The lecture today is about the psychological aspect of esoteric Christianity. We are going to continue the various themes that we have been speaking about in our prior lectures in this course. Today, we are going to focus on the psychological work that we must do, and how it is represented in the Bible and in the contemplative tradition within Christianity.
Last time, we discussed the transformation or transmutation of water into wine at the wedding. This transformation of water into wine, we stated, is the beginning of miracles. It is what John 2:11 states:
“This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”
And, as we always emphasize, all these messages and stories in the Bible relate to inner psychological and spiritual events. The whole miracle, the whole story of the wedding, is something that is in relationship with our life, both the exterior world and our interior world. And this is clearly lived in the spiritual marriage. This is the true root and foundation of esoteric Christianity.
Many people write or speak about esoteric Christianity. They often mention the psychological aspect that we are going to begin to talk about today. But they miss the beginning of miracles, which is working with the creative energies, that base energy of the water, the fertile or creative energy that we have. The esoteric tradition understands that within those waters is the power of the Lord, the creative possibilities. And from those waters comes forth the wine of Christ. This is an element that not only provides great happiness, great joy, and love, but which also radically transforms us and gives us that power to transform, to overcome, and to do the work.
The second aspect, which goes in hand in hand with transmutation, is the psychological work. But without this first aspect of transforming our energies, as we clearly discussed in our prior lecture, the psychological work is not possible. Therefore, the beginning of miracles is related to the mystery between man and wife. And whether you are single or married, you can still transform or transmute that creative energy.
The main point here is that if we waste our energies, if we always eject the creative energies from our body, then we are left with no power, no energy to do the psychological work.
The very next verse of the same chapter of the Book of John, after the wedding at Cana of Galilee, continues to our main topic, the cleansing of the temple.
Let us read John 2:12:
12 After this He went down to Capernaum [Καφαρναοὺμ, כפר נחום, City of Consolation], He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.
13 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem [ירושלים Yerushalayim, “foundation of peace”]. 14 And He found in the temple those who sold oxen [βοῦς bous, פּרה parah, cow] and sheep [πρόβατα probata, כבש kebes] and doves [περιστερὰς peristeras, יונה jonah], and the money changers doing business. 15 When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables.
16 And He said to those who sold doves [יונה jonah], “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” 17 Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” (Psalm 69:9).
18 So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?”
19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.
If we read carefully, we can see that Jesus went down to Capernaum. It was the time of the Passover. And then Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, he found a temple, where there were people making commerce – selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and money changers. And he got a whip. With that whip, he drove out all of the negative activities of the temple.
You can see many depictions of Jesus whipping or acting very strongly against these people in the temple. This is a story that we need to realize shows the aspect of Christianity that is very fierce and strong. But this strength, this type of activity or war, is never against people outside of us who we dislike or hate. This, of course, is happening within ourselves. We need to clean our interior temple because within ourselves are many negative elements.
Our inner temple is our soul. And what do we find within our soul? In other words, what do we find within our minds, our psyches, and our hearts? We find a lot of elements that have no concern for the Lord, that take this temple and make it something just for exchanging goods, making money, and having no concern for the real purpose of the temple.
Selling animals can represent various things, in particular selling doves. Doves are related to the Holy Spirit, because we know from other passages and verses in the Bible that the Holy Spirit is depicted as a dove. To sell doves means to use the power of the Holy Spirit for your own personal gain, for your own egotistical desires. And this is specifically related to fornication, to the misuse of our creative, sexual energies. The white bird, sometimes a dove, or in other traditions a white swan – a very beautiful bird – is related to the very lofty or elevated elements of pristine or immaculate nature, which descend into us. But not knowing how to make use of it, we only use that activity, that power, in order to satisfy our desires. So instead of that original, immaculate power transforming us into perfection, it ends up destroying us. It ends up causing immense suffering and misery.
Our inner temple is like this temple that Jesus came into with a whip. Jesus is showing us that we have to drive out these elements from within. This is what we always call the psychological work. And this is really the basic daily effort to continually clean and purify our mind, to cleanse it.
The terminology today of cleansing seems to always be related to some very superficial ideas. People want to cleanse their bodies. But what cleans a room or what cleans a body is not the same thing that cleanses our mind, our soul. We know that incense is very good to clean an environment physically, including the physical body. And we know that we must keep our body healthy and clean. But you cannot clean your psychology with incense or some quick fix. You cannot clean your psychology by someone putting their hands over you. That is not a psychological cleaning.
You are responsible for the content of your own soul. And when we say soul, realize that this means your psychology. And you cannot eliminate your psychology simply by saying a mantra or by lighting incense or by paying someone to do something, some kind of “healing” or “energy work,” which is very popular today in the New Age culture.
This matter of psychological work is very serious. And it is very important that we understand precisely what it is. Let us begin by discussing the current ways in which people avoid this psychological work.
There are many types of people and groups that believe that a psychological work is simply not necessary, or that it is impossible.
Thus, we find a lot of people who say that we might have problems in our life here and now, but our true nature is spirit. “We are truly spiritual beings,” they would say, “and therefore whatever is happening now is only temporary. Eventually we will all return to that spiritual nature. Don’t worry much about trying to work on yourself, because no matter what happens, you are going to return to your spiritual nature eventually.” This type of argument ignores the factor of our soul. They say that we are just spiritual beings, but they forget that we have a psychology – ways of thinking, acting, feeling; and that these habits don’t go away just because your physical body goes away.
Others say that there is nothing to be done in a psychological work because you just need to believe in God. For many, this is the whole point of religion: just believe in God, and God will do whatever is needed for you. Therefore, you do not need to try to change yourself from a spiritual or religious perspective because really you just need to believe.
