Two interesting articles on Orthodox prayer, the first appears to bare striking similarities with Japa mantra meditation and the second article with Pranayama techniques, even includes Kumbhaka, although they are careful to distence themselves from yoga practice on the website). This is followed by excerpts from the documentary Mysteries of the Jesus prayer and finally a section from the Wikipedia article on Hesychasm.
An option perhaps for those who find themselves uncomfortable appropriating a Sanskrit mantra for their meditation practice or seek to develop their practice from within their own tradition, and why not '...we begin from where we are'.
If you find the G word ...off-putting , and many do, substitute it for the B word (Brahma) instead and see if that allows you a way in to the articles.
I've always found the question of cross fertilisation between India and the west fascinating, to what extend if any Greece influenced India and was influenced in return. Look to Platonism and Neoplatonism if this area interests you and look out too for Plutarch's Life of Alexander and his encounter with the Indian Gymnosophists.
Although still current in the Orthodox Church the practice of the Jesus prayer goes back at least as far as the Desert Fathers and is thus... of interest, perhaps to all denominations.
Another area to consider in this vein is the use of icons in the Orthodox and Yoga contemplative tradition, the move from object to objectless contemplation.
I've highlighted here and there so the busy pre practice yogi's can scan through and perhaps be tempted to come back after practice and read some more.
I've highlighted here and there so the busy pre practice yogi's can scan through and perhaps be tempted to come back after practice and read some more.
|Jesus Christ Pantocrator mosaic from Hagia Sophia, worth a city break to Istanbul alone|
The full website for this material is here
Practice of the Jesus Prayer
Anyone can use the Jesus prayer. It can be said at any time. To begin saying the prayer as part of our daily prayer rule we must follow the direction of Jesus. He says, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile" (Mark 6:31); "Study to be quiet" (I Thess. 4: 11); then pray in secret—alone and in silence. Select a place where it will be quiet and you will not be disturbed. It is best if you can protect the senses from as much stimulation as possible. It is best to pray the Jesus Prayer early in the morning before sunrise when the mind is at rest and undistracted, the body is relaxed and there is little activity to disturb your concentration. Some may find the evening to work better.
Before you start think about who you are about to address. Make the sign of the cross and a few prostrations with the feeling of contrition and sorrow for your sinfulness. Select a comfortable position for prayer. Gently shut your eyes like the closing of tired eyes of a child falling to sleep. Set aside all your worldly cares telling yourself you will have plenty of time for them after you pray. Relax your body.
After you have quieted yourself begin by praising God with Glory to you.., Our Heavenly King Comforter…, the Trisagion prayer, 51st Psalm, and the Creed. Then you can begin to say the Jesus Prayer out loud, loud enough so the ears can hear it, slowly and concentrating on the meaning of the words. “The words of the prayer ought to be said without the least hurry, even lingering, so that the mind can lock itself into each word…” (Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov)
Lord …. Jesus Christ …. Son of God …. Have Mercy …. on Me …. a Sinner.
Try to keep your mind from escaping from its total concentration on the words. It will try just like a cornered or caged wild animal continually seeks to find a way out. The body is not accustomed to be under the control of the soul. When you reach the end of the prayer immediately begin to say it again. Make it like a continuous chain. The spacing of the words must fit your own make-up. Some will want to go very slow and others a little faster. The aim, with awe of God and contrition, is to concentrate your mind on the words and let them drop into your heart like drops of water slowly dripping from a leaky faucet.. Let the prayer resonate in your ears and in the area of your heart, savor each word with love, becoming totally absorbed in the words. You need to feel the words being absorbed within. Feel a contriteness in your heart because of your missing the make that God has set for you by creating you in His image. Feel the unconditional love of His unlimited mercy. If you go too fast you lose this feeling. If you go too slow you lose the content of the prayer. Say it slowly and deliberately. You do not want to rush as you are engaged in something important and potentially dangerous. You need to harness the wildness of your biological brain. Its like an automobile racing down the road at 80 miles per hour and is much more difficult to control than one cruising at twenty-five. Slow it down. Operate at the twenty-five miles per hour speed when you start - take it slow and deliberately finding the pace that bests suits you so the prayer can penetrate the inner depths of your heart in silence.
Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov says, “at first, the words should be pronounced with extreme unhurridness so that the mind may have time to enter the words as forms… One must train oneself to it as if one were reading syllables” (On the Prayer of Jesus, p 56). St. John of the Ladder counsels that the mind should be locked into the words of the prayer and should be forced back each time it departs from it (Step XXVIII, ch. 17). Do not be disturbed if the words do not drop smoothly and are interrupted by thoughts, images, and feelings in the beginning. It takes some effort to tame the mind that is controlled by the brain. Eventually, the words will drop effortlessly into your heart. You need to focus intently and concentrate on the prayer. Much effort is required in the beginning.
Keep Focused on the Words of the Prayer
Avoid any association with words of the prayer. Don’t try to visualize the human person of Jesus or any other image. Don’t try and take a diversionary path by letting your mind go into the life of Jesus or any theological questions. Don’t reflect on the details of your sinfulness or try to solve any of your problems. Simply hold in your heart, with total humility, the awe of God and a feeling of contriteness. Keeping focused on the words of the prayer is very important because the mind can very quickly diverge from them to mundane day-to-day activities and when this happens you have lost your focus on God. If this happens, you are back in your own sea of worldly cares and distracted from your prayer. You will most assuredly be distracted this way during prayer. Concentrate on God who lives in the depths of your heart as Saint Theophan says,
“The essential part is to dwell in God, and this walking before God means that you live with the conviction ever before your consciousness that God is in you, as He is in everything: you live in the firm assurance that He sees all that is within you, knowing you better than you know yourself. This awareness of the eye of God looking at your inner being must not be accompanied by any visual concept, but must be confined to a simple conviction or feeling.” (Art of Prayer, p 100)
Attention of the Mind Essential
You can expect to be bombarded with thoughts like a swarm of gnats. When your mind is distracted from the prayer by thoughts, and it will, be polite and gentle but firmly nudge your mind back to the concentration on the prayer and seeking God. When you recognize your mind is wandering do not let it continue on this path. Don’t accept even good thoughts. Let your soul take charge and move your focus back to the words of the prayer. It is important to recognize when you are being distracted by thoughts which may occur at the same time as you are saying the prayer. They climb on top of your words and ride piggyback on them. If you don’t intercede to bring your attention back to your prayer exclusively, you will not progress in your aim to come closer to God. When this happens your prayer is no longer sincere but only mechanical. Allow the Spirit working in your soul bring you back to the prayer and continue saying it with sincerity and feeling.
Saint John of the Ladder puts it this way,
Try to restore, or more exactly, to enclose your thought in the words of the prayer. If on account of its infancy, it wearies and wanders, lead it again. The mind is naturally unstable. But He Who orders all things can control it. If you acquire this practice and constantly retain it, He who sets the bounds of the sea of your mind will say to it during your prayer: Hitherto thou shalt come, and shalt go no further (Job 38:11). It is impossible to bind a spirit. But where the Creator of that spirit is present, there everything obeys Him. (Ladder 28:17)
When the devil sees us trying to pray, he works hard to distract us. He seeks out our weaknesses and generates all kinds of thoughts to distract us Quite often the thoughts that come to us during prayer are related to our weaknesses, the areas where our passions have great influence in our lives. Outside of prayer we can use this information to confront these weaknesses. Do let your mind begin to analyze this during your prayer.
more on controlling the mind...
