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Christianity and the human person's 'true self'


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#1 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 06:27 AM

Dear all,

A question which repeatedly occurs to me in various shapes and guises, is that concerning one's 'true self'. It seems to me important to strive towards achieving the goals the gospel sets for us, but at the same time it is important to do so in a manner which is authentic and congruent with 'who we are', and by this I mean the particular person God has created in creating us.

What, however, is the correct way of coming to know who we truly are? And how do we discern between that in us which is fallen, and therefore must be relinquished, and that which is of God and from God, and therefore needs to be nurtured?

I don't suppose that the 'answers' extend much further than our Tradition suggests; namely prayer, the sacraments, ascetic living, charity. But I would like to hear more from others in the monachos community on this encounter with oneself in Christ. What's it like, folks?!

In Christ
Byron

#2 Rick H.

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 11:23 AM

Dear Byron,

I am interested in what you point to in your post as well. Although, I am not completely clear about how you are using the term "true self." As you use this term and combine it with the expression "who we are," and as you define it somewhat in your first paragraph, I think I see what you mean; but, I'm not sure.

As you most likely know, in Indian philosophy to speak of one's "true self" as well as to ask the classic vedantic questioin, "Who am I?" carries with it its own distinction. Thomas Merton makes use of this term as well. In the writing of Zizioulas we read of the Authentic Person.

Possibly, some others here could speak to the issue of the way the fathers and saints have used the expression "true self?"

Thanks for bringing this topic up, I would be interested in learning more in this area.

In Christ,
Rick

#3 Father David Moser

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 03:35 PM

This is an interesting question. Like Rick, I am still a little fuzzy on the concept of "true self" as it is used here. It does however bring to mind the personality theories of Carl Rogers (I know, he's not one of the fathers nor is he an "Orthodox source" - but what he has to say sheds light on the discussion) wherein he postulates the "ideal self" (what we want to be) and the "real self" (what we really are) and then describes our function/dysfunction as a result of the tension or dissonance between the two. I have taken that idea and applied it to Orthodoxy, identifying the "ideal self" with Christ and the "real self" with our fallen state. Our lives, then become a struggle to match the ideal with the real self by our ascetic struggle, participation in the grace of God (sacraments) and acquiring the Holy Spirit (righteous life). Rogers resolves this tension in therapy by adjusting the "ideal" to conform more closely with the "real" while in Orthodoxy we work to adjust the "real" to conform more closely with the "ideal".

Fr David Moser

#4 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 06:02 AM

Dear Rick and Fr Moser,

I'm glad others are interested in this question. Of course, definitions are a big part of what my question is about, and to this extent perhaps my wording is intentionally "fuzzy", as I'm hoping to elicit from others the sort of responses both of you have already offered. Namely, Rick has mentioned notions of the 'true self' in the Vedic scriptures, Thomas Merton, and John Zizioulas; and Fr David has referred to his own Orthodox adaptation of Carl Rogers' theory (incidentally, I've had clinical training as a Rogerian person-centred psychotherapist, so this really 'hits the spot', Fr David!). There are probably hundreds of theories deriving from religion, philosophy, and more recently psychology regarding the 'true self'. All of these, together with their underlying philosophical postulates, are relevant to my question; but it's also interesting and important, I feel, to describe with clarity one's personal experience of 'who I am'. What is it that gives a certain aspect of our experience that unmistakeable quality that 'this is true', 'this is really me?', as opposed to 'all well and good, but I'm putting this on', or even 'this is just not really me'? Who am 'I'?

Anyway, irrespective of my professional interest in such questions, it is clear that they are of direct relevance to my personal life, and to my journey, I feel, as a Christian; I hope there are others who recognise this struggle. Orthodoxy of course also refers to 'image' and 'likeness', terms which may have some relevance to our debate. Supposing that the "polished" Image is nothing less than the Likeness (I use capitals to emphasize that I'm referring to theological categories), what does this pristine icon of God have to do with all the 'fallen' rubble which hides it from view? And if this question is relatively 'straightforward' (which on a deeper level I don't think it is), what about the even more difficult question of the extent to which personality itself - what we know in everyday life as a person's individual character, which is morally neutral and probably (?) divinely ordained - relates to the Image of God? Does the Image of God consist of several (literally, billions) of 'sub-Images', for want of a better term? If we are to look on our neighbours as images of God, what does the sheer number, diversity and variety of our neighbours reveal about Christ?

Just thinking out loud, and looking forward to your responses.

In Christ
Byron

#5 Father David Moser

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 01:50 PM

what about the even more difficult question of the extent to which personality itself - what we know in everyday life as a person's individual character, which is morally neutral and probably (?) divinely ordained - relates to the Image of God? Does the Image of God consist of several (literally, billions) of 'sub-Images', for want of a better term? If we are to look on our neighbours as images of God, what does the sheer number, diversity and variety of our neighbours reveal about Christ?