This idea of just having a belief in God is the primary foundation of Protestantism. The original Protestantism goes back to Martin Luther, who interpreted certain verses of the Bible, and believed that we are completely incapable of any type of radical transformation, and that God is the only one who has the power to do it. So, according to his interpretations of the Bible, he was always espousing that. In fact he was very critical of the monastic or contemplative tradition, which was always trying to reach perfection. Now, of course, he was railing against a lot of corruption in the church at that time. And he was right to see that corruption. But he concluded that the entire effort or enterprise of working on one’s self psychologically was futile, and moreover unneeded.
On the other side of that pendulum is, of course, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Their basic aspect is relying on the traditions and the rituals and the authority given to the succession of popes or apostles continuing a lineage that goes all the way back, unbroken, to the time of Jesus. And there are many peope who act like they can do whatever they want, so long as they can give a confession later. “Well, at the end of my life,” they will say, “I will just say I am sorry and repent.” This is a type of hypocritical game going on, a sophistic argument, stating that they do not have to work on themselves because, at the end of the day, so long as they went to church, donated the money that they were supposed to, attended the masses, and fulfilled all of the sacraments and rituals as they were told to do, this grants them access to heaven. This is another way of saying that you do not have to work on yourself psychologically, but rather just do these physical efforts in the material world.
We have one side stating that there is no psychological work to be done, for one reason or another. This type of individual will say that perhaps there is some problem with the human condition, but there is nothing to be done about it. They might say that there is some problem, but there is nothing to be done by us.
On the other side of that pendulum are those who believe that there is nothing that can be done. In other words, these types of individuals believe themselves to be totally hopeless, that there is no possibility that they can change. They might recognize that there is a problem, but they believe that they are so lacking in ability that they cannot do it. And of course, there are all the ideas that there is no God, that there is no spiritual nature at all. So, instead of the individual saying that we are all just going to return to our spiritual nature, the materialistic or atheistic type of individual believes that when the body dies, that is it. This is another form of saying there is nothing that can be done. They conclude that you are ruled strictly by the capabilities of your physical body, the nervous system; and the neurons that we have are essentially unchangeable because we are nothing more than a physical body, etc.
But we state that there is a type of profound psychological work to be done, which is an effort to reach “perfection.” As we have quoted in our prior lectures, Paul states that there are those who call themselves perfect: “teleos.” This is the effort of the psychological work, to reach “teleos,” perfection.
Without falling into two extremes, we have to state that yes, we do have a spiritual nature. But we also have a psychological nature. The psychological nature is not exclusively related to, or dependent upon, our physical body. It exists, and continues to exist, outside and beyond the physical body. When the physical body dies, you still have your psychological nature, which is your soul. And your soul is distinct from the spirit; the soul arrives from the spirit. The soul possesses all our wisdom or ignorance. It is the soul that needs to do the work; it is the psychological aspect of ourselves.
Let us clarify therefore the difference between the spirit and the soul. In the early tradition there was an understanding that there was a difference between the spirit and the soul. But sometime around the 800s or 900s, it began to be discussed and affirmed that there should be no more talking about this difference between the soul and the spirit. The exact reasons for that are related to an obscure political point that does not even matter anymore. Unfortunately, the doctrines about the spirit and the soul were merged, and the difference between those two aspects was forgotten. Now, in modern times, people generally think that the spirit and the soul are the same thing. This leads to confusion.
There are many ways to talk about the various aspects of our inner nature. For example, in the Kabbalah, there are 10 sephiroth, which explain different qualities that we have. From a very general standpoint, we can divide all these qualities into different layers.
On the slide called, “What are we?”, we have five layers or levels.
At the lowest level, obviously, is the body. Within ourselves, we have many forces and factors, which culminate finally in our physical body. What we experience moment to moment is a great mixture of many elements. The basic notion we must have is that the physical body can be eliminated, it can go away – it will go away, it will die, but it does not mean that the other layers go away when the body does.
Beyond the physical body, we have the soul. And beyond the soul, we have the spirit. The soul – psyche or psychology – is precisely all those inner activities that we can, at any particular moment, observe. We can, at any particular moment, experience our own heart and mind, the qualities that we have within. Any moment of simple reflection will reveal something within ourselves – a mood, some thoughts, some behaviors that we are doing.
The vast majority of the activity of our soul is unconscious: we do not know, we do not recognize or perceive, what is actually happening. The primary, initial efforts of this psychological work are to see, to make the effort to look, to be vigilant of our own mental, emotional, and instinctual processes.
The soul is something that must be developed or acquired. This is why Jesus states that in patience we shall possess our souls. In other words, we do not really possess it. There is all of this activity, but it is like a chaos – we do not possess our soul. The activity of our soul is very confused. We are caught up in passions, or what we call egos – psychological aggregates, psychological clumps of energy, which move us. These elements, which we can simply call the ego, have taken the prime material of our soul and possessed us with it.
This is why, without our own endorsement to be a certain way, certain actions of our mind and our heart arrive automatically, without any seeming effort. Something happens in our life, and we just feel something about it. We find ourselves saying or doing something; we find ourselves sometimes in a bad mood, sometimes in a good mood, most of the time not knowing why. These are all activities that are happening, and we are caught up in them. Within the soul is where our egotistical processes, the ego, exists. When we are awake and know ourselves, then we possess our soul, and all the powers and capabilities of the soul.
The very essential capacity that we have to see these activities of our mind is a spark of light. That spark of light comes from our spirit. The soul is made up of many other aspects, detailed in Kabbalah, which we are not getting into here. Just know that it is the soul that we are working on. It is the soul that triumphs or fails. It is the soul that ascends or descends. It is the soul that becomes angelic or demonic. And that soul seats itself within the body, so that body becomes that final throne of God, or that final throne of Satan, depending on the quality of the soul.
