Meditation as a Road to Self-knowledge
According to Evagrius the way to identify our personal ‘demons’ is twofold: by prayer/meditation and by effort to come to self-knowledge and awareness. An important role here is played by ‘watching the thoughts’: “If there is any monk [human being] who wishes to take the measure of some of the more fierce demons.....
, then let him keep careful watch over his thoughts. ..Let him note well the complexity of his thoughts,... the demons which cause them. Then let him ask from Christ the explanation of the data he has observed.”
Thoughts are not bad in themselves of course; they do have to be distinguished from the ‘demons’ or ‘evil thoughts’, as Evagrius also called them. Only when a thought or desire resonates strongly with a negative thought pattern, can the ‘demon’ exert its influence. This results in normal emotional energy becoming ‘demonic’ and we are then demonically driven to unwholesome action.
We need to pay these significant thoughts and their associations the attention they deserve. They are the only indicators we have of what really motivates us for good or for ill. But his last sentence is the important one. We can’t reach understanding and find healing on our own. No rational explanations are sufficient. It is only the guidance of the risen Christ within that helps us come to awareness and insight.
In this context there are two ways of prayer: deep, silent prayer and discursive prayer. The silence of pure prayer allows us to hear the still voice of the risen Christ, the healer, at the centre of our being. The insight, the gift of pure prayer, needs to be reflected on at other times in discursive prayer, which is outlined by Evagrius as ‘watching the thoughts’. We start with the recurrent thoughts going through our mind and become aware of the connections and associations between them. Then we need to take one step back to the feeling that underlies the thought. Feelings are thoughts felt in our body before we give them shape.
The problem is that we are conditioned to ignore our feelings because of their seemingly irrational nature. They are, however, the first indication that we have that there is something stirring in our unconscious depth. We need therefore to become aware and acknowledge our feelings rather than suppress them. Before we become conscious of a feeling there often has been according to Evagrius a sensation of some sort: a sound, the way the light falls, and especially a taste or smell.
As soon as we become conscious of a feeling we should ask ourselves, whether there is a strong emotion at its source, a ‘demon’ in our personal unconscious, what conditioned memories are being tapped into? Does this present situation trigger feelings from the past? Do I feel unloved? Insecure? Undervalued? Powerless? Recognizing this helps us to obtain insight into our motivations and helps us to tailor our actions appropriately to the needs of the present situation only, rather than have them reinforced by emotions from past experiences.
You may well ask, what has this to do with meditation? It is of the utmost importance:
“By meditation I mean not just the work of pure prayer but the whole life-field of self-knowledge which it drives.” (Laurence Freeman ‘Jesus, the Teacher Within)
These ‘demons’ block the path to true self-knowledge, which leads to transformation of our being, to wholeness, a different way of seeing reality, thus opening the door to knowledge of the Divine Reality.
For further help with setting up and leading groups, please look at the ‘Christian Meditation Groups’ Website in English, Spanish and French, based on the book ‘A Pearl of Great Price’ by Laurence Freeman