By St. Theophan the Recluse
When a brood hen has found some grain, she lets her chicks know about it, and no matter where they happen to be at the moment, they come flying over to her and gather beak-to-beak at that spot where her beak is. It is just the same when divine grace acts upon the heart of a man. His spirit delves into it with its consciousness, and after it follow all the powers of the soul and body. Now comes the law for being within: hold your consciousness in your heart and forcefully gather there all the powers of the soul and body. Being within is the locking of the consciousness in the heart, and the forceful gathering of the powers of the soul and body is the essential means or activity of podvig. Incidentally, they mutually give birth to and presuppose each other, so that one does not happen without the other. Whoever is locked within the heart is gathered, and whoever is gathered is within the heart.
All the powers of the soul — the mind, the will, and the senses should gather near the consciousness in the heart. The gathering of the mind in the heart is attention, the gathering of the will is vigilance, and the gathering of the senses is soberness. Attention, vigilance and soberness are the three inner activities by which self-gathering and being within are accomplished. Whoever has these, that is, all of them, is within; whoever is missing even one of them is outside. After the activities of the soul, the activities of the body with their corresponding organs should also be directed there. So in order to have attention we must direct our inner eyes; to have vigilance we tense the muscles all over the body in the direction of the breast; to have soberness we reign in the humors as St. Nicephorus calls them (they are the enervating movements flowing to the heart from the lower parts of the body), and suppress pleasures and bodily comfort. This physical work, inseparable from the work of the soul, is the strongest aid to this gathering of the powers of the soul, which could not happen without it.
Thus, all the work of being within through self-gathering consists of the following. In the first minutes after awakening from sleep, as soon as you become aware of yourself, descend within to the heart within the physical breast. Then summon, draw in and compel toward it all your powers of soul and body — your mind’s attention, the gaze of your eyes, and the vigilance of your will. With a tension in the muscles* and soberness in the senses, with the suppression of pleasures and bodily comfort — do this until the consciousness settles there as if in its own dwelling place — clinging and attaching itself like something sticky to a strong wall. Then remain there and do not leave as long as you are conscious, also repeating often the action of self-gathering in order to renew it and strengthen it — for it weakens minute by minute and even falls apart.
It is necessary to know that being within and gathering are not the same as sinking in thought, or meditating, although it is very similar to it. The latter consists only in the issue of the mind which leaves all the other powers unoccupied; it stops with the mind. The first is within the heart, and consists in the issue of all movements. Being within is lower and deeper than everything that we have — or rather it happens in such a way that everything takes place above it, before its eyes; and some things are allowed while other things are forbidden. From this it is self-evident that being within, in its true form, is the condition for man’s true lordship over himself, and consequently of true freedom and intelligence, and therefore also of true spiritual life. This is similar to the way it is in the outer world, where the lord of a city is considered to be the one who occupies the fortress. Therefore all spiritual work and all ascetical labors in general should be performed from this fortress, otherwise the work is not spiritual, and neither is asceticism, which should in that case be cancelled. The kingdom of God is within you (Lk. 17:21), said the Lord. He then commands concerning spiritual work alone: enter into thy closet and…shut thy door (Mt. 6:6). This is the cell of the heart, as all the Holy Fathers interpret it. This is what spiritualizes one who labors for his salvation, and it is called internal.
It is now clear that gathering within is the most effective means of preserving zeal:
- He who is gathered should burn, for he gathers all his powers into one, just as scattered rays gathered into one point produce a strong heat and kindle a fire. Truly, gathering is always connected with warmth — the spirit meets with itself, as St. Nicephorus says, and leaps for joy.
- The gathered one is strong, like a battalion in formation, or a fastened bundle of weak sticks. Like girded loins, it signifies readiness and power to act. One who is scattered is always weak, and either falls or does not do anything at all.
- The gathered one sees everything within himself. Someone in the center of a circle sees what is along every radius. He sees everything around him almost at the same time, while one who steps out of the center sees only that which is along one radius. It is the same for one who is gathered within — he sees all the movements of his powers and is able to govern them. Burning of spirit, power and clear vision make up the true spirit of zeal, which is produced by them. Therefore it is appropriate to say: only be within, and you will never cease to be zealous.
This is how significant being within is! It: means that we must labor in order to acquire it, for it too does not happen suddenly, but with much time and seeking. It has been placed before everything else because it is the condition for spiritual life. Its perfection depends upon the perfection of the three activities of the soul and body that produce it, namely: attention of the mind with the inward gaze of the eyes, vigilance of will with tension of the body, and soberness of heart – with the turning away of attachments and passions. But even before they are perfected it is still what it is, although it may be imperfect, unripened, and not uninterrupted.
Now it is obvious what the means are for descending within, or rather the one method: remove anything that might disrupt the three indicated activities in their joining, or anything that could distract the inner descent of the soul’s powers together with their corresponding bodily functions — the mind and the feelings, the will and the muscles, the heart and the flesh. The feelings are distracted by outer impressions and the mind by thoughts. The muscles are weakened by the relaxation of the members, the will by desires, the flesh by comfort and the heart by captivation or by clinging to anything. Consequently, one must keep the mind free of thoughts, the senses undistracted, the will without desires, the muscles unrelaxed, the heart uncaptivated, the flesh without pleasure or comfort. The following are the conditions for and methods of being within: in the soul — warfare with thoughts, desires and captivity of heart; in the body — restraints on it; and in order to accomplish these — changing the external order. In light of all this, we can see that all subsequent ascetic labors aimed at mortifying self-worship are to be executed in conjunction with the methods for being within.
This is why in the instructions of the Holy Fathers (their teachings on soberness and watching the mind), inner life is always placed in unbreakable connection with ascetical warfare. Just the same, gathering is not the same as warfare. It is a special spiritual activity, and a primary one. Gathering is where all spiritual work takes place — warfare, reading, divine contemplation and prayer. Whatever the ascetic does, he should always go within and work from there.
So the whole thing could be briefly stated thus: go within and enter a state of spiritual awareness, motivate your life activity or spiritual tone, then proceed in the ascetical order you have arranged.
–From “The Path to Salvation” by St. Theophan the Recluse
*Theophan the Recluse speaks of holding “the whole body in a vigilant tension of the muscles,” but this notion of “vigilant tension,” in the original Russian is bodrennom napryajenii (бодренном напряжении) and is best understood not as tenseness or rigidity but as an enlivened or “awake tension,” which is to say the body is kept in awakeness and alertness without any slumping. This is to prevent slackness and bodily torpor, much like a bowstring that is neither too tight nor too loose.
—-from “A Manual of Theosis” by Fr. Joshua Schooping