The essential power or capability of perception – that light – comes from the spirit. The spirit is that which already is. When we say that we are essentially a spiritual being, this is true in its own context. We must understand that, no matter what, the spirit is there; and that is where we come from.
The fault in that often comes with this type of logic is ignoring the psychological aspect, the quality of our soul. The ego, which prevents us from having direct contact, complete cognizant experience, of that spiritual nature. Our ego has obscured it, has trapped us, has possessed us. We must eliminate the ego, and we must develop our true, authentic soul. Then the true, authentic soul experiences the spirit within.
The spirit is always there, but it is the soul that comes to know the spirit; and this mixture occurs, a very pure mixture, between the spirit and the soul. And these are at the higher and higher levels of the Work, of the path of Christ.
Our spirit is our inner, particular point, a particular star. Just like when you look out into the sky you see different stars, different points of light, so too within us is a point of light. That point of light that shines upon us is our inner spirit. But we must do a lot of work in order to have direct, continuous, and completely cognizant reception of that light.
Our inner, particular star is a part of the universal light. The universal light is what we call Christ. The universal light, consciousness – whatever you wish to call it, gets individualized as any particular spirit. But at the level of Christ, individuality becomes dissolved. All becomes one. The many become one.
Christ is a perfect, multiple unity. All spirit arrives from the universal manifestation of light, of Christ. And Christ is at the level of the Trinity. Christ is that initial activity that permits any creation to happen. The universal unity immediately divides itself into a trinity; and from that trinity, those three forces are capable of creating everything and placing our spirit and everything that unfolds from the spirit, which is our soul and our body, into existence.
There are beings that have not only acquired cognizance of their inner spirit, but have also acquired cognizance of Christ. Such Beings can work at that impersonal, cosmic level. However, Christ can manifest materially within the physical body when someone performs the Great Work. That person is a true Christian. Someone like Jesus is a true Christian.
Even beyond what we call Christ is something we call Barbelo, which is the unmanifested light, the unmanifested Christ. This is beyond existence, beyond being. This is something extremely profound and abstract.
It is the soul that receives all of the results of our actions. Every time we do anything with our physical body or with our emotions or with our thoughts, there is some result happening. Those results accumulate within our soul.
If we spend years and years thinking and feeling and doing in the wrong way, then we accumulate that within ourselves, and we have to do a lot of works in order to undo those mistaken ways and to clean our soul, to cleanse our interior temple. So truly and honestly, the mistakes and problems that we have in life are due to our mistaken ways of acting, feeling, and thinking. And that is, in essence, our ego. And that ego, in Christian terms, is to be possessed by a demon. That ego, which we all have, is what has possessed us.
We have all been possessed by the ego, which is the demon, which is Satan, which is the Antichrist. You see, the Antichrist possesses the power of ubiquity, meaning the Antichrist is everywhere. The opposite of Christ is the ego. We all possess the ego. We all possess the Antichrist. Knowing this, the psychological work becomes 100 percent evident, necessary, paramount.
We find a very clear story in Mark 5 of the demon-possessed man. It reads:
1Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. 2 And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, […]
5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.
6 When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. 7 And he cried out with a loud voice and said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.”
8 For He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” 9 Then He asked him, “What is your name?”
And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”
11 Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. 12 So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.” 13 And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea.
Jesus and his disciples meet a man with an unclean spirit. Who has an unclean spirit? All of us, because we all have ego.
The unclean spirit, which is our ego, is actually a legion. It is actually a regiment; it is many, many, many different elements within us. And it is through the power of our spiritual work that those elements are extracted out of us. Those elements must die.
This is a psychological war, a war within ourselves. This is what that story of Jesus getting the whip and whipping and overturning tables and forcefully throwing out the merchants and the money changers is about. This was not a work where Jesus went into the temple and just prayed to God and said, “Can you please remove these elements from the temple?” The story is very clear that Jesus got a whip, and he drove those elements out of the temple in an active, forceful way. We should not ignore this aspect.
There is a difference, however, between acknowledging your inner errors and because of that, hating yourself, and acknowledging your inner errors and fighting to work upon yourself. To hate yourself is just another ego. To do the work, at times you might be very forceful or fierce, but you are doing it in relation to the comprehension that you have. It is not simply because you hate yourself, but rather because you have understood yourself. This is the real cornerstone, the necessity, of the psychological work: we must understand what is happening within ourselves.
We cannot just, on a whim, try to remove some element from our psychology. This does not work. This is partly why so many have failed or given up on the psychological work, why so many people think that it is unnecessary, unrealistic, or impossible. Because indeed it is a very difficult work. But we cannot remove elements from our psyche just by wishing for it. You may pray until there are tears streaming down your cheeks, and you may get on your hands and knees and beg, but the way that it works is that you must do an effort. That effort is to comprehend what is going on inside of your mind.
Comprehension becomes possible when you know firstly that you must work with your creative energy. You must work with that servant and that witness that we talked about in the prior lectures. Then, comprehension, the factor which can illuminate and help with your understanding of your psychology, becomes present. With that deep understanding, which is acquired through the practice of meditation, then you may implore God, the Divine Mother, to help you eliminate, to kick out, to send to death, those psychological elements.
When those psychological elements are dead, what is within them becomes liberated, which is a small aspect of your soul. And, little by little, you begin to possess your soul by eliminating all of those egotistical elements.
The ego is represented in the Bible in many ways. Here, in Mark 5, we see that it is represented as a legion. The ego can also be represented as any number of sins. All of our sins are due to our ego. Sometimes we say that there are seven capital sins, so, the legion of egotistical elements can be understood as seven categories of sin. Another way of looking at our ego is what is called the Three Traitors.
