by Andrea Elizabeth
In Orthodox meditation, one seeks to direct one’s mind toward God. One does this by using one’s mind as a tool or a muscle to descend into one’s heart where God and the cosmos dwells. The mind is a focusing agent to observe others. Asceticism is used to direct the mind away from onesself. My impression of Buddhist meditation is that not only is one directed away from onesself, one gives up on knowing God and the cosmos too. I believe Buddhists teach that there is a means to do this through contemplating nature, but nature isn’t the end either.
The passions are distractions that make one focus on one’s feelings and appetites. When these are mastered, with the help of redirecting thoughts through repetitive Liturgical prayer, one learns to train one’s mind on God. I say mind because it is the heart’s love which makes one choose to think on God over onesself. The Prayers and Readings inform the mind on who God is and what He has done and what He desires. It is important to get this right or one will become unbalanced and not be able to advance as far towards communion with Him. For example, if one believes that God hates the unelected, one’s heart will be too warped to attain likeness to God, and one will not see Him as He is.
The hard part is what to do with one’s sense of self. If one is denying self and focusing on God, where does that leave one? The purpose is to be filled with the energies of God, or uncreated grace. One delights in the Other. Delight is unselfconscious, but an awareness of enjoyment is entailed. When one focuses on the enjoyment, one can lose focus, similar to St. Peter’s looking down at the water and thus starting to sink. When one thinks of being in love, one is focused on the object of one’s affection, and can feel a sense of their presence in one’s heart. One can get lost in this feeling. Yet one is aware that they are happy. Through this experience we can see that thinking is accompanied by feeling.
Some ascetic practices require one to deny one’s feelings. One cannot always trust one’s feelings. We can desire wrong things, or be deceived as to the nature of these things. Even if one senses that one feels the presence of God, one can be wrong and should not completely trust these feelings. One can also sense the rightness of things that are taught about God. I suggest that ultimately we do have to trust some of these feelings or one will have to deny everything, which may be the Buddhist way.
If there is one way, as I believe there is, and that it is Orthodox (which includes physical communion, not just mental), then to me everyone should have this innate sense of rightness about it. Skipping over arguing this point, does that make everyone fundamentally the same and put this sense of feeling the rightness about Orthodoxy on the level of human nature? I think so. What about individualism? Why isn’t everyone Orthodox? Because they are denying themselves. Why would someone do that? They must hate themselves, or at least they are distracted from themselves. So to become Orthodox you must learn to love yourself and quit ignoring yourself. But isn’t Orthodoxy about denying yourself and taking up your cross? Yes, in order to find yourself in Christ. You have to love Him more. So losing yourself to Christ is the way to find yourself? Yes, because He wont let you disappear. You can let go of yourself if you trust Him to keep you.