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On Watchfulness and Waiting

A note to newcomers: For us, watchfulness is alert arousal. To the uninitiated, it feels dangerous. Living in arousal is contrary to the sentiments of the age in which we live, yet responsive to the spiritual and sexual instincts with which many of us in this community are familiar. Hence we often frame our discussions in the voices of others who have lived in awareness. This page is an example. This community has no denominational affiliation, but our principles and practices are iterations of convictions with deep spiritual ties.

For example, we start here, with this instruction devoted to constant arousal:

“Let us go forward with the heart completely attentive and the soul fully conscious. For if attentiveness and prayer are daily joined together, they become like Elijah’s fire-bearing chariot, raising us to heaven. What do I mean? A spiritual heaven with sun, moon and stars, is formed in the blessed heart of one who has reached a state of watchfulness, or who strives to attain it; for such a heart, as a result of mystical contemplation and ascent, is enabled to contain within itself the uncontainable…. Watchfulness cleanses the consciousness and makes it lucid. Thus cleansed, it immediately shines out like a light that has been uncovered, banishing much darkness. Once this darkness has been banished through constant and genuine watchfulness, the consciousness then reveals things hidden from us.”

—St. Philotheos of Sinai
from Forty Texts on Watchfulness

The central purpose of the disciplines we adopt is to cause us to always be aware of the commitment we have made to embrace arousal as a means of finding and sharing balance, harmony and happiness. Disciplines are the gifts given to us as a way of directing, expressing and revealing obedience. Obedience is the portal to arousal, which itself is an opening to vulnerability, the crucible necessary to surrender.

Disciplines by themselves are worthless. They are simply obsessions. They become valuable only when they provide a means to satisfy a longing to please and a deep desire to be obedient.

In the beginning—and for some of us, for much, much longer—learning accountability and transparency and how to accept correction are essential to grasping this aspect of our formation. Most of us, after all, have lived our lives in the aimless anxiety of our times, holding fast to the instruments of control. Disciplines re-orient us, challenge us, anger us and direct us, until eventually, we come to cherish them and honor them. The fruit of this approach to discipline is obedience, the consequence of obedience is arousal, and we are called to arousal as the Earth to the Sun.

One of the first things we are taught is patience – especially the patience to be watchful. This is the difficult art of quiet attentiveness, of sitting calmly in a state of deeply aroused vulnerability. Contemplation and focus teach us that in stillness, we are able to discern disciplines even when they are not obvious.

We are thus fortified to wait and watch for the next opportunity to obey—the reward for our attentiveness. Ropes are easy to accommodate. But obedience is true bondage, a soothing result of disciplines that wrap us and hold us tighter than any chain. By doing so, obedience frees us from the need to control, the compulsion to manipulate everything around us, the insistent demands of our own unreasonable expectations – and finally allows us to gain watchful clarity and a cleansing of our consciousness. Thus cleansed, it immediately shines out like a light that has been uncovered.

“It is right always to wait, with a faith energized by love, for the illumination which will enable us to speak.”

—St. Diadochos of Photiki, On Spiritual Knowledge

 

“Every discipline has its corresponding freedom.”

—Richard Foster
Celebration of Discipline:
The Path to Spiritual Growth

Like all thoughtful women throughout time, we understand the virtue not only of waiting for the light of clarity and freedom, but also striving for it when we should. For us, it’s freedom from confusion, from holding onto control when we should let go, freedom from modern androgyny and unhappiness. Many of us are feminists of one kind or another. And we march toward freedom by honoring our disciplines and accepting triumphant obedience as a means of gaining powerful awareness, illuminated watchfulness, intellectual nourishment, transforming revelations—even personal safety. Yet every step of the way, the world contrives to distract us, weaken us and make us ashamed.

“The demons, are exceedingly jealous of those pursuing the way under obedience…They do and suggest everything possible so as to separate us from this path. They propose plausible excuses, they contrive irritations, they arouse hatred, they represent admonitions as rebukes, they make words of correction seem like sharpened arrows.”

—St. Theodoros

In homes, offices and schools, we make our way, shielded by vulnerability, fortified with awareness – with arousal. We live our obedience openly and pass unseen by those who do not know how to be alert to our awareness. As a member of this community, it is not possible to participate without constantly being made aware of what you are doing and why. Obedience to the demands of these principles is often quite difficult because our participation is voluntary. No one commands us. And the only tool given to us is watchfulness. Fortunately, it is the right tool for the job.

At some point, for each of us, watchfulness ceases to be something we do and becomes what we are. Once embraced, this combination of obedience and attentiveness is part of everything we do as sisters here, from how we are taught to sit and wait, to how we dress and groom ourselves, to adhering to those things that cause us discomfort, to accounting for what we do, to how we are made to accommodate and relish vulnerability and embrace constant arousal as routine conditions of our daily lives. Some of these things are part of the introductory conditions many of us adopted when we started, but in many cases, we carry them with us always. We use them for navigation, for wisdom and for comfort and for mutual support. There is a spiritual current here, but this is not a cult; we worship as we wish or not at all. But we also venerate our own instincts and those often call us to obedience, the mainstream of that current, sometimes without even the solace of an obvious destination—in the form of a welcoming recipient of our surrender, for example.

It is just  matter of time. We know that every moment contains the infinite. We know that in every moment, something may be revealed. Something will happen. So we are watchful, we are aroused and alert. The result of our arousal is unfailing attention to what we are and what we are constantly in the process of becoming. There is little comfort in this.

Our watchfulness cleanses our consciousness and makes it lucid.

And we know that only those able to fathom these words will find refuge here.