There is the way of looking at the ego from all of the particular elements: the legion; there is a way of looking at it with the number seven; and there is a way of looking at it with the number three.
The three primary demons that we possess are the three primary traitors in the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. We know that the three traitors of Jesus are Judas, Pilate, and Caiaphas. These three traitors actually exist within ourselves. They are present, moment by moment, always rejecting the Lord, always causing the inner spiritual element within ourselves that is connected to divinity to suffer.
Despite the fact that we have an enormous ego, despite that we have all of these problems, the connection to our spirit – and through our spirit to Christ, is still there. And that connection wants to manifest itself within us. However we continually subvert that through our own ignorance. And it is only by clearly looking at the way we actually behave that we can begin to see these things and eliminate them.
The first demon we call the demon of evil will. This is Caiaphas. Caiaphas is the chief priest. Caiaphas believes himself to be very holy: the elected, the authority, the one who believes himself to be specially connected with the divine, to know God very well. But Caiaphas can also manifest itself in very materialistic ways, being the person who has been elected to guide others, to be in charge of others, someone who has gained a lot of respect in any field. And they use this in a very bad way. They use this power to harm others.
Caiaphas is the essence of loving one’s self before everyone else: pride, false righteousness, and indignation toward others. It is also selling sacraments, sexual exploitations, excommunications, and betrayal of sacred trusts. Caiaphas has lost the ability to venerate the Lord because he believes himself to be super-transcendent, independent, and all-powerful. Caiaphas always believes that he is doing the will of God simply because he believes himself to be all-knowledgeable, all-powerful, always right. He has lost his humility.
Caiaphas always acts with a sense of profound righteousness. It is when we find ourselves acting in very strong ways because we feel so right, because we feel such an air of righteousness within ourselves, when we feel so hurt by someone else’s behaviors. We call it the demon of evil will because really this is when we are possessed purely by a desire to hurt others, to see ourselves as sitting on the throne of judgment, and being correct to harm others, to make them suffer “what they deserve.”
This manifests itself in very obvious ways and in very subtle ways. It can be looking at others, judging them, seeing them as this or that, as if you have some special capability of judging, that it is your responsibility as a “god” to judge someone as morally right or wrong. We possess “automatic” thoughts and feelings towards other. As soon as someone comes into our life, as soon as we have some impression of someone in front of us, our inner Caiaphas is working immediately to judge them.
We must be very observant, vigilant, watchful. Caiaphas, of course, manifests itself as an independent will, of doing “what I want to do.” Therefore, it is the purest way of acting in the wrong, because, ultimately, when we are in that mode, when we have an ego related to Caiaphas, it goes beyond logic and reasoning and pleasures. It simply is a directed will, which is against the Lord. It may feel as if we are doing the right thing for ourselves, and we may employ the other two demons, as we will see – the other two traitors, in order to justify what Caiaphas does. But in the end, Caiaphas does what Caiaphas wants.
Caiaphas often works with the demon of the mind, which in the Gospels is Pilate. Pilate is our inner subjective reasoning. Pilate justifies whatever the other two – Judas and Caiaphas – have done. You see, everybody believes themselves to be a good person. Everyone thinks their daily behavior is justified. Yet, we look at the world, and it is full of suffering.
Pilate, just as in the Gospels, always washes his hands of any responsibility. Our intellect is a very valuable tool, but it is extremely unmanaged in most of us. It is very difficult to tame the intellect, but it is necessary.
There are those who throw out the intellectual reasoning, and they become what we call stupid saints. They try to be a very good person, but they have never developed their intellect, so they get themselves mixed up and into troubles and mistakes, which a simple analysis would have helped.
The other side is using the intellect to justify, to find a rationale. How often is it that we do something and then immediately we have a reasoning: because they did this to us, because this is what I had to do. A type of reasoning develops, and it coats the core behavior that we did like honey on a razor blade. It is like anesthetizing ourselves from the actual core pain, core reason, the real purpose of why we acted that way. We get lost in the maze of our rationalities, our subjective reasoning.
Let us always be vigilant and watchful when we begin to justify our behavior, when we begin to reason out why we did something. The reasoning arrives automatically, because it is egotistical. What we must do is meditate on those habits of thinking that we have.
We have habits not just physically. We have habits of thinking, habits of relating to our experience. We must break those chains, those habits. It is only through the process of meditation that we can do so. Because normally, the activities of Pilate are so automatic, so constant, so pervasive, that we forget that that intellect and reasoning is not our true self. The mind is just a part, a vehicle, an aspect of our self. But it is not who we are.
The third traitor is Judas Iscariot, the demon of desire. Judas will seek out pleasure even at the cost of selling the Lord for 30 coins of silver. This 30 coins of silver is the symbol of what Judas really enjoys: material things, money, liquors, luxury, animal pleasures, etc. Judas is always hunting for new sensations, the very base, instinctual type of pleasures. Judas is always present. And the more we feed Judas, the more miserable we become.
Society is very confused and ignorant. Many people spend their whole life satisfying Judas, and yet, they do not understand why they are miserable.
We know that in the Biblical story, Judas eventually hangs himself. And Judas really needs to be killed. But the power within Judas remains. So, Judas is those very powerful desires that we have. And when Judas dies, little by little, all of the desires or wills to do the right thing – virtues – develop.
Judas is a miserable sinner, always seeking to replace the Lord with useless and empty things. We have to contemplate all of these desires, all of these needs, that we have, which we think are so important. If in the end they amount to nothing, if they turn into dust, if they do not come with us after our death, then why do we spend so much time attending to them? The world is full of miserable sinners, thinking that if they can acquire those things they desire, then at that point they will be happy. But the world is a great experiment to see that such a rationale or motive always ends in failure.
Let us now talk about meditation, the actual effort of our psychological work. The original forms of Christianity possessed the teachings of how to work psychologically. And this has been largely forgotten or thrown out. Certainly, there still exist some pockets of contemplative, mystical Christianity. But the reality is that everybody who is interested in the teachings of Jesus must be doing this work. So, it is important that we understand that this is a core aspect.
Meditation has been in recent times becoming a little more accepted and popular. And this is a very good thing overall. Unfortunately, the meditative practices within Christianity have been largely forgotten or obscured. In reality, the fundamental factors and practices in meditation, whether Eastern or Western forms, are the same. It is learning how to direct our attention, and how to work with the mind.
An early community, the beginning of the traditions in Christianity, started with what are called the Desert Fathers. And from this tradition, there is a quote from Abba Cronius, which states:
“If the soul is vigilant and withdraws from all distraction and abandons its own will, then the spirit of God invades it and it can conceive because it is free to do so.”
Let us unpack this quote, because it contains the essential core of what meditation needs to be. First and foremost, the soul must be vigilant. Vigilance means to be present, awake, observant, even “mindful.” This vigilance is a subtle type of activation. It is a simple, natural capability that we all have, which at the same time is very difficult to put into words. It is to be present, vigilant, aware.
The second half is to withdraw from all distractions. This withdrawing is often why someone who goes to meditate tries to find a quiet place. A true master of meditation can withdraw even within a very busy place with lots of noises. But generally speaking, we withdraw to a quieter place because that makes it easier to withdraw psychologically, because the physical body is giving us sense impressions. What is being spoken about here is to turn down the volume knobs of all the sense organs so that those impressions do not distract the attention within. To withdraw the attention means to stop paying attention to the external senses and start observing and paying attention more and more inwardly. This is what it means to withdraw from distraction.
This withdrawing from distraction is a skill. You do not achieve this by practicing it once. We achieve this by practicing it every day. Many times, we find ourselves mechanically withdrawn from the exterior world. When a captivating or fantastic concept or idea entrances us, we might have a daydream. And although we know that we are physically awake, we are daydreaming within ourselves. This is a drawing away of the attention from the exterior senses and into our daydreams.
The possibility is there; and everybody has experienced that. It is normal, common, for people to be thinking about something very seriously, and therefore withdrawing their attention from the exterior world, and going inside. The problem is: the thoughts that they are having are very subjective, mechanical. The person does not really have any cognizance of the thoughts that they are having. So they might be having a lot of resentful thoughts, thoughts related to the intellect, the demon of the mind, Pilate. The ability to withdraw is present. Everybody has it. We just need to learn how to withdraw consciously.
One way is to learn how to really pray. One way is to close your eyes and to focus within, praying. What is very helpful is to imagine some icon or deity, some image of a religious nature, while doing that prayer. That will withdraw the senses. Another way, which is very close to that type of activity, is becoming aware of the breath. Becoming aware of the breath is a foundational practice, and it is very often taught today in relation to Eastern traditions. But if you read the Christian mystical documents, you will find that they were watching the breath as well.
Watching the breath allows you to focus onto just one element. Breathing is something that can be sensed physically, in your body. So, it is not a complete withdrawal. However, if you can withdraw just to the process of breathing, you have withdrawn to the very core process of the life of your body. And you can then go a little bit deeper by withdrawing even from the physical process of breathing. By doing this, you are collecting all your attention, all of your vigilance, and directing it inside of your psyche.
The next part states that the soul must then abandon its own will. The abandonment of one’s own will is the complete surrendering of the egotistical elements that we have within. The problem that we have, is that the ego just keeps its activity. It keeps going. The ego stirs its own self up. So, when we close our eyes a begin to withdraw a bit, this actually allows us to see the activity of our mind more clearly. Immediately, what is there is a whole bunch of thoughts, fears, anxieties, desires. So immediately, that little bit of extra attention that we have acquire by withdrawing from the exterior senses is now more available to become mechanically attached to those same desires, fears, anxieties, fantasies, whatever it might be, that are already going on in our mind.
In other words, when we remove all of our exterior distractions, we see our mind easier. Since our mind is a mess, it often occurs that we end up mechanically stirring up the mind more and more.
When we experience that, if we truly and honestly are trying to meditate, and we experience exactly what we just spoke about, this is actually an indication that you are able to withdraw. This is actually an indication that you know exactly what you need to work on, because you withdrew some of your attention from the external world, and then the clarity came to all of these elements within your mind.
So, do not be frightened by that. What is happening there is natural. It is not pleasant. It is not easy. But it does not mean that you did anything wrong. You are actually turning toward the things you need to do correctly. It is as if you turned the lights on in a room for the first time, and only then do you see how messy it is. But if you want to clean your room, you must first turn the light on. The fact that the light being turned on revealed a much more significant mess than you ever thought prior to that does not mean that you have done anything wrong. You have done the right thing to move to clean it. It is just that we are, more often than not, very ignorant of what is really going on in our minds. And when we see a little bit more, with a little bit more clarity, exactly how messed up it is, it can be very frightening. Keep steady. Keep working. If you continue in your efforts, your mind will become more manageable.
This process of abandoning our own will is a very difficult, long process. We need to work on it every day. And, little by little, we will be able to acquire more and more quiet states of our soul. And, little by little, the spirit of God will come into us. Little by little, we will have little intuitions, little manifestations of our heart blossoming with the compassion of Christ, seeing the world through the eyes of the spirit. Little by little – this is natural. Little by little, we stop viewing the world way that we have always viewed it, through the eyes of our ego. We begin to see, little by little, how much of a cage that is. By doing that, you then want to comprehend how to get out of that cage more and more effectively.
