Transcending Thought: The Desert Fathers: Meditation Class: A Mystic’s Journal Entry, November 19, 2009
Thursday, November 19
The second poem we studied this past week during meditation class was written by the Desert Father Symeon the New Theologian (The Book of Mystical Chapters; Shambhala; trans. John Anthony McGuckin.).
This poem begins:
You need to gain three things before all others:
The first is freedom from the anxieties of life;
the second is a clear conscience;
the third is complete detachment,
such that your thoughts no longer buzz around
Symeon continues: When you have acquired these things,/ then sit down by yourself in a quiet place ... and the remainder of his poem is instruction on meditation. We did not need instruction on meditation, so we concentrated on the initial lines of this wise and beautiful poem.
Even though this poem was written for beginning meditation students, we all need to continue our vigilant work on the opening lines of Symeon’s poem. And for those of you who are considering learning to meditate - they are essential.
The first prerequisite thing Symeon mentions, and the third - are very closely connected. Once we have gained the detachment he speaks of, i.e. detachment from our thoughts and emotions - the anxieties cease of their own accord. In this we need to understand the nature of the ego: simply stated, the ego is a bunch of thoughts. On the spiritual Path, if we identify with our thoughts, then we are standing in the ego. And if we are standing in the ego, we will experience all the negative emotions, including anxiety.
your thoughts no longer buzz around materialities Here Symeon chooses the word materialities - but to the philosopher or saint, materialities includes our material possessions but is not restricted to them. Materialities also include the thought that we and others are the physical body; these materialities also include our emotions, which are the result of our thoughts and perceptions.
In short, if we identify with our thoughts - then we have forgotten the soul and God, we have fallen into materiality - unless our thoughts are about the soul and God, unless out thoughts rest on Divinity. And even these thoughts, in our deepest contemplations, must go.
That having been said, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to stop all our thoughts. Once we are detached from the ego and its myriad thoughts and perceptions, we can cease identifying with our thoughts and emotions. And this is the detachment Symeon is speaking of in this poem.
When we speak of transcending our thoughts and emotions, we mean that we no longer identify with our thoughts and emotions. Instead we know that we are the soul, a being of radiant Light, even as thoughts and emotions arise. When in the physical body, unless given a very high mystical experience, or during the deepest contemplation - we will all have thoughts. In our meditations we are training ourselves to continue putting our concentration on the soul - even as thoughts arise. In time, this will integrate into our daily lives. To live in the world we all must have thoughts - and emotions will arise in us. It is this detachment from our thoughts that Symeon is speaking of in his poem.
Over time, as a result of our meditation practices, we learn to put our attention on the soul even as we speak to others, or do our work, or engage in play.
We then approached the detachment Symeon speaks of from a different angle: i.e. the necessity of facing thoughts and feelings directly, while still knowing that we are all the soul. This step should not be skipped, for repressed ideas and emotions can cause much trouble later. Beyond even this, we must come to the place where we can readily see the ego working in ourselves and others, so that we do not fall into our thoughts and emotions - or those of others. In this way detachment is also achieved, as well as compassion for all sentient beings.
I suggested that during meditation we view our thoughts as we might view dreams: i.e. the vehicle, the mind discharging thoughts and emotions stored within itself. In the deepest contemplation, or in high mystical experience - God and the soul will get rid of all the thoughts for you. Until then, we should not worry about thoughts that arise as we meditate; instead, merely put your attention back on the soul, or on your prayer.