Here is what I mean Anna. It appears that you are concluding above and in your posts that Grace would never be found by means of any physical or psychological technique--as you say "obviously this is delusion."
I appreciate the distinctions that you have made repeatedly between the natural/material and the supernatural/eternal. These are good distinctions to have in place. But, I am asking how can you say it would be delusion if *anyone* thinks God is working through *any* of a plethora of "physical or psychological" programs or techniques that one might be involved in at a given time in one's life? This is a very broad stroke to make.
I am obviously not Anna, and certainly do not want to speak for her, but hopefully it will be okay for me to make a few comments.
I would agree that it would be delusion, always and in every case, to attach the grace of God to any method or any physical or psychological technique. In other words, to say that certain techniques or practices lead one to the experience of God, or produce the experience of the grace of God, would be a complete delusion. However, I would not say that it is impossible for God to use anything in particular to draw a person to Himself. The Spirit of God who is “everywhere present and fillest all things” can draw a person to God through any means, but this fact does not sanctify these means, or render them holy or sacramental in themselves. For instance, God may draw near to a person who has overdosed on drugs, and in this place of abasement and brokenness, God may meet a person in some way and encourage him to seek God. That, however, would not imply that we should use drugs in order to draw near to God. One could say that St. Mary of Egypt’s way of life prior to her conversion was a means by which God led her to Himself through such a radical life of repentance, but this does not sanctify her debauchery and shameful behavior prior to conversion. Likewise, the Lord’s revelation of Himself to Saul on the road to Damascus does not sanctify or justify Saul’s manner of life prior to his conversion as though his former way of life should be emulated in order to have the Lord reveal Himself to us. I mention these things only to say that God may use many and any circumstances to draw people to Himself, but that does not then sanctify these means and circumstances as though they are ways that we should follow in order to “experience” God or the action of His grace within us.
Regarding the beauty of nature, bodily health, the company of loved ones, exercise, and generally things in life which one could consider “good”: all that is good in the created world may lead a person to think about God, to be thankful to God, and to be in awe of God to a certain extent, but they are not means by which we come to experience God’s sanctifying grace within us. In general, all things that are of the created world can actually become idols and impenetrable obstacles to the knowledge of God if we seek to obtain from the created world that which can only received from the Uncreated God. Any experience of creation or of our created natures, even the most exalted experiences of our created natures, if we take such experiences as being the action of the grace of God within us, can become an idol that prevents us from ever having true knowledge of God. This is why we have so many ascetics in the Orthodox Church who, in order to more perfectly seek God and acquire the dwelling of His Uncreated grace within them, despised all of the “good” things of this world, abandoned family and friends, shut themselves up in caves and uninhabitable places, struggled to reduce sleep and other bodily comforts as much as possible, and ate only enough to sustain their bodily existence. They did so precisely because while these various things (sleep, food, family, friends, the beauty of nature) are not themselves inherently evil, any of them can become idols for us and impenetrable obstacles to our salvation if we depend on, and derive our satisfaction from, any such thing rather than from God Himself.
For the Orthodox Christian, I do not think we should strive for any “experience” of God’s grace, but rather we should seek to acquire God’s Grace within us and to become a dwelling place of God’s deifying grace. While the grace of God may act on a non-Orthodox person in a certain way, as God acted upon Moses and the Prophets of the Old Testament, our sanctification by God’s grace begins with our baptism in the Orthodox Church. As St. Diadochus of Photiki said in the Philokalia:
Before holy Baptism, grace encourages the soul from the outside, while Satan lurks in
its depths, trying to block all the noetic faculty’s ways of approaching the Divine. But
from the moment that we are reborn through Baptism, the demon is outside, grace is
within. Thus whereas before Baptism error ruled the soul, after Baptism truth rules it.
Nevertheless, even after Baptism Satan (can) still act upon the soul. . . .
Here, St. Diadochus acknowledges the action of grace which can act upon the soul of a non-Orthodox person, and yet he distinguishes this from the action of grace within the soul which is made possible by an Orthodox baptism. Following baptism, we continue to participate in the process of theosis as we follow Christ’s commandments, repent of our sins, practice the virtues, and participate in the deifying mysteries of the Church. With this understanding of an Orthodox baptism marking the very beginning of God’s grace working within us (as opposed to acting upon our souls from the outside), the contemporary Elder Haralambos (+2001), a disciple of Elder Joseph the Heyschast and the former Abbot of the Dionysiou monastery on Mt. Athos once said:
Yoga, a healthy meal, a walk along a mountain spring, etc., may lead a person to exalted experiences of the created world or of one’s own created nature. If mistaken for the experience of God, this can be an impenetrable obstacle to coming to know the true God. I have shared the following quote in another post on this forum, but I think the following words from Elder Sophrony of Essex and Hieromonk Damascene, taken from the latter’s book “Christ the Eternal Tao”, are particularly relevant here:
You ask me if noetic prayer is for all Christians or just for monks.
From what the Holy Fathers write, but also from my experience as a spiritual father, we say that noetic prayer is for all Christians. However, I don't mean heretics, let alone those of other faiths. I will explain why. Before a person is baptised he doesn't have grace because Adam's violation drove out grace. Grace returns inside us with holy baptism. But how is it possible, without the grace of baptism, to find God inside you again?
