Benedict's Dharma 2

Day 2 - Wednesday - April 30, 2003
Sister Mary (Meg) Margaret

My part this morning in a minor presentation is to return to the idea of our diads, and to put your mind at ease as to what you would be doing if you did a diad or a triad. It's a follow-up to Rev. Kusala's presentation on forgiveness, because a diad is this tradition is a manifestation of thoughts before they become actions; it's to get at the root of what rises from underneath. If you can start noticing it, you can redirect those thoughts and feelings before they come out in afflictions.

In the desert tradition, the amahs and abbas, were very surprised, at least as the story goes, when they left all things -- their possessions, their status, their families, their relationships -- and yet those things followed them into the desert. In their hearts, they had even more possessions.

Notice how Rev. Kusala said, "I don't have a lot of things, but I'm really attached to the ones I have."

You can leave the river and dive underneath and go to the desert, go to the cell, but it all comes with you in your heart. The desert fathers and mothers battled with those afflictions, and overcame them through God's grace, and learned to pray without ceasing. They had different kinds of ascetical practices to reduced their afflictions.

After they reduced the afflictions, keen insight, purity of heart, equanimity arose. God's presence was abiding in their hearts. Vistors would notice this glow, this beauty, this transparency, of an illumined person. That's why they were so attractive.

When a disciple would go to the desert fathers and say, "Give me a word that I may live. I, too, would like to know what you've done." Then they would give him a word. They could see into the disciple's hearts, see what their affliction was.

Notice the practice there. The disciple practiced humility, asking for a word, asking, "What can I do?" The practice really turns into a disposition more than a practice, but the disciple wanting a home base, would go towards humility.

___The way of the teacher is the way of discernment.___

I am before our Creator God in total openness with my mind and my heart to receive God's word and to live and imitate Christ. Our disposition, our way is a way of humility. But the way of the teacher is the way of discernment, and he or she would discern how the disciple is to practice.

We can learn ways of discernment; but the reason we can't discern and need a teacher, is because what comes up is afflicted. We can't trust our thoughts. We can't trust our heart's desire. It's contaminated.

We also have the effects of original sin.

Augustine would tell us that we have a propensity towards evil. We are created good, but we still have a propensity towards evil. We like evil in a way. It feels good, to do bad.

We also have ignorance. We don't know what good is, because our minds are clouded.

We also have a weak will. Even if we know what good is, even if we want to turn away from evil, we can't sustain it. We need more strength and lots of grace.

Those three dynamics keep us humble, because we know we are not free. It is through God's grace we can do all things, in him we have strength.

Our charge is humility. The teacher's charge is to teach us the way, and the way is through humility. The reason why we lay our thoughts on a wise elder is because he or she can see our thoughts.

Are we deluding ourselves? Are we in ignorance? Are we really just, trying to get what we want? Even if we are living a very virtuous life, are we doing all the right things for the wrong reasons? Are we full of vainglory, full of pride, carnal pride? Spiritual pride? That's the teaching I put together in, "Thoughts Matter", it's all about afflicted thoughts.

Thoughts rise from underneath, they rise gently at first. But, if you give thoughts more energy, more desire, they fan into emotions, and emotions fan into passions.

Passions are still passive. We have to give consent in order to act. That's the reason why a lot of our tradition is about this idea of consenting.

___The way to start discerning for ourselves, is to see these thoughts rising.___

But way before we consent, we've got these thoughts rising. The way to start discerning for ourselves, is to see these thoughts rising. Thought is a technical term, which means any rising on the screen of consciousness. It could be a feeling. It could be an emotion. It could be a physical impetus. It's an electronic surge. But the traditional word is "thought," sometimes translated as "fault," it just rises.

Now, if you had a wise elder, like I have in Jane, she will ask me, "Meg, dear, what is on your heart?"

Well, if I can get to the earliest inclination of my thoughts, a rising affliction and just lay it out, it will dissipate. A thought can be unthunk, it will just go away.

It can also goe in a circular way and gain a thickness, if I keep it inside and start churning it with a lot of commentary. Laying it out ever so simply and gently to a wise elder, allows the elder to give me words; sometimes that's enough. We don't have enough wise elders in our culture today, but we need to bring these thoughts up, and lay them out to someone.

This is the earliest form. It's called exagoreusis. It's a Greek word, it follows the Greek word for thought. Thoughts mean little thoughts that have these tails on them, so they can hook into the next thought. This goes way back to Plato and the neoplatonic philosophers. But Origen, the teacher of Evagrius who taught Cassian, was fascinated with the idea of thoughts, and so was John Climacus.

Benedict in his Rule says, cast your thoughts against the rock who is Christ, or manifest your thoughts to the abbot or a wise elder.

But this tradition dropped out by the seventh century, because the abbots became administrators, and the tradition of confession took over, just manifesting sin, instead of redirecting it.