Our attention must be concentrated on the heart and not on the brain. You should feel the action of the Jesus Prayer on your heart. You will feel a warmth. It is important to realize that we love God first with our hearts and then with our mind. Our present condition has this reversed. This is what we are trying to correct through our practice of the prayer. We aim to open our heart and feel the sting of our repentance. You may feel some soreness initially around the heart. Don’t mind this just keep your attention focused on the prayer. There are some people who have thought they have been afflicted with heart disease and go visit doctors who can find nothing wrong. It is a pain similar to those you have when exercising after a period of no exercise. It is the pain of grace you are feeling. (A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain, pp 84-86)
Remember, this is a process and you will go through stages. Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov reminds us that our simple attentive beginnings lead us to the temple of the heart.
It is one thing to pray with attention with the participation of the heart; it is another thing to descend with the mind into the temple of the heart and from there to offer mystical prayer filled with divine grace and power. The second is a result of the first. The attention of the mind during prayer draws the heart into sympathy. With the strengthening of the attention, sympathy of heart and mind is turned into union of heart and mind. Finally, when the attention makes the prayer its own, the mind descends into the heart for the most profound and sacred service of prayer.
All this is accomplished under the guidance of the grace of God. It is harmful to strive for the second before acquiring the first. (On the Prayer of Jesus, p 48)
How long to pray
Be sure to consult your spiritual Father on the amount of time you should devote to the Jesus prayer. As a general rule you should repeat it for a minimum of 15 minutes at any one prayer session. Any less will not help you develop the attention needed for prayer of the heart. You should then fairly quickly work up to a period of thirty minutes. You will need to measure your time to make sure you fulfill your desired time. One way is with a clock. Another way is to use a prayer rope. A prayer rope has 50 or 100 knots typically. Holding it between your thumb and index finger you can index one knot at a time each time you complete one complete recitation of the Jesus prayer.
Jesus Prayer - Breathing Exercises
by Bishop Kallistos - Ware
It is time to consider a controversial topic, where the teaching of the Byzantine Hesychasts is often misinterpreted — the role of the body in prayer.
The heart, it has been said, is the primary organ of our being, the point of convergence between mind and matter, the centre alike of our physical constitution and our psychic and spiritual structure. Since the heart has this twofold aspect, at once visible and invisible, prayer of the heart is prayer of body as well as soul: only if it includes the body can it be truly prayer of the whole person. A human being, in the biblical view, is a psychosomatic totality — not a soul imprisoned in a body and seeking to escape, but an integral unity of the two. The body is not just an obstacle to be overcome, a lump of matter to be ignored, but it has a positive part to play in the spiritual life and it is endowed with energies that can be harnessed for the work of prayer.
If this is true of prayer in general, it is true in a more specific way of the Jesus Prayer, since this is an invocation addressed precisely to God Incarnate, to the Word made flesh. Christ at his Incarnation took not only a human mind and will but a human body, and so he has made the flesh into an inexhaustible source of sanctification. How can this flesh, which to God-man has made Spirit-bearing, participate in the Invocation of the Name and in the prayer of the intellect in the heart?
To assist such participation, and as an aid to concentration the Hesychasts evolved a ‘physical technique’. Every psychic activity, they realized, has repercussions on the physical and bodily level; depending on our inner state we grow hot or cold, we breathe faster or more slowly, the rhythm of our heart-beats quickens or decelerates, and so on. Conversely, each alteration in our physical condition reacts adversely or positively on our psychic activity. If, then, we can learn to control and regulate certain of our physical processes, this can be used to strengthen our inner concentration in prayer. Such is the basic principle underlying the Hesychast ‘method’. In detail, the physical technique has three main aspects:
i) External posture. St Gregory of Sinai advises sitting on a low stool, about nine inches high; the head and shoulders should be bowed, and the eyes fixed on the place of the heart. He recognizes that this will prove exceedingly uncomfortable after a time. Some writers recommend a yet more exacting posture, with the head held between the knees, following the example of Elijah on Mount Carmel.
ii) Control of the breathing. The breathing is to be made slower and at the same time co-ordinated with the rhythm of the Prayer. Often the first part, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God’, is said while drawing in the breath, and the second part, ‘have mercy on me a sinner’, while breathing out. Other methods are possible. The recitation of the Prayer may also be synchronized with the beating of the heart.
iii) Inward exploration. Just as the aspirant in Yoga is taught to concentrate his thought in specific parts of his body, so the Hesychast concentrates his thought in the cardiac centre. While inhaling through his nose and propelling his breath down into his lungs, he makes his intellect ‘descend’ with the breath and he ‘searches’ inwardly for the place of the heart. Exact instructions concerning this exercise are not committed to writing for fear they should be misunderstood; the details of the process are so delicate that the personal guidance of an experienced master is indispensable. The beginner who, in the absence of such guidance, attempts to search for the cardiac centre, is in danger of directing his thought unawares into the area which lies immediately below the heart — into the abdomen, that is and the entrails, the effect on his prayer is disastrous, for this lower region is the source of the carnal thoughts and sensations which pollute the mind and the heart.
For obvious reasons the utmost discretion is necessary when interfering with instinctive bodily activities such as the drawing of breath or the beating of the heart. Misuse of the physical technique can damage someone’s health and disturb his mental equilibrium; hence the importance of a reliable master. If no such starets is available, it is best for the beginner to restrict himself simply to the actual recitation of the Jesus Prayer, without troubling at all about the rhythm of his breath or his heart-beats. More often than not he will find that, without any conscious effort on his part, the words of the Invocation adapt themselves spontaneously to the movement of his breathing. If this does not in fact happen, there is no cause for alarm; let him continue quietly with the work of mental invocation.
The physical techniques are in any case no more than an accessory, an aid which has proved helpful to some but which is in no sense obligatory upon all. The Jesus Prayer can be practised in its fullness without any physical methods at all. St Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), while regarding the use of physical techniques as theologically defensible, treated such methods as something secondary and suited mainly for beginners. For him, as for all the Hesychast masters, the essential thing is not the external control of the breathing but the inner and secret Invocation of the Lord Jesus.
Orthodox writers in the last 150 years have in general laid little emphasis upon the physical techniques. The counsel given by Bishop Ignatii Brianchaninov (1807-67) is typical:
We advise our beloved brethren not to try to establish this technique within them, if it does not reveal itself of its own accord. Many, wishing to learn it by experience, have damaged their lungs and gained nothing. The essence of the matter consists in the union of the mind with the heart during prayer, and this is achieved by the grace of God in its own time, determined by God. The breathing technique is fully replaced by the unhurried enunciation of the Prayer, by a short rest or pause at the end, each time it is said, by gentle and unhurried breathing, and by the enclosure of the mind in the words of the Prayer. By means of these aids we can easily attain to a certain degree of attention.
As regards the speed of recitation, Bishop Ignatii suggests:
To say the Jesus Prayer a hundred time attentively and without haste, about half an hour is needed, but some ascetics require even longer. Do not say the prayers hurriedly, one immediately after another. Make a short pause after each prayer, and so help the mind to concentrate. Saying the Prayer without pauses distracts the mind. Breathe with care, gently and slowly.
Beginners in the use of the Prayer will probably prefer a somewhat faster pace than is here proposed — perhaps twenty minutes for a hundred prayers. In the Greek tradition there are teacher who recommend a far brisker rhythm; the very rapidity of the Invocation, so they maintain, helps to hold the mind attentive.