This question, I think, actually goes to the question of the nature of the Trinity. Although it is a bit of a "distortion" one could say that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct personalities (actually they are three distinct persons - a more complete construct than personality) united in a single essence. The Church, the body of Christ, has the same consistency - a single essence which unites a multitude of personalities (persons). You might want to look at Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky)'s "Moral Idea of the Dogma of the Trinity" It is available in English as a part of the book Moral Ideaso the Main Dogmas of the Faith translated and edited by Lev/Archbishop Lazar Puhalo (I must also mention that one of these essays - "The Moral Idea of the Dogma of Redemption" was withdrawn by Metr Anthony in the face of questioning by the Holy Synod because even he agreed that it was easily misunderstood and may have expressed ideas leading to a heretical understanding of the dogma of redemption - so if you get the book, simply be aware of that caveat).

Fr David Moser

#6 Rick H.

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 02:43 PM

***Fr. David, I just noticed your post above as I was keying this one up to submit, and I want to say thanks for directing our attention in the direction that you have.

"The Correct Way"

Dear Father David, Dear Byron,

It occurs to me that we may have a golden opportunity here knowing something of your backgrounds and training. And, there have been past conversations on the value and the place of the field of psychology here on monachos, but with these aside I wonder if we can use some of this language. As Matthew Namee well pointed out the there day, words are symbols.

I wonder if we can keep this in mind, that words are symbols as we may move forward? I think I'm up to speed now Byron, thanks for the clarification, and when you wrote:


. . . it is important to do so in a manner which is authentic and congruent with 'who we are', and by this I mean the particular person God has created in creating us.


I think it is helpful to consider the tenses that you have used in the above as we consider 'who we are.' How have we been created, how are we being created? BUT, to be clear the word above "authentic" stands out as if it is in bold faced font to me when I read it. This is the key word for this whole thread in my view. As you have used the word 'manner,' this is crucial and what separates Beauty and authenticity from tragedy and the ultimate delusion in my view. This matters very much in the life of the one who would seek Union with the Divine, a genuine encounter as opposed to a counterfeit/artificial experience based primarily on an approach which address and exploits the way a man or a woman was created (psychologically or physiologically) regardless of the good intentions.

I wish I could bring the fathers and saints to the table on this one, but I am not able. Hopefully, others who are more well versed can step up to the plate and increase awareness in this area.

However, and I'm not really sure why but my mind initially moves again to the Indian philosophy/approach of Ayurveda. This is a therapeutic way. A way that in many ways seeks to move backwards to the point in our lives when we were younger and more *simple* and in some senses more pure. This approach seeks to restore somewhat, through a holistic approach whereby there is a relating of physical, mental, social and spiritual harmony. In this approach they look at the individual as an individual and not try to place him/her into a category based on criteria and treat the individual as they would treat all in that category. In many ways as Herman the Simple has shared about the Orthodox approach the practitioner of Ayruveda subscribes fully to the understanding that there are 'different coaches and different players.' In this approach there are different personality types and traits that are taken into account, for example the three doshas-- vata, pitta, and kapha, but at the same time there is no one outright category that one is placed into and treated accordingly. There is a huge emphasis on looking at the individual and addressing the psychological and physiological as one in order to bring about spiritual harmony and Union with the Divine. Obviously, when we follow this to its logical conclusion we see that while there is much to be learned here, in the end we Orthodox stand on a different shore from all such Vedantic thought. In the end, not unlike our apophatic theology, by way of negation all yogic, Vedantic philosophies conclude that I am Divine with no separation between the Creator and the created.

And, when you wrote:


What, however, is the correct way of coming to know who we truly are? And how do we discern between that in us which is fallen, and therefore must be relinquished, and that which is of God and from God, and therefore needs to be nurtured?


In the past, I have probably given this more thought than anything else in my life. This question still consumes very much of my time for free thinking, in some ways it haunts me. But, keeping in mind your above comments about authenticism, I have my feet on a ground now that would see the edges of other circles coming together in a place of intersection. As you have said we could survey the many ways the expression "true self" has been used; but this is not what I mean. As you present the question about the "correct way" . . . I have to think that exactly what Herman has shared in so many different ways over the past few years about different players and different coaches provides The Answer to this question.

And, I need to start to wind this thing down before it gets away from me . . . but think of the symbols 'autism' and 'ADHD.' Think of the symbol 'contemplative.' Think of the criteria for autism (especially highly functional autisms), and think of the criteria for ADHD. Is one end of the continuum to be considered to be more contemplative than another? Has God created some with a contemplative bent, and others with less than a contemplative bent?