The quote then says when we can abandon our own will, the spirit of God invades. And then it (the soul) can conceive, because it is free to do so. We possess all of these capabilities, but they are all chained down. They are all encaged. But through a special process, which is the process of meditation, those elements can be freed within that same session of meditation. And when those processes, those powers, those capabilities are freed in a particular meditation session, you now possess an ability to comprehend your own ego deeper and more profoundly than you ever did before. This is what is necessary. This is why it is necessary to meditate.
If you do not meditate, you cannot get out of the cage temporarily. If you cannot get out of the cage temporarily, you can never destroy the cage. When you get out of the cage temporarily, then you have a clearer connection to your spirit. Then you can do the effort to comprehend, and ask for the assistance in the elimination of, your ego. This is the psychological work. This is the way it must be done.
Let us quote again from the Desert Fathers about psychological war:
Abba [Father] Poeman said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care.”
In other words, he was praying to the Lord, saying, “I am suffering so much. Please, Lord, take this suffering away from me.” Just as many pray today – “I know that I am a terrible person. I know that I am doing all of these things. I am always angry. I do not want to be angry anymore. I do not want to have this quality anymore. I know it is wrong. Please, God, remove this from me,” this is what happened in the story.
And he felt that somehow he became liberated or freed from this passion that he was praying about:
“He went and told an old man this; ‘I find myself in peace, without an enemy,’ he said. The old man said to him, ‘Go beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.’”
In other words, the old man, being very wise, said, “Because God has given you some compassion, He has relieved you of this issue. But actually, you still possess it. You believe that you have been permanently relieved of that ego, but actually it is only temporary. And because of that, you think that you are liberated. You have some pride now too.” The old man then says: “This is what you should do: pray that those afflictions, those passions, come back up within you so that you can see exactly what is going on, and go to war against that. Because that is how you are going to make real progress.”
The story continues:
“So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, ‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.’”
This is the way we should be praying, psychologically. To simply pray that I don’t want to suffer this anymore, this is like saying: I want to go on a vacation. I just want to go away, get out of this. But we can never abandon our psychological baggage. It always follows us. It is always tied to us.
So for moments, we can be liberated from it, either through a session of meditation – because through meditation, if you become good at it, you achieve a state of mind that is much more peaceful – or through prayer, whereby you can also achieve something very peaceful. And the Lord can be compassionate and remove some affliction for some time. But these are only temporary. They do not indicate spiritual progress. It is only when, in those moments, you use the ability to be separated from that passion, that you can then regain your strength, collect yourself, and direct it toward it – to go to war against it.
When we are feeling afflicted, when we are feeling the passions of our ego, the right way to pray is to pray for the qualities that will allow us to eliminate that. Not just to run away, not to escape, but rather to go through it, to psychologically comprehend what is going on, and then to eliminate it.
In esoteric Christianity, it is imperative that we understand ourselves. We must come to know ourselves. This is how we awaken. This is how the quality of our soul awakens. When we comprehend our problems, then we have the possibility of eliminating them. Before that, we cannot eliminate them.
The work, on our half, the half of the soul, is to comprehend, to see our problems clearly, to comprehend them. Being in meditation, we are able to actually see them. Before, if you do not meditate, you do not collect, even temporarily, all the factors, all the forces, of the soul in order to see your ego with any clarity. Comprehension is always lacking if you do not meditate. So first, daily vigilance, daily observation, combined with meditation – that is the way to understand and see yourself clearly. And then, through that clarity, one may ask for assistance. That is when God says, “This man or this woman has worked on themselves. They have done what they need. Now that they have gained that wisdom, I will help them to eliminate that ego.”
We have on the following slide the qualities that we should be developing in order succeed in the psychological work. The end goal, of course, in terms of the soul, is for all of the virtues to blossom, all of these qualities of any saint: the temperance, the modesty, the humility, the compassion. But we do not get these things by desiring them. We do not get these things simply by trying to cultivate them. Actually, by removing our ego, the space – the ability for these things to blossom in our soul – naturally opens. Through the work – the most primary aspect being to throw the merchants out of the temple, the space opens for the soul to grow. You cannot expect the soul to grow without eliminating the weeds that are choking all of those elements that need to grow within us.
Instead of just praying for qualities of love and compassion, we should also understand the qualities that we need to do the psychological work, because when we have the qualities to do the psychological work, then we have the ability to eliminate all of these passions, these egotistical elements.
- Vigilance: to be present and watchful.
- Honesty: to add no fantasy to your experience. Be factual.
- Humility: to not be something other than what you are.
- Discernment: in meditation, seeking truth from lies.
- Diligence: lifelong continuity of practice.
- Perseverance: to not give up despite failures and mistakes.
- Persistence: to not rest upon yesterday’s triumph.
The first thing, from my own perspective, is to have vigilance. If you do not have a vigilance of your life, if you are not observing yourself, if you are not observing life, if you are not present and watchful of what is happening, then you have no basis to do any type of psychological work. So you must become present.
Everybody thinks in the beginning that they are already present. But it should shock us when we look back on our days and our weeks and our months, and we find nothing but vague confusion, unconsciousness. Then we must state that we were not present. If things are happening, and we do not even understand why, cannot even remember why things are happening, then we are not present. We are not watchful.
Once we have the basic presence, the basic vigilance, immediately we need to combine that with profound honesty, sincerity. You are watching, present, vigilant in your life. But to be honest and sincere is to add no fantasy to your experience. See life factually.