If I were in a line for groceries, I'd practice watching thoughts rise. I know there are practices like this, where you lay aside thoughts of greed, or impatient self. You watch your thoughts. You simply become aware of thoughts.

___This is the essence of vigils, to be aware of your thoughts.___

This is the essence of vigils, to be aware of your thoughts. As the morning sun rises, you let your thoughts rise, and observe them. In the Christian tradition, we redirect them back to our heart's desire, who is Christ our Lord, either through the Jesus prayer or as John Cassian would pray, "Oh, God, come to my assistance. Oh, Lord, make haste to help me."

This not an accidental beginning of each office because we have done that in our hearts all day long, even before we get to office. Then when we say, Deus in adiutorium meum -- God, come to my assistance, in English -- we are back to, our thoughts. We lay them all up in prayer.

That's a short catechesis on thoughts, and how we manifest our thoughts. In practice, I don't know of anyone doing it today. I'm trying to recover it, because I think it's beneficial. For a group like us, I would recommend we would find a diad partner or triad partners, and the question would be, "Well, what is your heart's desire?" And just lay it out. If an affliction rises, such as, pain or suffering -- I can't listen because, I'm hurting because my mother's sick -- or something, just lay the thought out. It's received, and it goes away because the intention is to return to the presence of God in our midst. And then the next person would lay out their thoughts.

This takes no more than five or ten minutes. It's very brief. I would say do it sometime during the day. In the earliest tradition, they did it two or three times a week.

John Climacus talked about watching a monk in a certain tradition, I think it was upper Egypt, who had these little square books attached to his waistband, and would put his thoughts in them. It was the beginning of journal writing, a laying out of thoughts. As you lay them out, you let them go.

If we had more time, we could get into the anatomy of thought. It's quite systematic.

Any questions about this? It's spontaneous. It's what's in your heart, and you just lay them out.

Question? Yes.

BC: As I was listening to you yesterday, journaling is what came to my mind, I became aware that I'm not even honest with my journal at times. I seem to be screening what I put into my journal. And so I wondered what you would think about the idea of making your journal your partner.

SR. MEG: It would be excellent as long as it doesn't return to the self. In other words, the whole point would be to lay the self out, you would have to have a nonpublished audience in mind.

LH: Isn't this the essence of spiritual direction?

SR. MEG: This is the origin of spiritual direction. This is the beginning.

There is a marvelous book on this. It's by Irenee Hausherr, and the reference would be one of those Cistercian studies. It's called, Spiritual Direction in the East, it's a huge book. It's hard to get, but tells the history of how this came into being and why it evaporated.

MC: Wouldn't you agree that this is one of the benefits of meditation; that you are just present and let thoughts rise and go, even watch them as they go, but don't deal with them?

SR. MEG: This is a benefit of meditation, you can see why it goes hand in hand, just to observe. That through awareness, self awareness dissipates. That's the freedom.

___Freedom comes when you're just aware and you're not compulsed.___

Freedom comes when you're just aware and you're not compulsed.


MML: Are there ever any thoughts you want to hold onto. Or is it always true to let them go?

SR. MEG: When is a thought needing to be worked with? There was a little group of us at breakfast yesterday, and we talked about the difference between therapy and spirituality.

The answer is, you can work with it as long as the person you are working with has the same mind as you do, returning to your heart's desire and moving you beyond ego and self, we would say to God. Self growth in therapy isn't enough.

You can see that we have many topics here, but that's a nice long one. In general it's very clear that this manifestation of thoughts is not analysis. It really just laying them out. At its earliest, the word in -- I think it's Greek. Is nepsis. You are just watching thoughts come up.

You want to slow your brain and mind, to notice the thoughts origin. Analysis is too far down the road. The training is early detection, turns out to be preventative.

RJH: Do you know the book, "The Way of the Artist?"

SR. MEG: "The Way of the Artist," I have heard of it. I've not read it.

RJH: She talks in there about the morning pages for the artist. To block all the negative messages that you can't do this, that sort of thing. She says to write three pages every day, just write it without raising the pen. Would that be the manifestation of thoughts?

SR. MEG: Yes, that would be. But, there would need to be an intention to return to your heart's desire.

In order to be in the stream of this tradition, the focus in on the spirit, light, and humility rather than -- you can see it's very delicate -- rather than me becoming a good artist and creative. The intention would matter. The intention also frees you, if you don't have a goal, you don't have an outcome, that makes it a purer act. If you practice is focused on an outcome, then your practice is the outcome. It's contradictory.

This would fall on the Spirit, the will of God. If God wants a book to come out of it, great. But you, would not intentionally write a book in this practice.

Thank you very much.


_Day 2_

Sister Meg | Rev. Kusala | Q & A