Yes, Byron, the "correct way." Although, I cannot help but wonder if those who have struggled in their monastic cells for many years would not have the best insights on this . . . remembering words are symbols . . . what is the "correct way" for the one(s) created in more of an autistic way, or the one(s) created in more of an ADHD way. What is the "correct way" for those cursed to have been created in a way that yields a continual oscillation between these two extremes--transitioning hundreds of times per day back-and-forth from a gazing into the void to an anxiously looking about?

Yes, the "correct way?" Yes, Byron, what is fallen and needs to be relinquished, and what is that which is of God and needs to be nurtured?

In Christ,
Rick

#7 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 06:38 AM

Dear Fr David, Dear Rick, all,

Fr David's book recommendation sounds promising. It's interesting too, that Metropolitan Anthony, an author whose writing on the true self I find generally very inspiring, actually ended up withdrawing that other essay in the book. Obviously greater minds than my own, 'professionals' as well as amateurs, have courted danger on these perilous shores of theological thinking!

The mystery of the relation between persons within the Holy Trinity does seem pertinent to the question about the sheer diversity and number of human personalities, who all in their own way bear the image of God. In fact, perhaps the Chalcedonian definition also offers part of the equation which helps resolve the problem of how the distinct 'nature' which characterises each of us is yet part of that one abstract category we call 'human nature', as well as the problem of personal uniqueness and participation in the divine life (which as Rick correctly notes, Vedic philosophy resolves differently), namely the distinction between our own human nature and the divine. The fact that man retains his distinct personality (I'm using the word 'personality' here in its noblest sense) even in the next life - especially there perhaps - is, psychologically speaking, a sign of the maturity of Christian spirituality in my own limited estimation.

I must admit, however, that Trinitarian theology and 'paradoxes' like the Chalcedonian definition are pretty complex things for an unenlightened, ordinary thinker like myself to 'grasp'. I can accept both as articles of faith, and I do accept them; but in terms of my practical experience of spiritual life, I find their use a bit like knowing that E=mc2, but not knowing or understanding why. I know that this equation somehow connects energy, mass and the velocity of light, but what the nature of the relationship between the three actually is, I haven’t the foggiest!

Rick mentioned the Fathers, and indeed their input on this seems critical. I know very little on their understanding of ‘true self’ (or their understanding of anything else), but I do know that the Church Fathers have always insisted on the critical importance of self-examination as a pre-condition for spiritual growth. Echoing the classical oracle of Delphi, Clement of Alexandria exhorts: "Know yourself! If you know yourself, you will know all things." Evagrius of Pontus states: "He who knows himself knows God." And Isaac the Syrian claims: "To know oneself is to know one's failures, which leads to the resurrection of the dead."

How are we, however, to proceed to know ourselves? What is "the correct way"?

As a side issue, Rick mentioned symbols. I believe that the symbol in Orthodoxy, in contrast to the way symbols are understood in contemporary culture, does not merely represent or designate a referent in an arbitrary, culturally-determined way, but is itself a mysterious doorway into participation in the ontological reality which underlies it. I wonder therefore, by which symbols we may come to participate in that ontological reality which underlies the 'self' as the Church Fathers understood this word?

In Christ
Byron

#8 James Blackstock

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 07:33 AM

Dear all,

A question which repeatedly occurs to me in various shapes and guises, is that concerning one's 'true self'. It seems to me important to strive towards achieving the goals the gospel sets for us, but at the same time it is important to do so in a manner which is authentic and congruent with 'who we are', and by this I mean the particular person God has created in creating us.

What, however, is the correct way of coming to know who we truly are? And how do we discern between that in us which is fallen, and therefore must be relinquished, and that which is of God and from God, and therefore needs to be nurtured?

I don't suppose that the 'answers' extend much further than our Tradition suggests; namely prayer, the sacraments, ascetic living, charity. But I would like to hear more from others in the monachos community on this encounter with oneself in Christ. What's it like, folks?!

In Christ
Byron


Dear Byron:

My reccommendation will not be nearly as good as others you have received, but this little book packs a powerful punch. It was written for teenagers and so in the begining, I thought it would not be "advanced enough" for me :) I was wrong, and it really helped me to know myself. Give it a try! It is out of print everywhere, this is the only webpage where I have found it... http://www.light-n-l...ductNum=WHOI110

INXC,
Seraphim

#9 Owen Jones

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 02:04 PM

The great fear in confessing one's sins and turning one's life completely around to pursue a life of virtue is that if I do that, there will be no me left. And that is precisely the point. The self is replaced by God. All mystical doctrines propound the virtue of no-self, but only in Orthodox Christianity do we have the proper means for arriving at this goal in its fullness. Not me, but Christ in me.

Carl Rogers by the way was a totalitarian ideologue.

If we want a better modern example to look at it would be Albert Camus who, before his untimely death, wrote in his notebooks that the goal of life should be to bury the self. Kill it and bury it.

#10 Rick H.