Along with that, we need humility: to not be something other than what we are. How much do we love to pretend? We love to view ourselves in some type of narrative, some type of story – a story that is usually entitled: “How Great of a Person We Are.” Sometimes we tell ourselves stories of how much of a martyr we are, how much we have suffered for others. We tell ourselves a story of how misunderstood we are. We tell ourselves a story, and we like to be the central character in that story.
These stories then become what we project onto the world; and we fit everything in the world into this story that we have constructed. It is just a fantasy. It is a lie. And it is very difficult to break. This is a habitual way of seeing the world – a framework that we superimpose on the world, precisely because it allows us to not actually be present and watchful for the way the world actually is. It allows us to be very asleep; and we can just fit all of the events of our life into whatever story we prefer for that day. It is a fantasy. It is a fantasy that we are always predisposed to falling within because actually, when we become very vigilant, present, honest, humble, what we might find are qualities of our mind that we do not like.
Oftentimes, almost always, when we are confronted with a quality of our mind that is unpleasant, we do not see it as being unpleasant within our mind. Rather, we see it as if the thing happening in the exterior world is the thing that is unpleasant – a person who we do not like, for example. We see that as a person we do not like, but actually it is the state of mind that we have that is unpleasant. It has some relationship with that person, but in reality we do not have any control over that other person. It is related to the quality of our mind. And our refusal to see that that quality of mind is just a habit, a conditioned way of seeing the world. We see the world in very rigid, conditioned ways. And it might appear to our experience in a very naive way as boredom, as irritability, as not liking someone, etc. And we take that to be the truth. We do not really observe that it is our mind that is having that quality. Not life itself, but rather the mind.
When we begin to seriously observe, we begin to see the difference between the quality of our mind and what life actually is. We begin to discern what is a lie and what is the truth – what is true and what is false. And this is done most importantly in meditation itself.
Meditation itself is a process: living the most ethical life we can, trying our best to be a good person. Of course, we make mistakes because we have the ego, but we try our best. Then, through a daily practice, we learn how to relax, to just sit. We learn how to withdraw our senses, to focus within, while remaining attentive. And from that point, we begin to see certain things going on in our mind. And we can either observe what is going on in our mind at that particular time in order to comprehend it, or we can continue to withdraw even further, remaining very attentive, until our mind becomes more quiet, more collected.
Then we go back, retrospectively, to some event, some thing that is going on, something that is irritating us, some character trait that we keep having, some particular moment that illustrates when we did something very foolish, very wrong, very much embedded within our ego. And because we are in meditation, we have collected our attention, our capabilities, our light. We can see with greater clarity the qualities of our mind. And then we practice discernment. We learn how to see the ego for the ego and the truth for the truth. It is not an easy process, but it is a necessary one.
You combine that practice, of course, with prayer, asking for help. But what we pray for, as in the prior example, is the strength to fight, praying to be shown what you need to see, praying for whatever qualities that you can possess in order to do the work more effectively. In conjunction with discernment, not only do we need to meditate, but we also need to make our life into a habit of meditation. We need a lifelong continuity of practice, which we are calling diligence. It is very difficult to find someone who continues to practice for many years. Many people start; very few people continue for any length of time.
Along with diligence, we need perseverance. To persevere means to continue going on despite some mistake or failure that you might have. Just because you had one mistake or one problem, it does not mean that you give up. You persevere. You continue. It is very rare, almost impossible, for someone to not make a mistake. Everyone is going to make mistakes. You have to continue working, even if it feels like you are starting all over from the beginning. There are times when you might feel that you made some progress, and then something happens, and it is as if everything has unraveled. This is no reason to give up. Continue. Continue forth.
And finally, we need what we are calling persistence. Not only should we persevere through our failures, but we should also persist through our triumphs. You might have some triumph; and people become complacent with the level of their being, with the level of their psychological work. They might have actually made some change in their mind, in their heart, in their soul, and developed that, but they do not persist. They become complacent. Persistence is necessary. You must keep working. That is your duty as a soul: to keep working.
If we are working toward possessing all of these things, we shall work very well on ourselves. And we will do what we need to do. And when we are working very well on ourselves, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. But we will get to it one step at a time. The Lord will guide us. The Lord will show us. He will take our hand on the steps. But first he wants us to stand up on our two feet, to see that we are willing to have all of these qualities. Then He helps us to take all of the steps, because the Lord wants us to possess our souls. The only way for us is to possess our souls is for us to do that work. Of course, He is there. The Lord, our inner spirit, is always there doing that other half. Without that other half, nothing is possible. Yet, we must do our half. The Lord helps those who help themselves the most.
There is a book that outlines all of this psychological work very well. It gives a very good view of the psychological work in a Christian context. It is called The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis. It is said that this is the second most popular book in the world after the Bible in the number of publications that have been distributed throughout the centuries. This section that we are going to read will help us realize the view that we should have in relationship to our work, exactly how we should be working. In this particular segment, it is illustrated as a discussion between Christ and the disciple. And we decided to quote this because the name of the chapter is: “On Self Examination and the Purpose of Amendment.”
It is fitting that a priest be endowed above all else with humility of heart and profound reverence, and that when he celebrates, handles or receives this Sacrament, he does so with firm faith and with the sacred purpose of giving glory to God. Therefore carefully examine your conscience to the best of your ability, cleansing and purifying it by true contrition and humble confession. Thus will you retain no grave matter on it that may keep you from approaching the Sacrament. Grieve for your sins in general, and for your besetting sins in particular. And, if time allow, confess to God from the depths of your heart all the misery of your passions.
You might say: “Sometimes it does not feel that there are many things that I have to work upon.” In response to that, we are going to continue reading, because Thomas a Kempis is showing us all the things that we need to be working on. We need to grieve our sins. Not in an egotistical way, but rather because we are so far from perfection; and it is our inheritance to achieve that perfection. So we should work for it.
