"Be watchful as you travel each day the narrow but joyous and exhilarating road of the mind, keeping your attentiveness humbly in your heart."
~ St. Hesychios, On Watchfulness, in The Philokalia
The past few days of traveling to my teaching assignments have provided opportunities for me to take to some rural roads and have more views of this new season. The new growth on awakened trees is catching up with the now well-established lengthened days of bright light. A turn in the road can reveal sudden sweeping views of great distances, and such realizations bring to mind a consolation similar to that which I’ve experienced on mountain hiking travels. Consoling, because it is possible to see the vastness of this world, thus contrasting how anxious thoughts can close in upon an individual. References to the splendor within which I participate- be it among friends, or the wider society of community, or even the seeming anonymity of being one among a great many- brings comfort to my heart. It is part of the mystery of belonging. And from that sense of solace comes the idea of watchfulness as essential to maintaining a sense of the present.
When left in the abstract, descriptive words are left lifeless; they must be animated by a spirit of application and specificity. To be watchful is for me to turn and return to that vital perspective of being the observing presence behind my thoughts and emotions. It is to keep vigil, from my depths, and find, as Hesychios wrote in the ancient compendium, The Philokalia, "the stillness in which the heart can breathe and invoke." Stillness refers to the discipline of freeing the heart from excessive thought, especially that of the past. As the outdated is superceded, all things do become new. I am finding that to be watchful is to sustain an alertness- not a grasping, anxious wariness- but simple remembrances of being aware and conscious of life within and around me. Not as it may have been, or should have been, but as it is now. And from that watchful perspective, ways to possibilities open up and out.
Having experienced measures of how the mind can be retrained and the spirit renewed, it is ostensibly confirmed to me that a new nature coincides with putting off what clouds the pursuit of authenticity. Part of this learning causes me to accept the essence of patience in the process. At first, the brilliance of something new engenders an impatience for all processes to accelerate! But I’ll have to accept that any forward motion is good movement, whether it is on an open highway or in dense traffic. Putting on the new nature is requiring a balance of determination and adaptation, and thus a watchfulness without unusual effort ensues. Far from passive, for consciousness to become "second nature" it is both observance and application, both keeping vigil and participating. Thomas Merton expressed a contemplation within a world of action, describing the renunciation of our limited ego-selves, and "entering into a whole new kind of existence, discovering an inner center of motivation and love which makes us see ourselves and everything else in an entirely new light." Such balance is possible, and I have already known this when all that each moment simply comprises starts with everything that is before me. I’ve especially lived this perspective when I’ve realized my context as one person aware of being among many others. A humble component in an eternity’s expanse. I live not only for my self. With such vision, self-transcendence opens up to new capacities.