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 02:37 PM

***Well, now as I am preparing to hit the submit button on this one, I see Owen has posted with some similar thoughts :)


"Each as is Appropriate for Oneself"




How are we, however, to proceed to know ourselves? What is "the correct way"?


Dear Byron, Dear All,


Some conversations develop quicker than others, but as I consider this question, in light of the above teaching of Evagrius of Pontus and Isaac the Syrian, there seems to be a suggestion of the primacy of "knowing oneself." And, this reminds me of a conversation with Father Raphael about paths and the Path in which we discussed such things as seeds and egg shells for any who might remember. But, in this conversation with Father Raphael there was a conclusion put forth that in the End, it is "death to self" which provides the umbrella from which all conversations like this are covered.

But, again the same question is begged . . . and ultimately the seeker will ask again about "the correct way."

From where I sit, it would seem that the answer to Byron's question asked in his last post, as well as his first post would include the phrase "an ascetical approach". And, it also occurs to me that as we might attempt to put some meat on these bones the writing of Father Jack Sparks would come into play, as he has written about an approach wherein there is a primacy in the thinking "Each as is appropriate for oneself."

As Father Sparks thought applies to both "knowing oneself" and "death to self," and as Father Raphael has shared before that there are different levels of asceticism for different people I am not sure that there can be a very specific answer to this question Byron.

Possibly for one "the correct way" is to become a monk on Mt. Athos. Possibly for another "the correct way" is found in its entirety in his/her local parish. Possibly for another who does not live in a monastery or does not have a local visible church within driving distance "the correct way" is found in something that is unique to his/her situation.

Again, as Father Raphael has expressed that there are different levels of asceticism and as we consider the teaching of Father Sparks I think we must allow room for the expression you have used previously Byron, "The one and the many." And, this may sound absurd, but in a continued development of this train of thought, I have a friend who is a stock broker. He works very long hours each day. He always has dark circles under his eyes. And, without developing his situation any further . . . the point I am getting at is that I feel that when he uses the hot tub in his backyard, this is an ascetical practice for him.

So think about this please, what do the practices and methods found on Mt. Athos have to do with what I have shared about the man above and his time spent in his hot tub?

And, from here we could easily move to such questions as what is asceticism and who determines what asceticism is? But, in lieu of that while The Way to "knowing" and "participation/being" may be narrow, it is not a single file line. In this sense "the correct way" is not like a hat we put on in which the tag reads one size fits all. In this sense much like we read of the Trinity that there is a union in which it is "divided without division," and much like we know that the Eucharistic Community is the Community of communities, we see clearly that to search for and to try to identify "the correct way" can only result in a similar way of knowing in which we bring into view the Way of ways.

But, in the End, again, as it relates to the "true self," and a knowing of the true self, with the teaching of Frs. Raphael and Sparks in mind, the phrase 'an ascetical approach' would necessarily be included as part of any attempt to be more specific with this question.

In Christ,
Rick



#11 Rick H.

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 03:09 PM

"A Great Circle"


I just read this post in another thread and thought it would make a good P.S. to the above:


. . . my priest explained it to me this way:

Orthodoxy draws a great circle. Everything within the circle is "Orthodox" and everything outside of the circle is "heresy." Each Orthodox Christian uses everything within the circle that is necessary for their own personal salvation. If something within the circle is not necessary for your own personal salvation you don't use it, but you recognize the fact that, although it might not be necessary for my personal salvation, it might be absolutely essential for the next person's personal salvation.



#12 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 06:16 AM

Dear Seraphim,

(It's not Fr Seraphim, is it? Sadly, I haven't heard from Fr Seraphim in a while, and I'm wondering how his health is). Anyway, thanks for the book recommendation Seraphim; I've actually gone ahead and ordered it, despite the fact that, in judging it by its cover, my initial response was the same as yours :).

Dear Owen,

Could you explain why you view Rogers as a 'totalitarian ideologue'? Strayed seminarian, and pop phenomenologist, perhaps; but 'totalitarian'? I don't see it, except inasmuch as most people who become important in some worldly way have a tyrant somewhere in their hearts.

Your comments about the fear of ego death, however, are spot-on as usual. 'Let go and let God', they say, all too simplistically. There comes a point though, when one realises one cannot serve two masters, and personally I find this very difficult. Repeatedly this is the point I reach, beyond which I fear to go. But that is something better left for discussing with a spiritual advisor. In general terms, why do you suggest that, among all shades of 'spirituality' on offer today, only Orthodoxy has the 'proper means' for arriving at this goal? Why can it not happen, say, with Buddhist meditation?

Dear Rick,

Your point, if I understand it correctly, is that there are probably as many ways of reaching one's goal in Orthodoxy as there are Orthodox Christians. This seems to me fair enough as a point, if it is what you are saying, and I can agree with it. But my question then remains - what is the 'self' in Orthodoxy? What is this 'thing' that needs its own special path to reach the vision of God?

