In his book ‘Words of Spirituality’ Enzo Bianchi writes, ‘in Buddism, it is through attention that one reaches a penetrating vision of reality, a way of seeing, what the desert fathers and the Christian tradition have called diorasis (seeing in depth, beyond appearances and exteriors) (p.34).
Diorasis is one of the ‘mindful’ Christian words, and someone who exhibited it was called a Discerning One, we could say a mindful one – for discernment is part of Christian mindfulness. It is not a narrow closed attitude of the mind but an open, discerning one. In Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) a mindfulness-incorporating therapy, the state of mind to access is ‘wise mind’. Discernment is about wisdom.
In ‘The Spirituality of the Christian East’ Tomas Spidlik calls this discernment, this seeing in depth a charism of the Holy Spirit, which included an ability to see into the hearts of people. It also included a knowledge of the mysteries of God.
this charism is considered a gift of God and also the result of personal purification, through a life of contemplative prayer, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God'(Matthew 5:8). The principal way of praying was the Jesus Prayer, the simple but profound invocation of the presence of God which contains the whole gospel, ‘Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.’ This prayer was incarnated into the person through the first half of the prayer happening on the in-breath, and the second half on the out-breath.
This ancient prayer enables one to deal with the traditional eight afflictive thoughts of gluttony, lust and greed, anger, sadness and acedia, vanity and pride.
The grace of God enables all to become discerning ones, the humility of man enables all to co-work with God in contemplative prayer. This is the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
I become that anxious shoal even though I am not that shoal, and I am bigger than that shoal of fish-thoughts. And there wasn’t even a shark in the water outside the harbour of my head.
But the shoal begins to tell the story of the shark that has got bigger, and more and more fish-thoughts gather and swim around frantically telling the untrue story about the shark that isn’t actually there.
Just in the corner of the bowl of my mind swims a little bright goldfish which taps the side of my mind and says, ‘you are bigger than these fish-thoughts and perhaps the shark isn’t actually there’. Suddenly the water calms and the shoal of fish-thoughts swim away and they have disshoalved.
More fish-thoughts swim into the harbour of my mind…the little gold Right-fish thought is still and still there.
Miriam Darlington, a poet, has written a beautiful book called ‘Otter Country – in search of the wild otter’, published just recently by Granta. It is a book to be read slowly, with a chocolate-covered cappucino and lemon tart. Perhaps only a chapter a day as a treat to be savoured and tasted.
I have read just the first three chapters so far but I am captivated. Like all good poets, through awareness, attention, and observation she has got under the skin of the otter. Miriam, along with all poets and nature writers is mindful of nature, and demonstrates that mindfulness is a universal human capacity. Within our mindful brain we all have the capacity for wise present-moment awareness that sees far and true.
Her words melt the padlocks of your mind and suddenly you are free to slip into the book as the otter slips into the river or the sea. Read it and see again.
In his book ‘The Mindful Workplace’ Michael Chaskalson describes Tibetan Buddhist monks as ‘Olympic-level athletes of meditation.’ These Olympic level athletes of the mind were being brain-scanned by Western scientists who were staggered by the results they found.
The idea of Olympic-level athletes of the mind leapt out at me as I’ve been so impressed with the spirit in motion of the Paralympic athletes, their beauty, grace and disciplines of training.
This idea of Olympic-level athletes of the mind is a challenge to Christians who are to have ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16). As Christians we are supposed to be able to have our minds ”filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.’ (Ephesians 3:19).We are to be in ‘strict training’ (1 Corinthians (:25).
And yet I don’t read of Christians being called Olympic athletes of the mind. Even though we believe in the transforming work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God and God’s grace. We need to rediscover the contemplative practices of our past, the ancient paths, and walk in them again.