Notes on Stillness and Asceticism

All ascetics either strive for or experience stillness.  Stillness is both a term to explain what to strive for, but it is also a physical state and space, which the mastered ascetic enters, and which the student ascetic strives to attain.   But whatever the scholar can deduce of stillness, it presents many problems — does stillness exist on its own, or does it appear alongside its fellow virtues such as humility, silence, prayer, meditation, and fasting?

To most “stillness” may represent the virtue of silence, or peace.   To others stillness may represent non-existence, or a complete “loss” of and an “enduring space of holiness.”

Whatever arguments one might offer the definition of stillness, it is often understood by everyone that in order to achieve some sort of stillness, there most be some form of renunciation.  This renunciation may be the physical world, or the emotional baggage that many carry in daily life.

We see the quest and the existence of stillness in some of the greatest ascetics known to man, within Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Zen, Sufi, and Islam – all the ascetics seek and experience the mystical sensation of stillness.

Benedicta Ward writes of the Desert Fathers:

Their work was to live in stillness and know themselves thoroughly, so that the redemption of Christ might come upon their whole lives from beginning to end; they would live therefore at the limits of nature, and of human endurance, because of the glory ahead of them; and it is in this positive perspective that their asceticism is best understood.

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~ by alexmalina on April 3, 2009.

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