I’ve been thinking more about the “sins” I mentioned in the previous article. Yes, they may be a mere symptom of a fallen state, and “virtues” might be a mere symptom of being in touch with God on some level, but the problem with this line of thinking is that it leaves very little room for personal agency; if you don’t feel God’s presence, you will wallow helplessly in your fallen state, exhibiting symptoms of depravity, and if you feel God’s presence, the ecstatic bliss will be manifested as all kinds of virtues, as you adhere to it diligently and allow it to change you and make you grow.
However, how do you get from one to the other? If you’re not in the presence of God, how do you change that, because just decomposing in your misery or trying to find some pathetic amusement for yourself in this empty cardboard world is the opposite of helpful. It’s as if there are two parallel paths – that of the worldly and demonic, and that of the saintly and angelic, and they are distinguished by absence or presence of God in one’s consciousness, and this can feel like an unsurmountable chasm. This is where we get to the point where the concept of sins and virtues starts making a different kind of sense, if we understand them not as mere symptoms of absence or presence of grace, but a destructive or constructive approach to life in general and our spiritual condition in particular.
Because, you see, whatever your condition may be, your attitude and actions can make it much worse; and if so, it is reasonable to assume that they can also make it much better. This is why my approach to sin is “when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging downwards”. Sure, absence of grace and the resulting emptiness of spirit can make you want to lash out or do all sorts of things in either a self-destructive rage, or a misguided wish to make yourself feel better, but here is where one needs self-control, in order to stop thrashing like a crazy person, cool down, and do the exact opposite – in essence, practice kindness and goodness in little things. Make someone’s day better with a small act of kindness. Pet a cat and talk to it. Say “hi” to a dog. Notice how nicely the sunlight plays on the tree leaves. Take a deep breath. Notice how your eye movements from left to right are connected with whirlpools of your thoughts and emotions. Pay conscious attention to it, try to make it faster. Try to make it slower. Feel what it wants you to do. Let it go and just observe – ride the wave first, and then fly above it and observe. Feel the pain and suffering beneath, the force that makes your mind and feelings move, and let it hurt, don’t try to escape. Let it expend itself instead of just rolling off into motivations. As you suffer, you will see that you are calmer, deeper, no longer a leaf carried by the waves on the surface, but a creature of deep waters of your mind. As you do this for minutes, maybe hours, maybe days, you will feel a change – suffering is no longer the only thing in your consciousness, because you start to feel a hint of something blissful, ecstatic, yet calm and peaceful. Let it in. As you take a breath, inhale this bliss and open your body and mind to it. Don’t think about it, just allow its presence to heal you. Happy thoughts and pictures will start going through your mind; let them. Things where you saw and admired something good and beautiful. Don’t rush it, let it unfold slowly, don’t spoil it by trying to get all the way to God immediately; feel that peace and beauty of a sunset, or sunlight catching the yellow leaves over a waterfall. Feel the calm and kindness as you watch a cat sleep. Feel it unfold, as you feel touched to tears by someone’s beautiful and virtuous actions – it can be a character in a book or a movie, doesn’t matter. Feel touched by goodness and virtue, breathe it in, keep it in, breathe it out. Slowly, imagine yourself acting it out in the world, seeing yourself as this person you admire, and do little things at first – just imagine yourself doing virtuous and good things, and just release all the obstacles and counter-arguments that pop up. Once you feel no opposition, rest in this state, and when you act, act from it, in such a way that your actions don’t contradict your inner state, so that they manifest it and act it out instead.
Do it consistently enough, and go deep enough, and you’ll be the grace of God that is manifesting itself in the world, and the question of God’s absence will become quite ridiculous. Be to others what you want to receive from God, and you will become one with the grace and presence of God. In that state, when you’re acting out goodness, you will understand that you are on the upward-gradient, and avoid things that put you on a downward-gradient, and in this perspective the concept of sins and virtues starts to make sense – not for the sake of judgment directed at oneself or others, but for the sake of practicality on the path of making your existence not hell.