Tuesday, July 03, 2012

XI Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model...

The suspension of self-consciousness occurs many times each day in the course of ordinary life.  But precisely because it is the suspension of self-consciousness, the occurrence usually goes unnoticed. Occasionally, however, the attentive person may glimpse, as the New Yorker writer and Isaac of Nineveh describe, that this phenomenon has taken place, and the vast implications of the imperceptible release into complete silence and its immense freedom may gradually or suddenly become evident.  One of these implications is the recognition that self-consciousness, in the simple sense I am using it, can exercise a ruthless tyranny, particularly in its Freudian role as the voice of the super-ego, which claims presumptuous[i] knowledge of the truth of the deepest self. That is to say, the super-ego forces the subject to look outward to compare and judge, instead of inward towards single-heartedness that is self-forgetful. The super-ego claims knowledge that is unavailable to it, and the right to judge absolutely.
Self-consciousness is particularly noticeable and intrusive in the practice of one-pointed meditation, and anyone who has experienced this sort of distraction knows how frustrating it can be for the beginner even to the point of anger. The language for expressing the phenomena of self-consciousness may be modern, but the experience is universal, and it is important in re-reading texts to be aware that these distinctions and the laws by which they operate are at work whether or not the person is engaged in a formal spiritual praxis such as meditation. 
        Such re-reading raises questions about the intention of the seeking self and the distraction from this intentional self by the voice of self-consciousness, an important and neglected aspect of texts such as the Pauline epistles; or Isaac’s careful distinction of ‘the world' meaning the exploitive, reflexive and imprisoning appetites, from the creation which he regards as holy, and again from the ‘world to come’ which is not teleological but the interior kingdom, the transfigured perception, into which the soul is born;  or Julian’s ‘inward and outward’.  So fundamental is the role of self-consciousness and its play with silence that writers who appear to be only subliminally aware of the role of self-consciousness are still able to write texts that perform their content and deliver the reader to silence.

[i] In its most forceful meaning of an imposed and arrogant ignorance. 
     [2012]The language of 'inward' and 'outward' can be confusing. The 'outward' of the so-called super-ego is a counterfeit of the 'outward' of beholding and self-forgetfulness; the 'inward' of narcissism is the counterfeit of the 'inward of single-heartedness (which is both an opening and an effect of beholding).


Blogger Susan said...

This is an extraordinary article - I'm enjoying it very much. It's a lot of work to read it - lots of looking things up, etc. But it is so rich - thank you.

I hope to post a couple of comments when I've absorbed the whole thing -

4:10 am, July 07, 2012  

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