The condition of mankind would be hopeless were it not for the fact that:
In creating man God implanted in him something Divine—a certain thought, like a spark, having both light and warmth, a thought which illumines the mind and shows what is good and what is bad. This is called conscience and it is a natural law but when through the fall, men covered up and trampled down conscience, there arose the need to rekindle this buried spark.
The tool for rekindling the spark is attention. It is by attention to ourselves that we can withdraw the powers of the mind from their state of dispersion among the senses and the multitude of thoughts they give rise to. Attention is the magic talisman that makes the proposals of hesychasm practical possibilities:
Attention is the appeal of the soul to itself, the beginning of contemplation, serenity of the mind, or rather its standing firmly planted and not wandering, cutting off thoughts,the treasure-house of the power to endure all that may come, the origin of faith, hope and love.
Some of the fathers called this doing, silence of the heart, others called it attention.
Wealth is brought to the soul from the daily practice of attention.
Attention is our most precious gift; the secret charm that, as in the fairy stories, empowers its possessor to overcome insuperable obstacles. Without it we cannot know ourselves, we do not know where our thoughts go or with what we are inwardly occupied. Externally, we have a degree of attention for our material life. It is demanded of us and without it we make mistakes that may cost us dearly. But the call for inner attention is not easily heard for it is not sounded out there in life, but elsewhere, mysteriously.
Attention is the transforming force that carries us across the threshold from theory and reading into practice and personal experience. Like light, flowing down and penetrating the material world, it illuminates the lower and the dark in ourselves and transforms it. It enables the seeker to survey his thoughts, feelings and actions impartially. He sees that he is not them, just as light is not the object it illumines. He knows attention as “I”; the inner God; Christ within. When such divinity is present, order and unity have come to reign over his inner world, and the act of creation is reflected in him.
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Previously printed in Parabola, Vol. XV, No. 2, Summer 1990, pp. 32–36. Some sentences and phrases have been removed for brevity. The quotations in italics are from the Early Fathers from the Philokalia, London: Faber & Faber, 1954, pp. 157, 32, 157, 285.
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