‘Stilling the mind might seem impossible. But it isn’t.’
There is one idea at the heart of Quakerism, an idea that is as alive and as relevant today as it was in 1652. It is called ‘convincement’ and involves a personal experience of the divine. The truth at the heart of Quakerism is as simple and as stark as that. Convincement is necessary, and it is a personal, transcendental experience of the indwelling Spirit of God.
Like all truly great ideas, it’s very simple. George Fox said this: ‘There is a light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world.’ There is Quakerism in a nutshell. There is a light within us that enlightens us. All we need to do is wait upon it, or attend to it within ourselves, and it will lead us and guide us in all things, because it is nothing less than the light of God. Wow! Goodbye to all the internet gurus, the preachers, the pundits, the prelates and the priests. We don’t need any of them. We have a Light that will teach us and guide us directly. All we need to do is learn how to listen to it. Happily, Fox tells us how to do that too: ‘Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit from thy own thoughts, and then thou wilt feel the principle of God to turn thy mind to the Lord God, whereby thou wilt receive his strength and power from whence life comes, to allay all tempests, against blustering and storms.’
But how do we become ‘still and cool’ in our own minds? For people in the twenty-first century, that might seem difficult, because our minds are so overstimulated, stuffed with ideas and imagery. For us, stilling the mind might seem impossible. But it isn’t. If you have difficulty with it, try practising mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation is the perfect foundation for observing thought. Simply by closing your eyes and constantly returning to the sensation of your breath, you can soon learn to observe your thoughts. From this, you can learn to detach from your mind, because your thought processes and your mind are the same thing.
Then the adventure really begins. Fox tells us to ‘dwell in that which is pure of God in you, lest your thoughts get forth, and then evil thoughts get up, surmising one against another.’ We are told to attend to that which is pure within us, and not to allow the mind to carry us away. We are instructed to return to it again and again after thought carries us away. This is what it means to ‘mind the pure Seed of God in you.’
Sovereign advice indeed. Fox could not be clearer about the perils of trusting the outward, rational mind: ‘The light within, which doth convince thee, will show thee when the mind goes forth, and show thee thy daily cross, which is to crucify the carnal mind. Therefore, do not give way to your wills, nor busy yourselves nor minds with needless and careless words or such things, for they will draw your mind from God, but keep within. For the measure is within, and the pearl is within you, and the word of God is within you.’
Let the adventure begin.
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