Striking parallels exist between the physical techniques recommended by the Byzantine Hesychasts and those employed in Hindu Yoga and in Sufism. How far are the similarities the result of the mere coincidence, of an independent though analogous development in two separate traditions? If there is a direct relation between Hesychasm and Sufism — which side has been borrowing from the other? Here is a fascinating field for research, although the evidence is perhaps too fragmentary to permit any definite conclusion. One point, however, should not be forgotten. Besides similarities, there are also differences. All pictures have frames, and all picture-frames have certain features in common; yet the pictures within the frames may be utterly different. What matters is the picture, not the frame. In the case of the Jesus Prayer, the physical techniques are as it were the frame, while the mental invocation of Christ is the picture within the frame. The ‘frame’ of Jesus Prayer certainly resembles various non-Christian ‘frames’, but this should not make us insensitive to the uniqueness of the picture within, to the distinctively Christian content of the Prayer. The essential point in the Jesus Prayer is not the act of repetition in itself, not how we sit or breathe, but to whom we speak; and in this instance the words are addressed unambiguously to the Incarnate Saviour Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son Mary.
The existence of a physical technique in connection with the Jesus Prayer should not blind us as to the Prayer’s true character. The Jesus Prayer is not just a device to help us concentrate or relax. It is not simply a piece of ‘Christian Yoga’, a type of ‘Transcendental Meditation’, or a ‘Christian mantra’, even though some have tried to interpret it in this way. It is, on the contrary, an invocation specifically addressed to another person — to God made man, Jesus Christ, our personal Saviour and Redeemer. The Jesus Prayer, therefore, is far more than an isolated method or technique. It exists within a certain context, and if divorced from that context it loses its proper meaning.
The context of the Jesus Prayer is first of all one of faith. The Invocation of the Name presupposes that the one who says the Prayer believes in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Saviour. Behind the repetition of a form of words there must exist a living faith in the Lord Jesus — in who he is and in what he has done for me personally. Perhaps the faith in many of us is very uncertain and faltering; perhaps it coexists with doubt; perhaps we often find ourselves compelled to cry out in company with the father of the lunatic child, ‘Lord, I believe: help my unbelief’ (Mark 9:24). But at least there should be some desire to believe; at least there should be, amidst all the uncertainty, a spark of love for the Jesus whom as yet we know so imperfectly.
Secondly, the context of the Jesus Prayer is one of community. We do not invoke the Name as separate individuals, relying solely upon our own inner resources, but as members of the community of the Church. Writers such as St Barsanuphius, St Gregory of Sinai or Bishop Theophan took it for granted that those to whom they commended the Jesus Prayer were baptized Christian, regularly participating in the Church’s sacramental life through Confession and Holy Communion. Not for one moment did they envisage the Invocation of the Name as a substitute for the sacraments, but they assumed that anyone using it would be a practising and communicant member of the Church.
Yet today, in this present epoch of restless curiosity and ecclesiastical disintegration, there are in fact many who use the Jesus Prayer without belonging to any Church, possibly without having a clear faith either in the Lord Jesus or anything else. Are we to condemn them? Are we to forbid them the use of the Prayer? Surely not, so long as they are sincerely searching for the Fountain of Life. Jesus condemned no one except hypocrites. But, in all humility and acutely aware of our own faithlessness, we are bound to regard the situation of such people as anomalous, and to warn them of this fact.
Hesychasm (Greek: ἡσυχασμός, hesychasmos, from ἡσυχία, hesychia, "stillness, rest, quiet, silence") from Wikipedia
Meanings of the term
Kallistos Ware distinguishes five distinct meanings of the term "hesychasm":
1. "solitary life", a sense, equivalent to "eremitical life", in which the term is used since the 4th century;
2. "the practice of inner prayer, aiming at union with God on a level beyond images, concepts and language", a sense in which the term is found in Evagrius Ponticus (345-399), Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662), and Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022);
3. "the quest for such union through the Jesus Prayer", the earliest reference to which is in Diadochos of Photiki (c. 450);
4. "a particular psychosomatic technique in combination with the Jesus Prayer", use of which technique can be traced back at least to the 13th century;
5. "the theology of St. Gregory Palamas", on which see Palamism.