I'm not sure I get the story about your friend, the stockbroker and his hot tub. He works hard at what I must confess I don't view as a very ethical profession (but I'm open to being persuaded otherwise, since I don't really know anything about the ethics of the stock market); then he comes home to relax in his hot tub. Good for him; why does this make him 'ascetic', of all things? Am I 'ascetic' when I rest on my couch and listen to some good music or read a book at home at the end of a long day?! Please explain! :)

In Christ
Byron

#13 Rick H.

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 11:40 AM

Dear Byron,

I think twice now you have asked "What is the correct way of coming to know . . .?" As in the following:


What, however, is the correct way of coming to know who we truly are?


and this is what I was addressing in my last post. I am suggesting 'the way we come to know' or the 'methodology' involved here begins firstly with understanding there is no one correct way to know who we truly are . . . there is no such thing as "the" correct way. And, in addition to this, much like our salvation, the way is the goal. Also, there has been the suggestion of asceticism as being a key ingredient contained in the answer to the question, what is the correct way . . .?

Now as we might consider your question "What is the Self?:"


But my question then remains - what is the 'self' in Orthodoxy?


I would really like to see some evidence for Orthodox thought on this question brought into this discussion otherwise we are left with only questions and speculative thought here.

In Christ,
Rick

#14 Father David Moser

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 02:21 PM

But my question then remains - what is the 'self' in Orthodoxy? What is this 'thing' that needs its own special path to reach the vision of God?


Now as we might consider your question "What is the Self?:"

I would really like to see some evidence for Orthodox thought on this question brought into this discussion otherwise we are left with only questions and speculative thought here.


I'm going to start out with an apology here - I regret that I will not be able to really follow up on my comments (as this is a fascinating discussion) as I am currently pressed by a number of other obligations (Holy Week & Pascha, historical research for a committee on which I sit, remodeling my house, and of course remaining at least on a first name basis with my wife). That being said, I would like to suggest that the answer to this question lies in the concept of the "person". What Byron seems to be asking about when he talks about the "self" seems to me to equate with what the Fathers talk about as "person". I will reiterate my earlier point that this also ties into the Trinitarian formulation of "three persons united in one essence" and into the nature of the Church as the Body of Christ (many persons united in one Body). Another book that might be profitable to consult would be Metr Hierotheos' (Vlachos) book The Person in Orthodox Tradition

As I said, I, myself, will not be able to follow through with this discussion as I would like (much to my own frustration), so I offer these ideas as suggestions of where profitable discussion might be found.

Fr David Moser

#15 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 05:45 AM

Dear all,

Rick suggests there is no single 'correct way' to come to know who we really are. While this suggestion makes intuitive sense to me as a mental health professional, it seems also important to recall that Christianity itself was known early on as 'The Way', and that 'Orthodoxy' means 'correct worship', which implies correct practice, too. Rick, you claim (once again, correctly in my opinion) that asceticism is a 'key ingredient' in coming to know oneself, but I would personally like to hear more specifically how; you haven't explained the story with the stockbroker and his hot tub, either, and this leves me personally with even more question marks concerning what you may mean by 'asceticism'! Let's say, for argument's sake, that you are referring to the traditional ascetic practices of the Church, namely fasting, prayer, vigil, charity, chastity, manual labour, the cutting off of one's self-will etc. - how do all these contribute to our self-knowledge and understanding? Even more perplexingly, I repeat the question: what is the 'self' that we are supposed to come to know, and how does the knowledge we gain from asceticism then also come to influence this 'self'? Fr David suggests it is, or is related to, the notion of the 'person', and that this concept ties in with both Trinitarian theology and with the Church as Corpus Christi. Yet philosophically, a superficial critic might object that we are simply replacing one complex undefined term ('self') with another ('person'), and not really offering any explanation or account of either.

With Fr David out of the discussion for understandable reasons, I think we will need the assistance of other philosophically inclined Orthodox (Owen?) to get somewhere with this! And all this in the middle of Holy Week! I hope it is acceptable to respectfully meditate on such issues even at this time, though, so I look forward to responses from others.

In Christ
Byron

#16 Rick H.

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 09:45 AM

Dear Byron, Dear All,

These really are a good set of questions:

1.) What is the correct way of coming to know who we truly are?

2.) How do all these [traditional ascetic practices] contribute to our self-knowledge and understanding?

3.) How does the knowledge we gain from asceticism then also come to influence this 'self'?

4.) What is the 'self' that we are supposed to come to know?

and, I think Owen helps with the big picture as he wrote, yesterday, in another thread:


If the Church were really set up as a hospital for the cure of souls, rather than just as a religious institution, we might have something significant to offer such lost souls. The idea that just by sending people to Church they are going to be cured of their mental/emotional/moral/spiritual ailments is, of course, absurd. Our entire witness from the saints agrees that constant vigilance and discipline is required of every person.


