Thanks to a friend of mine, I had recently begun to re-read Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey Into Christian Hermeticism in the presence of a small group of individuals who wish to dig deeper into the text. An incredibly wise book, Meditations has been a cornerstone, along with continual re-reading of The Divine Comedy, of my spiritual development through the medium of text (in conjunction with the education I receive through “encounters” which, I believe, is the default mode of revelation since it was the mode chosen by Christ). It has continued to strengthen and deepen my love and loyalty to the beauty and splendour of the Catholic faith and it has soberly delighted me in the depths of mysticism, gnosis, and magic.
During this first re-acquaintance with the text, I was reintroduced to the opening paragraphs which speak of “concentration without effort” which great ascetics and monks have achieved with ease, but which is more and more difficult to attain in the modern world. The book describes this state of consciousness this way:
Concentration without effort, which means there is nothing to suppress and where contemplation becomes as natural as breathing and the beating of the heart, is the state of consciousness — of the intellect, the imagination, the feelings, and the will — a state of perfect calm, accompanied by the complete relaxation of the nerves and muscles of the body. It is the deep silence of desires, concerns, imagination, memory, and discursive thought. We would say that the entire being has become like the surface of calm waters reflecting the immense presence of the starry sky and its inexpressible harmony. And the waters are deep, oh how deep! And the silence increases, always increasing, what SILENCE! Its growth takes place in regular waves which pass, one after the other, through your being: one wave of silence followed by another wave of deeper silence, then yet another wave of even deeper silence … Have you ever drunk the silence. If so, you know what concentration without effort is.i
Perfect reflection of the heavenly spheres, therefore, can only come after this “silence” is mastered; when one has effectively calmed and harmonized body, mind, intellect, imagination—the entire being so that it may not be perturbed and where the divine image above can be reflected. The book also describes this state by a helpful analogy:
Look at a tightrope walker. He is evidently completely concentrated, because, if he were not, he would fall to the ground. His life is at stake and it is only perfect concentration which can save him. Yet do you believe that his thought and his imagination are occupied with what he is doing? Do you think that he reflects and that he imagines, that he calculates and that he makes plans with regard to each step that he makes on the rope?
If he were to do that, he would fall immediately. He has to eliminate all activity of the intellect and of the imagination in order to avoid a fall. He must have suppressed the “oscillations of the mental substance” in order to be able to exercise his skill. It is the intelligence of his rhythmic system—the respiratory and circulatory system—which replaces that of his brain during his acrobatic exercises. In the last analysis, it is a matter of a miracle—from the point of view of the intellect and the imagination. […] Concentration without effort is the transposition of the directing centre of the brain to the rhythmic system—from the domain of the mind and imagination to that of morality and the will.ii
In other words , the great task involved is also the movement outside of the merely abstract or imaginary or even intelligible to that of experience, union, love, and vivacity. The heart, after all, pumps life through the entire organism. While the head may direct, inform, and govern, the heart warms, invigorates, and enriches. It is intimate and proximate in its central and interior location in the body.
It was this image of the movement of the directing centre to the rhythmic system which sparked my Advent meditation that I shared with the group. This passage made me think of the Incarnation. It reminded me of how God was not content to remain as merely an image (like a burning bush) or an intelligible idea (such as in the Ten Commandments), but He desired to enter into the rhythm of time. He who was timeless, He who is above rhythm and movement—for He is immovable; the unmoved mover—decided to enter rhythm (time) and be moved (mortality even on a cross). God was not content to remain as an abstract concept—a philosophy to be followed or a distant and unknowable person, but, rather, He chose intimacy. He allowed Saint John to listen to his heart. God moved from the distant domain of man’s imagination to the intimate domain of morality and will. God concentrated himself from the infinite to the finite. He concentrated himself through the effortlessness of Mary who gave birth with no labour pains.
After all, is not Mary a perfect example of the calmness of silence that allows concentration? Is she not the perfect example of the cessation of all selfish thought? It is not so difficult to imagine that of the great ascetics who sought and achieved silence, we could conjecture that the Blessed Virgin Mary had achieved this level of peace with ease. She is, after all, a gentle lady and it is perhaps easy to intuit how easily she was able to reflect here below that which was above. Her calm, her willingness to align her will to the Divine Will, and her serenity allowed for a reflection to occur: it allowed for the Incarnation.
Thus, just as Meditations attempts to guide, in practical terms, the reader to meditate and practice “concentration without effort” in order to bring one’s directing centre to the heart and the rhythmic place of one’s self from the intellect, so, too, is this a microcosm of the Divine Meditation. God set the example on a cosmic scale. By emptying Himself and becoming man, He concentrated Himself and let the head descend to the heart just like we make the sign of the cross first on our head and invoke “In the name of the Father” and then touch our hearts and say “and of the Son.” This “descending” motion (though the author of Meditations goes on to explain how this is actually also an ascending motion) is fruitful to meditate upon as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation.
It is quite appropriate, then, that since stillness and silence marks the necessary states for the concentration and descent to the rhythmic system, that we look forward to, and celebrate in song, the Silent Night. The Holy Night. Where all is calm and all is bright.
i Meditations on the Tarot, Anonymous. Letter I: The Magician.