and free - which invariably bears no relation to the truth.

 To remain thus is to be in a stuck state - entrenched in that state of ordinary consciousness that British writer, Colin Wilson, calls a depressed condition.

 In fact, as Wilson forcefully states: “Everyday consciousness is a liar. (Vaughn Rapatahana, Collected Essays on Philosophers, by Colin Wilson, Philosophy Now, Issue 64) 

 In that mode, consciousness is limited and vulnerable to lies and self-deception. 

 A mode of deficiency which, by the way, we are quick to recognize in others, but less willing to see in ourselves.

 How readily, for example, do we notice that someone we know has become an unseeing and unhearing shadow of his former self.

 And thus exclaim: 'What has happened to Bob? He’s no longer himself. I hardly recognize him! I don’t know him now. He seems to have vacated the premises. Turned off his own lights. Nothing remains of his former self. He somehow lost himself along the way.’ 

 Well, whatever our level of ignorance - the way forward towards self knowledge is always the same. 

 The quest always begins with a most unpopular prerequisite, which is that I have first to acknowledge that I don’t know anything.  

 And that admission has to hurt. As in, really hurt.

 But there’s no way around it. I've got to feel the pain of my own sorry state.

 Which means having to admit that I am a sinner and have always been.

 And there are no if’s, ands or buts about it. It’s the truth of my condition. The truth of my depravity and need for God. The truth about myself that I have never wanted to face. 

 A confession which, when finally you get around to saying it, will surely be the truest thing you’ve ever said about yourself!

 And those who know you will not only be relieved to hear about your new-found awareness, but will cheer you on.

 Friends and family in particular will experience relief that finally you are seeing what everyone else has known for a long time about you - that you're  as blind as a bat.

 Otherwise you remain a buffoon, who by definition is someone who always thinks he knows. 

 And the buffoon, like the lout, tends loudly to broadcast far and wide his sorry condition.

 Proving once again that there always is a correlation between loudness and ignorance. 

 The buffoon's loud proclamations about what he thinks he knows continually verifies the insight of the great sages and seers that if you think you know, you most assuredly do not.

 We are therefore at our best when in contrast we humbly say: 'I do not know. 'Help me. Teach me.'

 As in the refreshing case of St. Paul who, in Romans chapter 7, openly acknowledges his condition of not knowing.

 Paul's confession is that he is inwardly torn up: ‘Wretched man that I am, who will release me from this body of death?' (Romans ch 7)

 Upon hearing Paul's frank admission, I feel close to him. And far from the arrogance that mocks this kind of openness and honesty.

 Paul writes in chapter 7 that he continually fails to do what he intends. He states that some other force takes over and sabatoges his plans and aspirations.

 And thus an inner conflict rages between aspiration and self-defeat.

 But now, fully engaged in the struggle, and crying out for help, he’s on his way to freedom. 

 Having admitted his condition, he can now be saved.

 I once took a course called Advanced Buddhism with a Buddhist priest at the University of Calgary.

 The strategy of Zen Buddhism is to blow your mind. Sometimes, for instance, a student is given a koan (a puzzle,) that "in principle is not solvable by ordinary, rational thought.” (P. Kreeft)

 In our particular seminar, we studied various texts during a three hour time slot to the point of being regularly confounded by them.

 Every week five of us would have trouble grasping the meaning of the texts and then something would happen. 

 There would be a felt, inner shift. It was some kind of an inner opening.

 The study of the texts had blown our minds and released an inner capacity -  a deeper mind

 Which was the whole purpose of these confounding texts - to put to death, or at least, to sleep, ordinary thought, so that a higher mind, or higher force, could emerge.

 A force was awakened that had the effect of "blowing out the candle fire of ordinary thought” (Kreeft)

 A certain kind of inner struggle had created a state of receptivity.

 It is a condition of attention. Father Anthony Bloom equates this with being in a state of prayer.

 It was while in just such a state of prayer that the philosopher, Jacob Needleman, had one of the greatest experiences of his life. 

 It was when he had an encounter with "the face at the heart of the universe.” (Jacob Needleman, Lost Christianity, p. 42) 

 While meditating in an Eastern Orthodox church at Mount Athos, Jacob looked up to behold the figure of Christ looking down upon him.

 And recalled: "From deeper down in my mind, something I have known about the Orthodox tradition rises to awareness that, the whole of the universe rests on the sacrifice of God.”

 And now, the One who had made that sacrifice was looking at him: “This Christ looked directly at me.” 

 This was a highly personal encounter with the supreme personality, the supreme character, the face at the heart of reality.

 It was not some kind of vague experience with the so-called Ground of Being.

 Nor was it the shallow experience of some vague, impersonal force called the universe by the numbed mind of a new-ager. 

 It was not, in other words, some experience of “everything in general and nothing in particular.” (Kreeft)

 No. It was highly personal and life changing.

 As he felt the gaze of Christ upon him, Jacob says: "I glimpsed for the first time that something is required of me.” 

 Indeed something is required - not so much self-awareness, as important as that is, but on a deeper level, the response of my entire being to that One 'who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ 

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 Blinking Light, Rosby