You've spent some time now just Letting Go. Perhaps 5-10 minutes. You are still, your body relaxed, your breathing natural, not forced. The Jesus Prayer is riding on your gentle breath. In---"Jesus." Out---"Mercy." Or some other simple prayer that doesn't arouse the mind. Now move on into the second step or stage. The ancients (St. John Climacus, Maximus the Confessor, Dionysius, and others) called the first stage by various names, but they all agree that it is essentially the work of "letting go," or "purgation." The second step then is "illuminative." You simply observe or watch your inner landscape by the light of Christ.
So practice now a presence-of-mind. St. Romuald says, "Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watches for fish." Simply observe your thoughts and feelings without identifying with them. Let them pass through your mind, one by one. Your breath remains effortless. Return to the Jesus Prayer when distracted. If you become dull or bored, refocus your attention. If you become scattered, relax, let go of what pulls at you.
It's as if you've entered a movie theater. You're alone. The projectionist is playing your thoughts and feelings on the screen of your mind.
- Take a seat half way up the rows of seats.
- Sit down with your popcorn, and simply watch.
- You'll find yourself sucked into the drama on the screen and before you know it you're no longer in your seat but plastered on the screen itself trying to get into the drama.
- When you do, simply peel yourself off the screen and walk calmly back to your seat, sit down, pick up your popcorn again and watch.
- When it happens again (and it will)---when you get pulled back in, identified with your thoughts or feelings---walk back to your seat, sit, watch. Again and again without frustration or judgment.
You'll notice what's played on the screen is quite random. One moment you see something you did yesterday. At another, an image comes from childhood. Then a car door opens on the street outside, and suddenly your mind's wondering who's there; you feel excited, interested. You want to stop praying and look. This is normal. With this practice you'll realize how you've spent your whole life with very little distance between your true self and your thoughts; you've nearly always simply gone wherever they've told you to go. This exercise begins to set you free. You realize you are not your thoughts, nor do you have to follow them slavishly.
Your goal is God. God alone. God is not your thoughts---even lovely thoughts about God.
In this exercise, you're moving past all that's not God so that you may rest in God, knowing God, touching eternity. This is what you seek.
Next post, step three---"Being".