I fasted and prayed both with a guru and Tibetan Lama. After years struggling with calming my mind through a multitude of meditation techniques I found what I was looking for in the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”. For what I was truly looking for was not a “something”, but a “Someone”. Learning the art of the prayer of the heart offered by the Eastern Orthodox Church was the answer to my prayers.
I also discovered that true spiritual discernment is a challenge for our heart – for according to the teachings of the early church – the movements of heart, mind and soul in the form of negative passions can cloud our nous. Until one learns true spiritual discernment and the prayer of the heart, the stirrings of our heart may not be our best guide.
What is the nous?
The human nous in Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the “eye of the heart or soul” or the “mind of the heart”. The soul of man, is created by God in His image, man’s soul is intelligent and noetic. St Thalassios wrote that God created beings “with a capacity to receive the Spirit and to attain knowledge of Himself; He has brought into existence the senses and sensory perception to serve such beings”. Eastern Orthodox Christians hold that God did this by creating mankind with intelligence and noetic faculties.
Human reasoning is not enough: there will always remain an “irrational residue” which escapes analysis and which can not be expressed in concepts: it is this unknowable depth of things, that which constitutes their true, indefinable essence that also reflects the origin of things in God. In Eastern Christianity it is by faith or intuitive truth that this component of an objects existence is grasped. Though God through his energies draws us to him, his essence remains inaccessible.
The operation of faith being the means of free will by which mankind faces the future or unknown, these noetic operations contained in the concept of insight or noesis. Faith (pistis) is therefore sometimes used interchangeably with noesis in Eastern Christianity.
Angels have intelligence and nous, whereas men have reason both logos and dianoia, nous and sensory perception. This follows the idea that man is a microcosm and an expression of the whole creation or macrocosmos. The human nous was darkened after the Fall of Man (which was the result of the rebellion of reason against the nous), but after the purification (healing or correction) of the nous (achieved through ascetic practices like hesychasm), the human nous (the “eye of the heart”) will see God’s uncreated Light (and feel God’s uncreated love and beauty, at which point the nous will start the unceasing prayer of the heart) and become illuminated, allowing the person to become an orthodox theologian.
In this belief, the soul is created in the image of God. Since God is Trinitarian, Mankind is Nous, reason both logos and dianoia and Spirit. The same is held true of the soul (or heart): it has nous, word and spirit. To understand this better first an understanding of St Gregory Palamas’s teaching that man is a representation of the trinitarian mystery should be addressed. This holds that God is not meant in the sense that the Trinity should be understood anthropomorphically, but man is to be understood in a triune way. Or, that the Trinitarian God is not to be interpreted from the point of view of individual man, but man is interpreted on the basis of the Trinitarian God. And this interpretation is revelatory not merely psychological and human. This means that it is only when a person is within the revelation, as all the saints lived, that he can grasp this understanding completely (see theoria). The second presupposition is that mankind has and is composed of nous, word and spirit like the trinitarian mode of being. Man’s nous, word and spirit are not hypostases or individual existences or realities, but activities or energies of the soul–whereas in the case with God or the Persons of the Holy Trinity, each are indeed hypostases. So these three components of each individual man are ‘inseparable from one another’ but they do not have a personal character” when in speaking of the being or ontology that is mankind. The nous as the eye of the soul, which some Fathers also call the heart, is the center of man and is where true (spiritual) knowledge is validated. This is seen as true knowledge which is “implanted in the nous as always co-existing with it”.
Stay tuned for more on, How to Pray to God and the Jesus Prayer.