Especially in the last line above, as he speaks of a constant vigilance and discipline I think we move in a helpful direction in this conversation.

While I still wish we could be clearer about how we are using the word "self" here initially, because as you say of the word "person" with no definition offered and the key question being 'what is it?' . . . this thread may as well be titled, "Christianity and the True Bagel." And, in this sense we would be no further ahead in our attempt to identify the True Bagel, for example: is the true bagel the inner man? Are we talking about the old man or the new man, and so on? But, ultimately, it is as you say above Byron:

. . . definitions are a big part of what my question is about . . .


and, I agree with Father David's estimation of this thread, so we may just have to get used to the fuzziness a bit, as we hopefully move onward and upward.

I think it is helpful to add to our consideration of 'asceticism' the words 'vigilance' and 'discipline,' as Owen asserts these two are representative of the Orthodox Way--as based on the "entire witness" from the saints. Here I think we are on to something in an attempt to answer the above questions.

Let's take the easy one of these three first. Vigilance, or as I am reading this "watchfulness." Also, as you say above Byron, there are many theories deriving from religion, philosophy, and more recently psychology regarding the 'true self'. And, many of these incorporate watchfulness to varying degrees from a simple awareness to a way which is described as watching the watcher. Through these I am suggesting (questions #2 & #3) at the very least, it is though even a bare awareness at times that we gain self-knowledge, understanding. Possibly, the more one moves to a more extreme position or a more constant position, then the more there is an influencing of the self through this process where there is an overlap in what is considered to be an ascetic practice (as for some, for example, this can move anywhere from a place of watching of the watcher, or a simple awareness when in a hot tub.)

Then there is discipline. As it relates to the questions above, are we saying that discipline is training or controlled behavior which is expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior? And, I'm going to have to bring asceticism in here now with this it seems . . . because, how does discipline when defined this way coincide with an ascetical approach? And, I can feel myself starting to head out to sea with this, but while we are in an exploration/questioning mode at this point . . . again I think we march straight back to the previous suggestion that there is not one correct way, one size does not fit all as we consider discipline and ascetical approaches. A hot tub may be a help for one whereby a sensory deprivation tank may bring benefit to another. Again, I think of the writing of Father Raphael in various places, but one in particular:

I guess the question arises though because of the degree of monastic obedience and asceticism. The laity rightfully ask to what degree they should be following this also?

The answer I think is, 'to the degree that is right for them'. At first sight this might seem like a lot less than a monastic. But if pursued faithfully it could well be that it is actually as great as anything offered by monasticism.

In Christ- Fr Raphael



In this Father speaks about the "degree" and what "is right for them." But, this assumes a correct way and practice, as you have mentioned above Byron. And, I think this is where the rubber meets the road as we attempt to directly address the above questions! You have asked me to explain what I mean by "asceticism." I would say an ascetical approach definitely includes the traditional practices of the Church (as you have said, 'fasting, prayer, vigil, charity, chastity, manual labor') as these work toward the cutting off of one's self-will. Although after looking at this list more closely, I would see charity and chastity not so much a part of the process but as a fruit of the process. But, the point is I would not limit asceticism to these.

I think most would define asceticism as being "principles and practices of an ascetic; extreme self-denial and austerity." However, somewhat as indicated above by my making a distinction between what we actively do and what is done to and through us (what we experience passively), a fuller definition of asceticism includes, "the doctrine that the ascetic life releases the soul from bondage to the body and permits union with the divine." So as we combine these two we see principles and practices which hopefully lead to union with the divine. But, again, and here's where the ball meets the bat, there are different degrees of asceticism for different folks, and what is right for one may be disastrous for another.

And, let's keep this going now that we have our feet on the ground somewhat. From this place the conversation often turns next to what is illusion, what is delusion, and what is genuine encounter and genuine experience with the divine? Are all who move to Mt. Athos and provide perfect obedience striving according to the correct/right way? Are all who sit in their backyard and meditate while using a tree as a focal point, when they feel so inclined striving according to the correct way? The answer is no to both of these questions. Not all are created the same, not all have the same dispositions . . . we all have different leanings--some are by nature more focused while others are less able to concentrate by nature. Some are more active by nature, some are more passive by nature.

As we may look at individual personality traits, or consider psychological categories, or whatever, and whether based on cultural, environmental, or chemical it doesn't matter. It is more than obvious that these demonstrate that one size doesn't fit all, and it is more than obvious that these are not even 'who we are' let alone to be identified with our true self. Although, we can gain knowledge and understanding through a consideration of these things. And, possibly this is an excellent place to land this post with what I feel would be two very helpful question to consider as we may attempt to define and ask "what is the True Self?"