Hesychasts are fully integrated into the liturgical and sacramental life of the Orthodox Church, including the daily cycle of liturgical prayer of the Divine Office and the Divine Liturgy. However, Hesychasts who are living as hermits might have a very rare attendance at the Divine Liturgy (see the life of Saint Seraphim of Sarov) and might not recite the Divine Office except by means of the Jesus Prayer (attested practice on Mt Athos). In general, the Hesychast restricts his external activities for the sake of his Hesychastic practice.
Hesychastic practice involves acquiring an inner focus and blocking of the physical senses. In this, hesychasm shows its roots in Evagrius Ponticus and even in the Greek tradition of asceticism going back to Plato. The Hesychast interprets Christ's injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to "go into your closet to pray" to mean that one should ignore the senses and withdraw inward. Saint John of Sinai writes: "Hesychasm is the enclosing of the bodiless primary Cognitive faculty of the soul (Orthodoxy teaches of two cognitive faculties, the nous and logos) in the bodily house of the body." (Ladder, Step 27, 5, (Step 27, 6 in the Holy Transfiguration edition).)
In Step 27, 21 of the Ladder (Step 27, 22–3 of the Holy Transfiguration edition), St John of Sinai describes Hesychast practice as follows:
Take up your seat on a high place and watch, if only you know how, and then you will see in what manner, when, whence, how many and what kind of thieves come to enter and steal your clusters of grapes. When the watchman grows weary, he stands up and prays; and then he sits down again and courageously takes up his former task.
In this passage, St John of Sinai says that the primary task of the Hesychast is to engage in mental ascesis. This mental ascesis is the rejection of tempting thoughts (the "thieves") that come to the Hesychast as he watches in sober attention in his hermitage. Much of the literature of Hesychasm is occupied with the psychological analysis of such tempting thoughts (e.g. St Mark the Ascetic). This psychological analysis owes much to the ascetical works of Evagrius Pontikos, with its doctrine of the eight passions.
St. John Cassian is not represented in the Philokalia except by two brief extracts, but this is most likely due to his having written in Latin. His works (Coenobitical Institutions and the Conferences) represent a transmittal of Evagrius Pontikos' ascetical doctrines to the West. These works formed the basis of much of the spirituality of the Order of St Benedict and its offshoots. Hence, the tradition of St John Cassian in the West concerning the spiritual practice of the hermit can be considered to be a tradition parallel to that of Hesychasm in the Orthodox Church.
The highest goal of the Hesychast is the experiential knowledge of God. In the 14th Century, the possibility of this experiential knowledge of God was challenged by a Calabrian monk, Barlaam, who although he was formally a member of the Orthodox Church had been trained in Western Scholastic theology. Barlaam asserted that our knowledge of God can only be propositional. The practice of the Hesychasts was defended by St. Gregory Palamas. (See below.)
In solitude and retirement the Hesychast repeats the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner." The Hesychast prays the Jesus Prayer 'with the heart'—with meaning, with intent, 'for real' (see ontic). He never treats the Jesus Prayer as a string of syllables whose 'surface' or overt verbal meaning is secondary or unimportant. He considers bare repetition of the Jesus Prayer as a mere string of syllables, perhaps with a 'mystical' inner meaning beyond the overt verbal meaning, to be worthless or even dangerous. This emphasis on the actual, real invocation of Jesus Christ mirrors an Eastern understanding of mantra in that physical action/voice and meaning are utterly inseparable.
There is a very great emphasis on humility in the practice of the Jesus Prayer, great cautions being given in the texts about the disaster that will befall the would-be Hesychast if he proceeds in pride, arrogance or conceit. It is also assumed in the Hesychast texts that the Hesychast is a member of the Orthodox Church in good standing.
While he maintains his practice of the Jesus Prayer, which becomes automatic and continues twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the Hesychast cultivates watchful attention (Gr. nepsis). Sobriety contributes to this mental askesis described above that rejects tempting thoughts; it puts a great emphasis on focus and attention. The Hesychast is to pay extreme attention to the consciousness of his inner world and to the words of the Jesus Prayer, not letting his mind wander in any way at all.
