Meeting notes for Advent Meditation I

We focused on the idea of “concentration without effort”, beginning on page 8 of MoTT. This is the first thing to learn.

So we learned an effortless concentration exercise that can be done at any time. During the week, we are to try this exercise whenever we pass through a doorway of any type. During those moments, we can observe the automatic movements of thoughts, images, passions, personal desires, and other mental perturbations. The idea is to develop the ability to consciously direct attention, rather than to allow our attention to be randomly attracted.

We can observe, then, what happens to mental perturbations while we are directing attention. Is there Silence where there was previously “noise”? We can learn to maintain this concentration for longer periods, as described on page 11:

To begin with there are moments, subsequently minutes, then “quarters of an hourfor which complete silence or “concentration without effort” lasts. With time, the silence or concentration without effort becomes a fundamental element always present in the life of the soul.

This concentration exercise is always available to us whenever we remember to try it.

We touched on higher forms of concentration, as outlined by Mary of Agreda in The Mystical City of God

Man’s mind is rapt by God to the contemplation of the divine truth in three ways:

  1. He contemplates it through certain imaginary pictures.
  2. He contemplates the divine truth through its intelligible effects.
  3. He contemplates it in its essence.

Now when man’s intellect is uplifted to the sublime vision of God’s essence, it is necessary that his mind’s whole attention should be summoned to that purpose in such a way that he understands nothing else by phantasms, and is absorbed entirely in God.

These are related to the stages of prayer: vocal prayer, mental prayer, and unceasing prayer.

Concentration on mental images or thoughts are forms of meditation.
Concentration that is beyond images and thoughts is contemplation.

Advent Meditation 1

Valentin Tomberg, in Letter II, refers to the “second birth” as Christian Yoga. Hence, the elements of Christian Yoga are analogous to the stages of yoga described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. In Letter XVI, The Tower of Destruction, these stages are related to the three stages of the spiritual life described by St. John of the Cross. Hence, we have this schema relating the yoga stages in three languages:

Stages of Christian Yoga
Sanskrit Greek English Spiritual Life
Dharana Catharsis Concentration Purification
Dhyana Theoria Meditation Illumination
Samadhi Theosis Contemplation Mystical Union

Tomberg contrasts the Vedantic ideal with the Christian goal. The former, he says, leads to the extinction of consciousness, whereas the Christian goal is the “unity of two”. For more on the differences between Yoga and Christianity, see Studies in the Psychology of the Mystics by Joseph Marechal, S.J, so we needn’t be concerned about that topic at this point.

The Greek Mystic Nicholas Cabasilas in The Life in Christ explains that there are three obstacles to theosis. These are:

  1. Nature. The Divine nature is different from human nature.
  2. Sin. A will corrupted by evil separate us from God.
  3. Death. In the mortal body, we can see only the dim reflection in the mirror; in this state our bodies are dominated by sense life.

These obstacles are overcome by the following historical events respectively:

  1. Incarnation. This unites the human and divine natures in one person.
  2. Crucifixion. The leads to the forgiveness of sins.
  3. Resurrection. This overcomes death and the attraction to sense life.

Cabasilas relates these ideas to the effects of the sacraments, or mysteries, with the aim of salvation. The esoteric path aims beyond this to liberation. That aim is union while still in the mortal body:

  1. Purify our soul so it becomes the perfect reflector of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Expose our false sense of I, replaced with the mind of Christ.
  3. Move from a life of instinct to a life of intelligence and love.

Hence, we begin the process of purification by learning to concentrate.