Friday, March 31, 2017

Cynthia Bourgeault - The Way of the Heart



From the Christian esoteric tradition, a path beyond the mind

Put the mind in the heart…. Put the mind in the heart…. Stand before the Lord with the mind in the heart.” From page after page in the Philokalia, that hallowed collection of spiritual writings from the Christian East, this same refrain emerges. It is striking in both its insistence and its specificity. Whatever that exalted level of spiritual attainment is conceived to be—whether you call it “salvation,” “enlightenment,” “contemplation,” or “divine union”—this is the inner configuration in which it is found. This and no other....

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...According to the great wisdom traditions of the West (Christian, Jewish, Islamic), the heart is first and foremost an organ of spiritual perception. Its primary function is to look beyond the obvious, the boundaried surface of things, and see into a deeper reality, emerging from some unknown profundity, which plays lightly upon the surface of this life without being caught there: a world where meaning, insight, and clarity come together in a whole different way. Saint Paul talked about this other kind of perceptivity with the term “faith” (“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”), but the word “faith” is itself often misunderstood by the linear mind. What it really designates is not a leaping into the dark (as so often misconstrued) but a subtle seeing in the dark, a kind of spiritual night vision that allows one to see with inner certainty that the elusive golden thread glimpsed from within actually does lead somewhere.

Perhaps the most comprehensive definition of this wider spiritual perceptivity is from Kabir Helminski, a modern Sufi master. I realize that I quote it in nearly every book I have written, but I do so because it is so fundamental to the wisdom tradition that I have come to know as the authentic heart of Christianity. Here it is yet again:

    We have subtle subconscious faculties we are not using. Beyond the limited analytic intellect is a vast realm of mind that includes psychic and extrasensory abilities; intuition; wisdom; a sense of unity; aesthetic, qualitative and creative faculties; and image-forming and symbolic capacities. Though these faculties are many, we give them a single name with some justification for they are working best when they are in concert. They comprise a mind, moreover, in spontaneous connection to the cosmic mind. This total mind we call “heart.”

“The heart,” Helminski continues, is the antenna that receives the emanations of subtler levels of existence. The human heart has its proper field of function beyond the limits of the superficial, reactive ego-self. Awakening the heart, or the spiritualized mind, is an unlimited process of making the mind more sensitive, focused, energized, subtle, and refined, of joining it to its cosmic milieu, the infinity of love.

Now it may concern some of you that you’re hearing Islamic teaching here, not Christian. And it may well be true that this understanding of the heart as “spiritualized mind”— “the organ prepared by God for contemplation”3—has been brought to its subtlest and most comprehensive articulation in the great Islamic Sufi masters. As early as the tenth century, Al-Hakîm al Tirmidhî’s masterful Treatise on the Heart laid the foundations for an elaborate Sufi understanding of the heart as a tripartite physical, emotional, and spiritual organ.4 On this foundation would gradually rise an expansive repertory of spiritual practices supporting this increasingly “sensitive, focused, energized, subtle, and refined” heart attunement.

But it’s right there in Christianity as well. Aside from the incomparable Orthodox teachings on Prayer of the Heart collected in the Philokalia, it’s completely scriptural. Simply open your Bible to the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:8) and read the words straight from Jesus himself: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." 

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Read the full essay at PARABOLA


 

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