The Hesychast is to attach Eros (Gr. eros), that is, "yearning", to his practice of sobriety so as to overcome the temptation to acedia (sloth). He is also to use an extremely directed and controlled anger against the tempting thoughts, although to obliterate them entirely he is to invoke Jesus Christ via the Jesus Prayer.
The Great Schema or Megaloschema, worn by seasoned hesychasts
The Hesychast is to bring his mind (Gr. nous) into his heart so as to practise both the Jesus Prayer and sobriety with his mind in his heart. The descent of the mind into the heart is taken quite literally by the practitioners of Hesychasm and is not at all considered to be a metaphorical expression. Some of the psychophysical techniques described in the texts are to assist the descent of the mind into the heart at those times that only with difficulty it descends on its own.
The goal at this stage is a practice of the Jesus Prayer with the mind in the heart, which practice is free of images (see Pros Theodoulon). What this means is that by the exercise of sobriety (the mental ascesis against tempting thoughts), the Hesychast arrives at a continual practice of the Jesus Prayer with his mind in his heart and where his consciousness is no longer encumbered by the spontaneous inception of images: his mind has a certain stillness and emptiness that is punctuated only by the eternal repetition of the Jesus Prayer.
This stage is called the guard of the mind. This is a very advanced stage of ascetical and spiritual practice, and attempting to accomplish this prematurely, especially with psychophysical techniques, can cause very serious spiritual and emotional harm to the would-be Hesychast. St Theophan the Recluse once remarked that bodily postures and breathing techniques were virtually forbidden in his youth, since, instead of gaining the Spirit of God, people succeeded only "in ruining their lungs."
The guard of the mind is the practical goal of the Hesychast. It is the condition in which he remains as a matter of course throughout his day, every day until he dies. It is from the guard of the mind that he is raised to contemplation by the Grace of God.
The Hesychast usually experiences the contemplation of God as light, the Uncreated Light of the theology of St Gregory Palamas. The Hesychast, when he has by the mercy of God been granted such an experience, does not remain in that experience for a very long time (there are exceptions—see for example the Life of St Savas the Fool for Christ (14th Century), written by St Philotheos Kokkinos (14th Century)), but he returns 'to earth' and continues to practise the guard of the mind.
The Uncreated Light that the Hesychast experiences is identified with the Holy Spirit. Experiences of the Uncreated Light are allied to the 'acquisition of the Holy Spirit'. Notable accounts of encounters with the Holy Spirit in this fashion are found in St Symeon the New Theologian's account of the illumination of 'George' (considered a pseudonym of St Symeon himself); in the 'conversation with Motovilov' in the Life of St Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1833); and, more recently, in the reminiscences of Elder Porphyrios (Wounded by Love pp. 27 – 31).
Orthodox Tradition warns against seeking ecstasy as an end in itself. Hesychasm is a traditional complex of ascetical practices embedded in the doctrine and practice of the Orthodox Church and intended to purify the member of the Orthodox Church and to make him ready for an encounter with God that comes to him when and if God wants, through God's Grace. The goal is to acquire, through purification and Grace, the Holy Spirit and salvation. Any ecstatic states or other unusual phenomena which may occur in the course of Hesychast practice are considered secondary and unimportant, even quite dangerous. Moreover, seeking after unusual 'spiritual' experiences can itself cause great harm, ruining the soul and the mind of the seeker. Such a seeking after 'spiritual' experiences can lead to spiritual delusion (Ru. prelest, Gr. plani)—the antonym of sobriety—in which a person believes himself or herself to be a saint, has hallucinations in which he or she 'sees' angels, Christ, etc. This state of spiritual delusion is in a superficial, egotistical way pleasurable, but can lead to madness and suicide, and, according to the Hesychast fathers, makes salvation impossible.