Meditation vs an Empty, Blank Mind: Meditation Class: The Desert Fathers: A Mysticís Journal Entry December 4, 2009 by Laurie Conrad.
Friday, December 4
We continue our studies of the Desert Fathers in class. The first poem we studied this past week during meditation class was written by the Desert Father Theodoros (The Book of Mystical Chapters; Shambhala; trans. John Anthony McGuckin.).
The poem begins:
The fragrance of expensive perfume,/ even when it is kept in its jar,/ will permeate every room in a house Laurel said: “That’s like what is happening here.” And so it is. The supernatural fragrances continue. Tonight in class MG and I both had whiffs of a gentle fruitlike scent, a fruit I have never known on earth. Chris mentioned that she still remembered the strong scent of hyacinths from the week before. In his poem, Theodoros compares these fragrances to the hidden holiness of the saints. This inner holiness of the saints emanates from them, as the perfumes mentioned in Theodoros’ poem will permeate every room in a house. Someone in class said that they would “like to be around a few saints” and I said, “We are.” These supernatural fragrances - even though we cannot see the saints in the room with us, even my clairvoyance will not allow me to see them - tell us that they are there.
One of our meditators now lives in Dallas, Texas. She wrote today: “ After I visited ____ in jail last Saturday, I came home, walked through the room where my statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe stands, and a waft of frankincense "said Hello" to me... as if to say, " Thank You for visiting ____." This was the second time this has happened to her, both times after we began reading the Desert Fathers in class again. Even more mysteriously, people have said that after reading my accounts of the supernatural fragrances on the internet, they also caught a few whiffs. And since the fragrances began with the Desert Fathers and reoccur whenever we study them - we can assume the Holy Fathers are in some mysterious way connected to the otherworldly scents.
even when kept in its jar We took this analogy as the jar in Theodoros’ poem representing the physical body. This inner holiness that emanates from the saints, does so in a natural and effortless manner, just as the expensive perfume will permeate every room in a house. When we pray or meditate, Light comes into us, and the soul itself Lights us from within; when we are filled with this Light, or Holiness, it then begins to radiate from us, into the world. It is a natural and effortless result of both our small efforts and the wonderful Graces given to us.
MG mentioned that perhaps when the Desert Father wrote his poem, the jars were made of clay, were porous - i.e. not a glass jar with a lid. We agreed that this was most likely the case. In this analogy of a more porous container: not only does this holiness and Light radiate from us effortlessly - but our own physical vehicle is transformed by the holiness, until it too becomes holy and transparent, so that the inner holiness can then easily emanate from us.
The saint can transform lives by merely walking down the street, or into a room - and we should all aspire to this. If we are not as yet as transparent as the saints, or as holy as the saints - then we should continually pray for others, and in this hidden way help to transform those around us.
Laurel then read a short poem written by the Desert Father Evagrios of Pontus. It begins: When you are praying, do not try to envisage/ the Godhead within you in any imagined form.
the Godhead within you Here Evagrios was speaking of meditation or contemplation rather than vocal prayer. In our meditations we are attempting to contact the soul, and the Holy Trinity that is embedded in the soul. A discussion started on his words do not try to envisage/ the Godhead within you in any imagined form - I asked why we should not, and several answers were given. MG said that it seemed that in his poem, the Desert Father Evagrios was speaking of Eckhardt’s “God beyond God”, the ‘Godhead’ that was before the manifested Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit - i.e. the Godhead that was pure spirit and without any form or attributes. Since the Godhead is pure spirit and has no form or attributes we should not impose a form or attributes on It. Another reason: we should not try to perceive the Godhead through the ego and its perceptions and imagination; someone else said that to image the Godhead would be an obstacle to seeing It clearly and truly, mystically. I thought these all good answers.
Evagrios ends his poem: Instead, draw close to the Immaterial One immaterially,/ and then you will understand.
In other words, we should see ourselves as the soul, not as the physical body. In our meditations we realize that we are something other than our material form. Laurel said that we assign a form to the Godhead because we think that the Godhead is in form, as we are - whereas we ourselves are not the body. Chris said that the understanding Evagoros speaks of is that the Mind of God, that Light, that Consciousness, that Divinity - in within us.
Do not let your mind be cast in the mold / of any particular figure. This led to a discussion of the dangers of holding or aspiring to a blank mind during our meditations. Saint Teresa of Avila was quite specific about this in her writings. In her convent, one day the other nuns were very excited about one of their fellow religious who had stayed in meditation for many hours without a single thought. Saint Teresa was very unimpressed and thought it more than waste of time. She insisted that we should hold something in our minds, and she suggested the image of Jesus. Her student, Saint John of the Cross disagreed - and even though he was one of our greatest saints, he was in the Dark Night of the soul for forty or so years.
I agree with Saint Teresa: a blank mind is not the Goal, and can even be dangerous. In my experience, if God wants our thoughts to completely disappear, He will do it for us - and He will replace our thoughts with something far better, i.e. with Himself. The protection in the exercise given to us in this poem by Evagrios is in his words: draw close to the Immaterial One immaterially. For here our focus is not on a blank state of mind, but rather in the effort of drawing close to, and our focus on, the Immaterial One, i.e. God.
Chris then rightly said that a blank mind can be dangerous because of the danger of nihilism, and she spoke from her own early experiences, before she came to me to study. The Goal of the spiritual Quest is not nihilism but rather union with the Divine, with God.
I say all this because many people mistakenly think that the goal and method of meditation is to merely rid the mind of all thought - which is not true . There is a specific method to meditation, even though there are many forms of meditation - and we all should have a Teacher.