I. Do all men, women, and children posses a True Self or do only Christians posses a True Self?

II, How is the True Self to be related or equated with the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, or not?

In Christ,
Rick

Edited by Rick H., 22 April 2008 - 11:10 AM.


#17 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 23 April 2008 - 06:53 AM

Dear Rick,

Your last post is long, but thought-provoking. I especially like your two questions at the end (though I'm going through a stage where I want to reserve the use of capital letters to names and the beginning of sentences only!).

I. Do all men, women, and children posses a True Self or do only Christians posses a True Self?

II, How is the True Self to be related or equated with the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, or not?

There is no doubt about it, the spirituality of the Church is ascetic and penitential. We don't get the easy answers we (well, I personally) would like at times. Charity and chastity, you are correct, are fruits of the process, but I don't know how else to 'grow' these particular fruits, other than by simply imitating their presence in me; I'm putting it on, it's not authentic, not who I really am, not my 'true self'? Yet to the extent that I understand anything about the Fathers or Orthodox teaching, there is an implicit guarantee that, when sobriety eventually returns, we will know that what we were forcing ourselves to do through obedience while still in our 'intoxicated' state, in the sleep of sin - was what we we were actually destined to do in the first place, our 'true self'.

Hence, without wishing to foreclose the conversation, I would spontaneously answer your question I. by suggesting that everyone created in the imago Dei posesses a 'true self'. And in answer to question II., I think this is more complicated. What is the Spirit of Christ, who is the Holy Spirit? What about each person's spirit? And by talking about spirit, my thoughts turn to its chthonic counterpart, matter. You mention that

a fuller definition of asceticism includes, "the doctrine that the ascetic life releases the soul from bondage to the body and permits union with the divine."

Isn't this a gnostic idea? I thought we Orthodox Christians love the body, much as we battle against the 'flesh' (by which we refer to a carnal mind-set, as opposed to the fleshly tissue clothing our bones). So I'm back to square one, never really having left it; what is the desired mind-set which will make the true self visible? Before vigilance and discipline, it seems to me, comes repentance (but also of course as the fruit of these). But in order to repent one must come to an awareness of one's sin, which also presupposes an awareness of the sacred order of creation, and its origin in the Creator. Maybe the idea of a 'true self' is therefore hard to separate from the idea of God. But sadly, only a mystic can probably say what that is; for others like myself, the temptation is to try to explain with our mind what we are told can only be perceived with the eyes of the heart, even though we are also assured that the Kingdom of God is within us. Therefore I don't expect concrete answers to such questions, but maybe talking about (around) them helps some folks; I know it doesn't harm me, but it can't replace prayer or the sacraments of course. There must be easier religions than ours, surely! :-)

These are some thoughts 'from the hip'. I'm hoping to hear more responses from you and others, too.

In Christ
Byron

#18 Rick H.

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Posted 23 April 2008 - 11:57 AM

Dear Byron,

Thanks for you post, I think we might be heading in a good direction here. I, like you, hope that those with other perspectives will chime in.

As for the following quote that I supplied the other day:

a fuller definition of asceticism includes, "the doctrine that the ascetic life releases the soul from bondage to the body and permits union with the divine."


after actually reading this closely (insert eyeroll emoticon), I think I might have been too quick on the cut & paste trigger with this internet definition. I was actually up that day and composing at 3:00 AM, so that's my excuse and I'm stickin' with it. But, hopefully the intended point still comes through about a fuller definition.

And, I say that we might be moving in a good direction here primarily because of what you wrote above:

Charity and chastity, you are correct, are fruits of the process, but I don't know how else to 'grow' these particular fruits, other than by simply imitating their presence in me; I'm putting it on, it's not authentic, not who I really am, not my 'true self'?


In other Christian realms, this is sometimes referred to as "fake it till you make it" or "the way of faking it till you make it." There is a book on Amazon with the title something like, "Don't Be Nice, Be Real." I'm not even sure what the book is about, but the title has stuck with me. And, I think of another book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" whereby there is some discussion about 'acting' in order to achieve a desired outcome, but the intention is to create a dynamic which is indeed sincere with no attempt to 'manipulate.'

But, in lieu of me droning on again in this post, I will just cut it off here and see if you or any others would care to speak to this particular aspect which either you or I have raised ;)

In Christ,
Rick

PS Yes, sometimes capital letters do just get in the way (although I do think, as John Charmley used to say, sometimes we have to push the wrong button to get the right answer.) Maybe a new social group, "Members Against Captial Letters?"

#19 James Blackstock

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 01:00 AM

Dear Rick,

Your last post is long, but thought-provoking. I especially like your two questions at the end (though I'm going through a stage where I want to reserve the use of capital letters to names and the beginning of sentences only!).