Grieve that you are still so carnal and worldly; so undisciplined in your passions, and so full of bodily cravings ; so unguarded in your outward sense ; so often engrossed in vain fancies; so absorbed in worldly affairs and so indifferent to spiritual; so easily moved to laughter and levity, so disinclined to sorrow and penitence ; so eager for ease and self indulgence, so averse to zeal and self-discipline; so anxious to hear news and see fine sights, so reluctant to accept humble and simple things ; so greedy for great possessions, so miserly in giving, so tenacious in keeping ; so intemperate in speech, so unwilling to keep silence ; so disorderly in manners, so impetuous in action ; so greedy for food, so deaf to the Word of God ; so quick to rest, so slow to work ; so wide-awake to listen to idle tales, so sleepy at holy vigils ; so hurried in your devotions, so wandering in attention; so careless in reciting the Hours, so lukewarm at the Eucharist, so lacking in devotion at Communion; so easily distracted; so suddenly roused to anger, so quick to take offence; so ready to judge, so severe in reproof; so cheerful in prosperity, so weak in adversity; so frequently proposing many good deeds, and so seldom doing them.
When you have confessed and grieved over these and your other faults with deep sorrow and contrition at your own weakness, make a firm resolve to amend your life and to advance in holiness. Then surrender yourself and your will entirely to Me, and offer yourself on the altar of your heart as a perpetual sacrifice to the honour of My Name. Faithfully commit yourself to Me, body and soul, that you may worthily approach and offer this Sacrifice to God, and receive the Sacrament of My Body to the health of your soul.
There is no more worthy offering nor fuller satisfaction for the cleansing of sins than to offer one's self wholly and purely to God, together with the offering of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist and in Communion. When a man is truly penitent and does his best, then whenever he comes to Me for pardon and grace, I will remember his sins no more, but will forgive them all. `I live,' says the Lord, `and do not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he be converted and live.(Ez.18:22; Isa.43:25; Heb.10:17)
The great sacrifice that we must give is our ego. The ego is like a cage. Within that ego is our soul. And within the depths of our soul is the light of Christ. So when we suffer, the Lord suffers. When we sacrifice our ego, this is the sacrifice that Christ does upon himself.
In the beginning, we spoke about Jesus cleansing the temple. You see that he went down to Capernaum. But what is Capernaum? Let us clearly read that he went down to Capernaum. Down meaning related to the depths, going down. It is down in Capernaum where Jesus acquired that whip, with which he then went up to Jerusalem. The word Capernaum is related to the word “kaphar” in ancient Hebrew. In Deuteronomy 21:8, it is written: “Expiate thy people Israel, whom Thou has saved, O יהוה, and let not innocent blood suffer in the midst of Thy people Israel; and let the blood atone them.”
The word expiate and atone: this is “kaphar.” So Caper – or “kaphar”– naum is this region that we go to in order to make amends, to make atonement, to do what is necessary to make up for past mistakes. And this is exactly the passage that we just read from The Imitation of Christ: “On Self Examination and the Purpose of Amendment.” We must look within ourselves and grieve those errors with honesty, humility, and sincerity; and from that basis, we pick up the whip. That whip is the willpower, the forceful element needed to drive out the ego, to see it for what it is. And by doing that, we drive out those elements from the temple that are preventing the superior aspects of our soul, Jerusalem, from being a true house of God.
So we go down into Capernaum, down into our psychological infernos, and we go up to our present, active, daily life, seeing how we are inhabiting all of these egotistical elements in our daily life, being like those merchants in the temple, and taking up that whip and driving them out. That is the holy sacrifice of our ego.
And you can see in the story that this was all occurring during the time of Passover. Passover relates to the Old Testament. It relates to a sacrifice of the lamb or goat. The blood is placed on the doorposts of all of those families that performed the holy sacrifice. And that blood allowed the Angel of Death to pass over their homes. And those that did not make the holy sacrifice had something sacrificed of theirs.
This is the story of those who do not sacrifice their ego: they are eventually sacrificed anyway, but in a much more painful way, in a forceful way, because the ego cannot exist forever. Our sins cannot go on forever without some type of eventual judgment by God. If we do not do the work within ourselves, then eventually God will come to remove that ego, but it will not be a pleasant experience. Such individuals will suffer more, and they will not learn. They will not grow their soul.
You can read the story of Passover in Exodus. You will see that those who had the blood of the sacrifice present survived, and those who did not faced a great plague: “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are staying. I will see the blood and pass you by. There will not be any deadly plague among you when I strike Egypt.”
This image of the painting of the doorposts with the blood of the lamb looks like the Hebrew character Tav. And the Hebrew character Tav can be a composite of two other letters: the letters Daleth and Nun. The letter Daleth symbolizes the door, and the letter Nun represents the fish. We all know that the fish swim in the waters. These are the same waters in the depths within ourselves related to our creative sexual energy – those waters that we have to transform into wine.
When the blood is painted on the doorposts, it looks like the Tav. And the Tav is the seal of the covenant. This Tav is what we need to work with. And you get that Nun, of course, in Capernaum. You see that there is a Nun in Capernaum. All of this relates Kabbalistically. It is very interesting Kabbalistically. But none of that Kabbalistic understanding means anything if you are not doing the psychological work. That is what is most important. If you understand the Kabbalistic framework and the connections, that is very good. But in the beginning, that is not what is necessary in order to be a practitioner of the esoteric Christian doctrine. What is necessary is to work with your creative energies and to meditate, to eliminate your ego, to make an amendment, to drive those elements out of the temple.