In Me, Through Me
When I was a student in the Holy Order of MANS, I was given an assignment called the "Candle Concentration Exercise". The instructions were to sit in front of a candle in a darkened room and then to think about the flame. Because it was a concentration exercise, the object was to discipline my thinking so that only thoughts about the candle would occupy my awareness.
I did the exercise every night for three weeks, each session lasting about 10 or 15 minutes. One of the things I learned while thinking about the candle was that light radiates. This might sound obvious, but I really got it. The light from the candle became so tangible that I could feel it like a faint wind blowing over me. As experiences go, this was not that extraordinary. What was extraordinary was the way it showed me what presence is, that living things emanate energy. It showed me in the most realistic way that Life radiates.
The candle exercise prepared me for the initiation of Illumination, where I became aware of the light of my being emanating from within my body. Like the light of the candle flame, the light shining within me became so tangible that I could feel it. Eventually, it became more and more visible, so much so that sometimes while sitting in a dark room it would seem as though someone had opened the door and let the hall light shine in. But when I opened my eyes to see who it was, no one was there. The door was still closed, and the room was still dark. But when I closed my eyes again, the light was there shining in and through me.
After a few months, my teacher, Father Paul, told me to start looking for the source of the light. I began to sense that the light I was seeing was merely the visible part of an invisible force. He instructed me to pay attention to it, to "listen", to be receptive to its nature and its personality. The light itself was wonderful, but the force within the light was powerful and intensely personal.
Then I began to see the source of the light, an object clear and distinct like an organ in my spiritual body. Its presence was deeply satisfying like food or a river of water coming up from within me. Father Paul told me to ask it questions, real questions, such as, "Is this person telling me the truth?", or, "What is needed in this situation?" He would give me tasks that were way beyond my experience, jobs I knew nothing about, so that the only way I could find out was to go within and get the information I was looking for. He once told me, "You must bring heaven down to earth." Asking questions pertaining to every day life did just that.I came to know this object within me as the center of my being, the Self, the core of me, which had always been there desiring to express Itself in and through me. It began to matter what I did in life, my overall approach to living, and the way I saw other people. I learned that I could actually use this inner source of knowledge for selfish purposes if I wanted, but Father warned against that, saying that that was the path of darkness and that ours was the path of purity and light. Therefore, all of our activities were service oriented -- feeding and housing the homeless, street missionary work in the slums and red-light districts, counseling those who had no one who would listen to them. This kept us humble, and it fulfilled the mandate of Jesus to minister to the poor. Father Paul used to rail against the "theologians", telling us that our actions spoke louder than our words. How could you profess to know God and not be there for the least fortunate among us? It didn't matter what we knew, how much we understood the Bible, or what kind of spiritual experiences we had had. What mattered was whether we could put our egos aside and extend a helping hand to someone whose life was a mess. Of course, you don't have to be poor to be in crisis, but it was too easy to cherry-pick those whom we thought worthy, and Father knew that this would quickly become an exercise in egotism unless we treated everyone equally. By sending us into the very worst parts of the city, he ensured that we wouldn't get caught in the spiritual trap of trying to impress others.