There is no doubt about it, the spirituality of the Church is ascetic and penitential. We don't get the easy answers we (well, I personally) would like at times. Charity and chastity, you are correct, are fruits of the process, but I don't know how else to 'grow' these particular fruits, other than by simply imitating their presence in me; I'm putting it on, it's not authentic, not who I really am, not my 'true self'? Yet to the extent that I understand anything about the Fathers or Orthodox teaching, there is an implicit guarantee that, when sobriety eventually returns, we will know that what we were forcing ourselves to do through obedience while still in our 'intoxicated' state, in the sleep of sin - was what we we were actually destined to do in the first place, our 'true self'.

Hence, without wishing to foreclose the conversation, I would spontaneously answer your question I. by suggesting that everyone created in the imago Dei posesses a 'true self'. And in answer to question II., I think this is more complicated. What is the Spirit of Christ, who is the Holy Spirit? What about each person's spirit? And by talking about spirit, my thoughts turn to its chthonic counterpart, matter. You mention that Isn't this a gnostic idea? I thought we Orthodox Christians love the body, much as we battle against the 'flesh' (by which we refer to a carnal mind-set, as opposed to the fleshly tissue clothing our bones). So I'm back to square one, never really having left it; what is the desired mind-set which will make the true self visible? Before vigilance and discipline, it seems to me, comes repentance (but also of course as the fruit of these). But in order to repent one must come to an awareness of one's sin, which also presupposes an awareness of the sacred order of creation, and its origin in the Creator. Maybe the idea of a 'true self' is therefore hard to separate from the idea of God. But sadly, only a mystic can probably say what that is; for others like myself, the temptation is to try to explain with our mind what we are told can only be perceived with the eyes of the heart, even though we are also assured that the Kingdom of God is within us. Therefore I don't expect concrete answers to such questions, but maybe talking about (around) them helps some folks; I know it doesn't harm me, but it can't replace prayer or the sacraments of course. There must be easier religions than ours, surely! :-)

These are some thoughts 'from the hip'. I'm hoping to hear more responses from you and others, too.

In Christ
Byron



Dear Byron:
You ask really hard questions! I will try to share my humble perspective for what it's worth. Forgive me for beating 'round the bush a bit! Just as the body has an "eye" by which we are guided through our lives, the soul also has an eye "nous" Man was created dis-passionate, but after the fall of man, we had passions. the nous was darkened as was no longer focused on God. Instead, it took on the characteristics of the demons (passions) An ascetic life is supposed to help us overcome the passions (Jesus prayer helps) but the truth is we cannot overcome the passions unless God removes them and replaces them with the Virtues. God wants us to pray, fast, vigil, give alms, and as we work with God [with a pure heart](synergy) He gives us special grace, to overcome the passions. This process , of course, is called Theois. I hope you are doing better with this than I am. Another good book, more advanced than the last one I recommended, is "Orthodox Psychotherapy" by: Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos I highly recommend it.

Seraphim

#20 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 06:26 AM

Dear All,

Rick, you write

"fake it till you make it"

I hadn't come across that saying before, thanks. It's funny that you mention "How To Win Friends And Influence People". If you'll permit me, I'd like to disclose a biographical detail, but one which has turned out to be of major significance in my life: when I was growing up, my father always humorously referred to his own strong tendency to alienate others, by suggesting he should have been the author of that book! Alas, I've inherited his tendency to alienate others, and I never read the book! Perhaps it's time I leafed through it...

On a more serious note, there does seem to be a teaching in Christianity about the importance of 'pretending', for the sake of ultimately integrating, a new role in life. This is a delicate issue, because God, I personally believe, is an enemy of hypocrisy, lies and insincerity; hence the 'pretending' I'm talking about must be done consciously, require great effort, and not be a Pharisaic show of false piety, unclean on the inside. I think Seraphim speaks to this dillemma when he writes that

the truth is we cannot overcome the passions unless God removes them and replaces them with the Virtues

So simply expressed, but such a relief to hear! Do others on the forum agree with this? To me it seems like an acceptable way of putting what is an Orthodox truth: namely, that although our full cooperation is expected, it is God Who will ultimately bring about any transformation in us. Hence, to return to the issue of the 'true self', taking it to be identical to the image of God within us, the true self of every man, woman and child is virtuous and pure, but what we daily experience as our 'true' personality (in the lesser meaning of the word), and what the true self really is, are different things. Therefore Christians say 'come as you are', but they don't expect us to stay that way. So yeah, "fake it till you make it"!

In Christ
Byron

P.S. I bought a copy of "Orthodox Psychotherapy" by Metropolitan Hierotheos a long time ago, and I've read a large part of it. There's a lot of thought and insight in the Metropolitan's concepts, and I suspect he is a profoundly spiritual person in a very genuine sense. Yet I'm a sucker for beautifully expressed texts, and I find the book, at least in the English translation, limited in this respect. But again, a book I need to read through some day. So much learning, such a brief life!




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