In “Christ the Eternal Tao”, Fr. Damascene says concerning the experience of inner light:
“Here we are treading on dangerous ground, so it is necessary to step lightly. This is where many who have practiced watchfulness have fallen into delusion over the centuries. Everything depends on the purity of one's intention in going within. If one's intention (conscious or unconscious) is not to face one's sin-condition, repent and thus be reconciled to God, but instead to "be spiritual" while continuing to worship oneself, then one can - upon becoming aware of the light of one's spirit - begin to worship it as God. This is the ultimate delusion.”
Archimandrite Sophrony is then quoted as saying:
"Attaining the bounds where 'day and night come to an end,' man contemplates the beauty of his own spirit which many identify with Divine Being. They do see a light but it is not the True Light in which there 'is no darkness at all.' It is the natural light peculiar to the mind of man created in God's image.
"The mental light, which excels every other light of empirical knowledge, might still just as well be called darkness, since it is the darkness of divestiture and God is not in it. And perhaps in this instance more than any other we should listen to the Lord's warning, 'Take heed therefore that the light which is in you be not darkness.' The first prehistoric, cosmic catastrophe - the fall of Lucifer, son of the morning, who became the prince of darkness - was due to his enamored contemplation of his own beauty, which ended up in his self-deification."
Fr. Damascene comments on this passage:
“The darkness of divestiture of which Fr. Sophrony speaks is the state of having risen above all thought processes, which we have described earlier. If a person's motive is prideful, he will stop at this point, admiring his own brilliance; but that brilliance will still be darkness. He will think he has found God, but God will not be there. He will find a kind of peace, but it will be a peace apart from God.
“To go beyond thought is not yet to attain true knowledge. Such knowledge comes from the Word speaking wordlessly in the spirit that is yearning for Him; it does not come from the spirit itself. The Word will come and make His abode with the spirit only if the person approaches Him in absolute humility, for He Himself is humility, and like attracts like.”
Fr. Sophrony writes further on those who go within themselves without humility:
"since those who enter for the first time into the sphere of the 'silence of the mind' experience a certain mystic awe, they mistake their contemplation for mystical communion with the Divine, whereas in reality they are still within the confines of created human nature. The mind, it is true, here passes beyond the frontiers of time and space, and it is this that gives it a sense of grasping eternal wisdom. This is as far as human intelligence can go along the path of natural development and self-contemplation...
"Dwelling in the darkness of divestiture, the mind knows a peculiar delight and sense of peace... Clearing the frontiers of time, such contemplation approaches the mind to knowledge of the intransitory, thereby possessing man of new but still abstract cognition. Woe to him who mistakes this wisdom for knowledge of the true God, and this contemplation for a communion in Divine Being. Woe to him because the darkness of divestiture on the borders of true vision becomes an impenetrable pass and a stronger barrier between himself and God than the darkness due to the uprising of gross passion, or the darkness of obviously demonic instigations, or the darkness which results from loss of Grace and abandonment by God. Woe to him, for he will have gone astray and fallen into delusion, since God is not in the darkness of divestiture."
At the end of this passage, Fr Damascene comments that:
We do not practice watchfulness so that we can become silent and peaceful. Rather, we become silent so that we can know the unpleasant truth about ourselves, and so that we "hear" the Tao/Logos speaking directly to our inward being. He does not speak in an audible voice; His voice makes no noise even in the mind... Scripture calls His voice still and small. We cannot hear it unless we tune in to it by separating from all the static noise in our heads.
In the book, this passage precedes a presentation by Fr. Damascene on the Orthodox tradition and practice of the Jesus Prayer.
These words of Fr. Damascene and Elder Sophrony explain how one can experience a certain “timelessness” and “mystic awe” through the silencing of the mind, but that this experience is only that of our created nature. This is not necessarily “bad” unless we are deceived into taking this experience for the experience of God. If we think we are experiencing God, this deception, as Elder Sophrony says, will be the biggest obstacle to actually coming to know God and having His grace work within us. If we think we are experiencing God, we end up in the self-worship and self-deification of Lucifer.
After several years in the Centering Prayer/Christian Meditation movements, and several years practicing yoga and other such things prior to my Orthodox baptism, I became convinced that these practices all lead to the exalted experience of one’s own created nature. This experience of one’s created nature is referred to in the Centering Prayer/Christian Meditation movements as the experience of God, and so it is not surprising why practitioners in these movements typically believe that Hindus, Buddhists, “Christian mystics”, New Agers, and others all are experiencing the same reality but simply use different words to describe the reality. In truth, they are experiencing the same reality, but it is the reality of their own created nature and not the reality of God Himself or His Uncreated Energies. Since only in the Orthodox Church can one find a complete process for the reception of God’s grace within the soul, and the deification of body and soul by God’s Uncreated grace after baptism, there is no need to borrow foreign methods to attempt to contribute anything towards this process. If we do attempt to adopt foreign “spiritual” practices, thinking that they will assist us in the process of theosis, very likely they will lead us in a very different direction and have very different results, both in this life and in the life to come.
All the “good” that we experience within creation should cause us to be thankful to God who is the source of every earthly and spiritual blessing. Yet, we have to constantly humble ourselves and make sure that our love of God and commitment to God is not dependent on any earthly and created blessing, spiritually imitating the self-deprivation of the holy ascetics, lest we forsake and abandon God altogether as soon as we suffer some misfortune, or as soon as our earthly hopes and dreams are not realized.