Daily Meditations


“Delve deeply into the Jesus Prayer,” says the Russian monk Theophan. He obviously intends the Jesus Prayer as the prayer word. At an earlier doorway of practice such a statement would have made no sense. We might have recited it, been dedicated to it, been consistent in bringing the attention back, but to “delve deeply into” it would imply that the prayer word had some sort of dimension or depth.

This is precisely the sort of change that begins to take place as our contemplative practice matures. Whereas before the prayer word may have seemed something mechanical, constricting, or solid—like butting up against a wall—now the prayer word begins to open up. At this doorway of practice to return tothe prayer word is to push off the side of a pool into the deep (Lk 5:4).

This depth dimension, a “a breadth without breadth, an expanseless expanse,” as Meister Eckhart calls it, is nothing but awareness itself, not an object that we are aware of but the ground of awareness itself. We recognize that the interior spaciousness is somehow deeper even as it embraces and permeates interior and exterior noise (noise that may very well continue to bang on). Whereas before we were caught in reactive commentary that caused us to push away or cling to the thoughts and feelings that come and go, we can now let them be, let them come, go, or stay without attending to them. We let them be because they are.

At this doorway of practice we come to discover, perhaps for the first time, that two dynamics characterize the practice of contemplation: deepening concentration and expanding awareness. These two are one. They give birth to twins: inner solitude and a loving solidarity with all, a solidarity that runs deeper than personal preference.

Saint Isaac the Syrian says, “After a time a certain sweetness is born in the heart out of this practice. Let us give ourselves over to the practice of silence, and then, from out of this silence something isborn that leads us into Silence itself.” As much a tangle as our practice may seem, it will begin to untangle.

One of the signs that our practice is beginning to unfold is that we get a sense of what St. Isaac the Syrian calls “sweetness.” Something deeper begins to attract us, and this something deeper is more spacious, alluring, and silent than the tediously dramatic opera scores of inner chatter. The inner chatter will be present, but its grip on our attention loosens. It is as though this mass of thoughts and feelings was a brick wall that once obstructed our vision. But gradually we see that the sense of this wall’s solidity is a creation of our identification with these thoughts and feelings.

It is not a wall after all but a window. We can actually see through this mass of thoughts into something else in which they are immersed and saturated. This “something else” is untouched and free of all thoughts, even as it suffuses, and permeates, and knows how to do nothing other than be one with all. Something is being born of the practice of silence, and this leads us into Silence itself.

~ Adapted from Martin Laird, A Sunlit Absence:  Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation