Practice of Harmony in Orthodox Christian Wisdom

In this essay, Priest-monk Silouan of the Wisdom Hermitage in St Davids, Wales, discusses the practice of Harmony in Orthodox Christian Wisdom. "Orthodox seers do not regard harmony as something fixed and static but as healthy dissonance without cacophony and wholesome consonance without monotony." Father Silouan suggests that "such wisdom opens the crises of our time to the healing energies of the light of glory which transmit harmony in unexpected ways, restoring wholeness where consumerism wrought havoc and dissipation."

In our very secular age, there is little or no support for the practice of wisdom and harmony, which has always sustained the heart of the world’s great wisdom traditions.  In a global consumer culture, many know little of wisdom sanctuaries, moreover, many monasteries have lost touch with the living wisdom that once inspired the practice of harmony.  Under Islam and Judaism, there were no monasteries, but there were Kabbalistic fraternities and Sufi Orders, centres of wisdom practice, which bore witness to lived harmony in the market place.  The Islamic world was once permeated by Sufism and by the wisdom practice of the remembrance of God, for which harmony is a divine name, renewing the tradition with wisdom’s uncreated, creative energy.   Byzantine society was profoundly inspired by Orthodox Hesychasm, the Christian wisdom of the desert cells and sketes, but desert wisdom also inspired urban sanctuaries such as the famous monastery of the Stoudios in Constantinople.  Through such monasteries, the Orthodox practice of stillness and harmony was accessible to every level of society from courtier to peasant.

In northern Europe, mediaeval Christianity inspired religious orders of friars as well as convents and monasteries; the wisdom that illumined them inspired lay friends of God and brethren of the free spirit.  Protestant Christianity dissolved the monasteries, but the early Quakers, bearing witness to the uncreated light of Christ in the midst, broke through to the prophetic mysteries of Biblical Christianity preserved in the East by Orthodox Hesychasm.  However, as modernity took root, religion became a private affair, and spiritual life was driven to the margins, so that today, in the secular world, there is little or no support to be found anywhere for the practice of harmony rooted in the transmission of wisdom.  Post-modernity has to some extent challenged this but it is difficult to find authentic wisdom transmission in a consumerist market where even traditional spiritual ways and means are reduced to commodities.

In such circumstances, when the disasters of materialistic modernity threaten human survival and those addressing these issues realise that wisdom is crucial if diseased perception is to be healed, it is vital that the ancient traditions of wisdom that do survive are able to transmit the healing practice of harmony.  True, in order to address disharmony, radical thinking and innovative technology are always urgently needed, but without wisdom’s renewal of the practice of harmony, there is a danger that the roots of these initiatives will be too shallow. There is a crucial need for the wise practice of harmony if modern societies are not to disintegrate and our hearts are not to shrivel up and die of incurable spiritual sclerosis.  The challenges are enormous and go way beyond the capacity of conventional binary rationality or conventional medicine to solve. If to resolve these crises we trust only in the mind-sets that produced them in the first place, there is a danger that our spiritual blindness will undermine all our solutions.  We need wisdom beyond our mental fixations to resolve them and we need levels of discernment beyond what produced the crises to solve them.  This leads an increasing number of people in a secular age to seek wisdom, without being seduced back into fundamentalist regressions from which the religions suffer when they are bereft of wisdom.  The sacred traditions are the ancient homes of wisdom, but when these traditions neglect wisdom they degenerate into warring ideologies and ethnic nationalisms.  Fundamentalist religion is part of the problem, not the solution, so wisdom in each tradition is called upon to help heal the pathologies of religion itself, and thereby heal the diseased perception that continues to threaten our survival. The healing practice of harmony is no shallow cult of private sentimentality, but calls for a profound change of heart, mind and behaviour.  The practice of harmony that truly transforms every perception springs from wisdom that purifies and transfigures both mind and heart.

According to Orthodox tradition, wisdom comes to meet us saying, in order to practice harmony: ‘Turn and see!’  The wisdom injunction to turn cuts through diseased perception, restoring wisdom to the heart.  The eye of the heart opens and awakens, leaping over confusion and separation, seeing God at centre in the midst.  Remembrance of God begins with recognition, turning the mind round so that it unites with the heart, God seeing God, through God, in a harmonious union of seeing, seer and seen.  Turning is no mere change of opinion but a radical turning from dissipated separation into harmonious seeing, seeing for which God is seer and seen.  Turning, metanoia, awakens seeing, theoria, which opens the eye of the heart to wisdom, wisdom that discerns harmony in the light of the glory of the Holy Name, ‘I AM.’  God reveals God in his Name, not something from God or something about God.  In the Gospel of John, the Beloved Disciple hands on Jesus’ transmission of the Name ‘I AM,’ first in seven ‘I AM’ sayings with predicates, like, ‘I AM the way, the truth and the life,’ but also in seven ‘I AM’ sayings without predicates, such as ‘Before Abraham was, I AM.’  The wisdom of the Beloved Disciple runs like an underground stream beneath the external structures of Christianity and it transmits the Holy Name ‘I AM’ that reveals God in the midst.

To explain what the Fourth Gospel is saying here we need to remember that the revelation of the Name on Mount Sinai, (Exodus 3:14) says that God’s Name is ‘I AM.’  Jesus transmits the Name of God in his great ‘I AM’ sayings to awaken the eye of the heart in the Holy Spirit.  He hands on the Father’s Name as wisdom unveiling glory, which is uncreated energy. Orthodox tradition uses the word uncreated because this is a revelation of God, not just information about God.   It speaks of Holy Trinity because God the Father is unveiled through God the Son, in God the Holy Spirit.  Orthodox tradition here is using language that is rooted in Scripture but also in the living experience of the saints, language that is perhaps now unfamiliar to many but is integral to its living wisdom.

The Orthodox tradition of harmonious stillness, known as Hesychasm, transmits this wisdom of the Holy Name through elders and saints to this day, giving us access to divine harmony, which deifies creation.  This is called ‘glorification’ by the New Testament, and ‘deification’ by the Patristic Wisdom tradition, but has many different names in the world’s other wisdom traditions.  Orthodox Christian Wisdom is beautiful as well as integral when it turns and sees the primordial harmony of uncreated and created energies in Christ, together with the wondrous harmony of uncreated creative energies radiating from the glory of Holy Trinity.  Divine and human energies resound together as one harmonious symphony in Christ’s Kingdom of Glory because there is no confusion or division of uncreated and created energies in him, and although divine names differ they do not divide and although divine essence is one it does not confuse.  Revelation of harmonious uncreated and created unity in difference in Christ springs forth from Holy Trinity, which reveals in turn the uncreated harmony of unity and difference in the Kingdom of glory.

Wisdom knows that glory is always already integral, always already whole, because Great Harmony is not something we do by imposing ourselves on things, but is always already present everywhere, above all in the Holy Name ‘I AM,’ which is always already a harmonious union of uncreated awareness, ‘I’, and uncreated presence, ‘AM.’  This primordial harmony of unconditioned awareness and liberating presence is radically catalytic, with capacity to cure all false harmony such as the repressive uniformity imposed by dictators to destroy dissent.  The primordial harmony of wisdom and the Name frees us from every dictatorial parody of harmony by opening to the salvific anarchy of the Holy Spirit, who perfects freedom in the Spirit through the Truth of the Name. True Orthodoxy is never repressive, although its parodies are legion in an age where money rules and power is in the calculating hands of big business.  Wisdom discerns true harmony where glory comes to meet us from the age to come, bringing freedom and joy.  It frees the present from a mammon driven future as well as from a spiritually impoverished past, because the Name saves by liberating us from the shackles of time by turning us back into ever present awareness where uncreated harmony reigns.

Uncreated harmony is the hallowing energy that inspires racial harmony as well as domestic harmony, although one of the blind spots of secular culture is that it refuses to turn and see the harmony out of which all life is lived.  Secularism is like the fish that refuses to notice the ocean because although it is everywhere it is not something it can eat or from which to flee to avoid being eaten. Wisdom’s seers turn and see who sees, and so recognize the uncreated harmony that gives rise to all that there is. Divine harmony has no trouble with harmonic tension that can handle relative dissonance, which loves in turn to resolve back into pleasing consonance.  Harmony is not something fixed or static, terrified of dissonance as if dissonance destroyed consonance.  Harmonious beauty is a perfect balance of tension and relaxation, of dissonance and consonance.  It receives this infinite capacity from the uncreated creativity of Holy Trinity and from the endlessly creative union of unity and difference in Christ, primordial harmony crucified by a cacophonous world.

Of course, Orthodox Christian wisdom is at ease with the fact that each of the world’s great wisdom traditions has its own unique way of handling the sacred sciences of harmony.  The wisdom of Christ crucified and glorified does not live in terror of hostile rivals because, as Saint Silouan the Athonite reminds us, the criterion of true Orthodoxy is love of enemies.  Love cures fear and lives from wisdom that empties fear’s hells by raising fear from fear to rise again as love into glory, opening to endless glory. There is no end to the joy that arises when wisdom welcomes wisdom wherever she finds her, as when Scripture and Patristic tradition welcomed wisdom whether from Athens or Jerusalem.  The Bible has its own profound wisdom, which Christ inspires anew in every successive generation, renewing the sacred tradition in our time by restoring harmony wherever divisive confusion threatens to destroy her ever-renewing communion.  Wholeness is natural to wisdom as integrity is natural to the glory of the Name.  Orthodox Christian wisdom is integral because it is catholic, that is, wholesome and holistic, with inexhaustible capacity to see everything as a whole within a world of harmonious wholeness, an integral holistic union of wholes within wholes, wherever it is found.

Integral Orthodox wisdom sees the many layers of harmony in nature as icons of the many dimensions of harmony in God.  Created in God’s image, it is the function of mankind to consummate this glorious harmony by bearing witness to the deification of all creation as the fulfilment of wisdom’s way of purification, illumination and glorification in Holy Trinity.  It is of no help to mankind if all we can offer in response to the crises and catastrophes of our time are a few more theories or technologies.  We also need genuine wisdom and healthy wisdom transmission so that wisdom’s uncreated creative harmony can be released from the prisons of constriction that have been exiling her for so long.  It is not enough to bewail the loss of wisdom or rage at the destruction that results.  Wisdom has always known the beauty of harmony and glory that inspires her.  She has never lost touch with the source of that harmony or with its capacity to cure confusion with holy union or division with hallowing communion.

Wisdom is heard again when hearts turn and see God present and aware in the midst, awakening the eye of the heart to the Spirit’s awareness of harmony revealed by the union of the Father and the Son.  This uncreated harmony has infinite capacity to renew creation in glory, glory revealed before the beginning and after the end, glory waiting to be loved and known.  Harmony is glory’s gift, just as glory is wisdom’s harmonious grace.  There is no end to glory or to the dance of graceful harmony, which is beautiful and timeless in the ever-present glory of ‘I AM,’ glory unveiling glory, by causing to be all that there is.  The ‘turning’ is a profound metanoia, a change of heart as well as mind, awakening wisdom, which sees God here at centre where we were unconsciously usurping God.  The ‘seeing’ is a profound theoria, a state of enlightened vision or wisdom, which sees God through God in God, living Holy Trinity as experience of glorification. Without lived Trinity, we are left bereft of wisdom and condemned to peddle clever theories instead of living illumined insight.  Elders transmit wisdom, not just informed opinion, and so are able to address contemporary issues from the source of all harmony in Great Harmony itself.  This cures the shallow relativism and nihilism of post-modernity as well as the materialistic pride of modernity.  Without therapeutic theopathy such as this, the diseased viruses of dissipated disjunction that have us in their grip cannot be cured.

Harmony joins what dissipation disjoins, so that what cacophonous disintegration destroys, harmonious concord heals.  Divine harmony is dynamic energy and creative flow not static fixation at war with flow.  But without wisdom, all this is just theory not divine-human living, and falls short of glory just as oblivious consumerism does.  Vainglory falls short of glory until wisdom releases glory from vanity and frees harmony to unite with glory.  The arche of harmony is one with its telos, the ‘I AM’ that saves as way, illumines as truth and glorifies as life.  This uncreated ‘I AM’ is what wisdom discerns as glory and the Name unveils as revelation to apostles and prophets.  It is wisdom that constitutes the sacred legacy of Hesychasm, which has been described as a living golden chain by those who bear witness to its light and glory. It is a legacy of wisdom transmitted by elders to saints at the heart of Orthodox tradition that renews it in spirit and truth.

The harmony that is enduring as well as beautiful is the harmony that unites difference with unity in Holy Trinity, the harmony that unites uncreated and created energies in Christ, the harmony that undoes sterile separation and cures dissipating division everywhere.  It cannot be objectified because it cannot be seen from without, nor is it something we can grasp or possess.  It escapes our control whilst drawing us out of ourselves into its own harmonious but dynamic serenity.  It does not fixate on any relative harmonious state or resist the profoundly harmonious tension of healthy dissonance, which flows back naturally into harmonious consonance.  Harmony is ever moving, ever still, transcending sterile opposition by curing all extremes of any trace of extremism.  In fact, every temporary state of harmony becomes dissonant in the light of the harmony that seeks to transcend it.  Indeed, harmony is dissonant the moment it resists the greater harmony that seeks to supplant it.  This is harmony seen by glory as glory raises harmony from glory to glory.

Harmony, like glory, is ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’ in the sense that its unity hallows difference, so that its wholeness sends out healing to all.  It is radically countercultural and resists conformity to all the conventions of consumerism.  It is profoundly personal and nourishes true personhood together with true reciprocity. It is relational because without free interaction, harmony reduced to external conformity can be oppressive, and so may serve a repressive will to power.  For harmony to flower, difference does not divide nor unity confuse.  This is to see Christ as good harmony and all sound harmony as revelation of Christ.  Other wisdoms have their traditional way of saying this, but this is an Orthodox Christian way, which neither divisively excludes nor confusingly swallows the otherness of the other.  True harmony resists all pressure to conform to the narrows and shallows of convention, including the oppressions of dysfunctional religion.  Healthy religion yokes our lives to harmony as harmony joins us to the beautiful, healing flow of glory.

Wisdom is always integral, but her integrity is not fixed but develops as she transcends old integrations and includes new paradigms in the harmonious flow of her dissonant, consonant life.  Christian wisdom in pre-modern times was integral for those times, but was obliged to respond to modernity and then post-modernity in fresh ways.  At each stage, the deeper harmony embraced a painful dissonance as well as a new consonance.  And so, at a time when new ways of being integral are being explored among us, we should not be surprised if old ways of handling harmony are painfully transcended so that harmony is born anew.  There is nothing fixated about true harmony although it is no surprise that false harmony often fixates in narrow, self-interested ways.  These old ways are dissonant now because new modes of creative harmony are being born.  They may have been sound and true once, but are too narrow or shallow now.

Does this mean that the ancient science of good harmony is now out of date?  What of Pythagoras and Temple wisdom that Orthodox fathers said inspired him?   The empirical contents may date, but the pure forms still stand steadfast with wisdom.  The ratio 1:1 still expresses perfect symmetry, the oneness of the one and only One, which Patristic Tradition calls the uncreated essence, whose activities are the hallowing energies of graced harmony.  The ratio 1:2 still expresses the perfect consonance of the octave, which in its own way symbolizes the generation from the Father of the Son.  Within the octave 1:2 lies the whole spread of harmonious manifestation, both dissonant and consonant.  The ratio 2:3 expresses the perfect fifth, which by moving from 2 to 3 symbolizes the Holy Trinity, which sees every fourth as another third and so expresses completeness, the perfection of three that ever transcends itself but never leaves the completeness of Trinity.  The ratio 2:3 also says Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, who proceeds from the Father to abide in the Son.  The ratio 3:4 expresses the perfect fourth, a consonance that symbolizes creation, four square extension and the four directions of space, four seasons, four winds, four elements and the rest.  Since nothing falls outside the symmetry of the Name, 1:1, or the consonance of divine generation,1:2, or the completeness of Trinity, 2:3, creation’s 3:4 is in God and God in creation without pantheistic confusion or dualistic division.  The perfect fourth is the ratio 3:4, but it falls within the mysteries of unity, 1:1, of hypostatic difference, 1:2, and of Trinity, 2:3, creation’s expression of the uncreated creativity of divine Tri-unity.

The Pythagorean tetractys was employed by Orthodox Fathers to interpret the Wisdom of Solomon 11:20b, which says that wisdom orders all things in measure, number and weight.  For them, the ancient science of music was a science of harmony that inspired all the liberal arts, especially architecture.  Sanctuaries were built as expressions of the harmony inherent in these primordial ratios, 1:1, 1:2, 2:3 and 3:4.  Not only Byzantine churches, but Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals, Islamic mosques and Hindu temples all reflect this primordial science of harmony.  Certain things do not change, such as the octave, the fifth, the fourth and the significance of the sacred numbers 7 and 12, 7 being 3+4 and 12 being 3×4.  But is this arithmetic or mystical theology; is the mystery in the mathematics or is the geometry only an expression of wisdom’s mysteries?  In any case, the ancient science of harmony bequeathed these mysteries from Temple wisdom to Pythagoras and by him to Plato and the Neo-Platonists, from Plotinus and Origen to the Cappadocian fathers.   In fact, it runs right through the whole Patristic tradition, giving to integral Orthodox wisdom a vision of harmony that saw its luminous traces everywhere.

For Orthodox Christian wisdom, harmony is always already present as divine Oneness that grounds sustainable harmony and Twoness that unites uncreated and created harmony in the Christly mysteries of the Holy Spirit. The primordial Oneness sustains the original Twoness by turning back into the Three-ness of God the Holy Trinity, primordial harmony generating original harmony in the Spirit of true harmony, whatever is arising.  This Three-ness grounds Oneness and generates Twoness which sustain the Four-ness of universal creation, the four elements and four winds, the four directions and the four seasons.  Wisdom transmutes the four elements into the alchemy of the fire of fire, purifying confusion, the fire of water, dissolving division, the fire of earth, crystallizing what is dissolved and the fire of air, deifying all that arises.  The translucent clarity of wisdom heals disharmony with harmonious glory, curing pathologies that resist harmony with a fourfold alchemy.  The wisdom practice of Oneness, Twoness, Three-ness and Four-ness unveils the mysteries of harmony that generate harmony from harmony in harmony.  Wisdom practice lives from harmonious completeness that precedes every violation of harmony that threatens to destroy our world. Harmony practice trusts divine harmony so that there is always hope.  Harmony practice loves the harmony that frees love to embrace disharmony so that it transmutes into harmony harmoniously.

Saint Maximus the Confessor (c580-662) saw Christ’s wisdom mediation as five differing levels of harmony: harmony between male and female in the human world, harmony between paradise and the human world in the earthly world, harmony between heaven and earth in the visible world, harmony between spiritual and sensible worlds within the created world, and harmony between the created world and the uncreated energies of God, embracing us from God, through God in God.  This Patristic vision of spheres of harmony includes the harmony known as the music of the spheres in the visible world but transcends it in both directions, so to speak.  It bequeaths a wisdom discerning glory in many spheres, a wisdom that envisions harmony in many dimensions, all of which are expressions of the ancient science of harmony.  The ratio of 1:1 is ever present in the symmetry of the Name above all names, of 1:2 in the communion that unites unity and difference in Christ.  The ratio 2:3 is the perfect fifth of Triune completeness and the ratio 3:4 is the perfect fourth of harmonious creation in every culture and in each religion.  Although symbolic worlds differ, wisdom’s harmonious proportions manifest everywhere.  Profound discernment is called for if unity is not to descend into confusion or healthy difference is not to disintegrate into degenerate division.

Divine harmony weaves her healing way within and between warring worlds, illumining their unholy blind spots and polishing their jagged edges. Wisdom works with her in ways that have always dumb-founded the binary mind.  Heresies are spawned whenever wisdom is lost and her subtle discernments are brushed aside.   Extremism arises whenever opinionated extremes are at loggerheads and dynamic harmony breaks down.  But holy harmony never fails to come to our aid if we are humble enough to step back from blind prejudice.  Wisdom does not forsake the humble even if they are unable to articulate her subtle discernments.  In every generation there are elders who not only transmit wisdom but who articulate the key discernments that tell true harmony from false uniformity, wisdom from sophistry.  Pride precedes falls, so wisdom is crucial if hearts are to be receptive and humble.  The equation of wisdom with pride refers not to wisdom but to sophistry, the sophisticated disputes that destroy harmony by usurping God in the midst.

When we witness the devastation of the environment wrought by oblivious materialistic consumerism, harmony can appear to us as a distant past or as an inaccessible future irredeemably divided from us.  Pre-modern worlds may appear as a paradise lost even though life then was violent, brutal and short.  The ruthless rape of the earth’s resources in recent years is widely seen as brutal dislocation from true harmony.  When science is divorced from wisdom, her gifts of new technologies and improved medicine may still be welcomed, but the materialistic intent of rabid secularism rides roughshod over traditional values in ways that cause disastrous disruption.  We may then be tempted to despair of modernity and to reach for post-modern solutions that embrace spirituality again but without pre-modern religion’s fundamentalist hatred of everything modern.

Whenever wisdom begins to dawn, an integral embrace begins to reintegrate the harmonious values of pre-modern worlds with a balanced handling of modernity, together with post-modern critiques of unbalanced modernity, opening to a more balanced vision of harmony that transcends narrower and shallower versions that are no longer fit for purpose.  When wisdom’s embrace is informed by Christian principles, divisive narrowness begins to give way to respect for healthy difference, enabling shallow confusion to transform into renewed vision of healthy union, maturing harmony step by step.  There are no final chords for this wise way of flowing, healing harmony, no final cadences to finish the uncreated symphony.  Such endings are for the concert hall; indeed every concert has to have an end.  But uncreated harmony heals confusion and division by resolving life’s dissonances into wholesome consonance, working her paradoxical wisdom into our confused, divided hearts.   Consonances may be perfect in the ancient science of harmony, but wisdom handles dissonance without cacophony, embracing consonance without monotony, so that sound harmony can work as healing polyphony or follow the melody of life as it sings its manifold wisdom songs.  Orthodox Christian wisdom holds to healthy harmony when it handles dissonance without cacophony and consonance without monotony.  Her integral embrace sees dissonance and consonance as co-inherent antinomies, loving the concord that resolves discord, but also the dissonance that throws us into wonder, wonder that awakens wisdom, wisdom that cleaves to harmony, without our knowing how.

What then is harmony practice and how does it relate to wisdom? The injunction to turn and see does not refer to turning the head but to turning the attention round to behold uncreated awareness ever-present, beholding uncreated presence ever aware, hallowing God’s Name right here in the midst.  It means that whenever we fall short of harmonious living, we turn and see the harmony of God through God in God, rather than waste time with shallow regrets or get caught up in constricting guilt.  The name Jesus means ’I AM’ saves, so it is not we who save ourselves by invoking his name but he who heals us through God’s hallowing Name. Hallowing the Name aright gives harmonious glory to God, curing the vainglory that unconsciously ascribes glory to us.  Vainglory or kenodoxy is undone by wisdom’s doxology that restores harmony by ascribing glory to God.  This is the meaning of true Orthodoxy and it restores the harmony destroyed by falls from glory and so unites what cacophony confuses and discord divides.

Turning awakens to seeing and seeing is true turning, meaning that the wisdom praxis of turning and seeing partakes in the harmony of seeing, seer and seen, which being God the Holy Trinity, are indivisibly one and inseparable in practice.  Theosis, deification, is not our doing but the uncreated activity of the divine energies of wisdom, glory and harmony.  We turn and see; God deifies and heals.  Each wisdom tradition has its own unique way of putting this but wisdom remains wisdom, always free to transcend the divisions that can sometimes distort the differences.  There is no end to the capacity of wisdom to heal and the capacity of harmony to restore our world, if we can only open our hearts to wisdom and embrace harmony as our very life.  There is no end to the profundity of wisdom that transcends what our minds can grasp, nor limit to the power of harmony to put right what has gone wrong, but it requires us to humble our minds and open our hearts.

Downstream from the wisdom practice of turning and seeing, harmony practice may then relate to the different practices of the different sciences, together with the wide variety of forms of social and political action that express wisdom as harmonious compassion.  Each involves different kinds of practice and training in that practice, but at source the injunction to turn and see sustains wisdom practice however it is then expressed.  It is for the expert in each field to spell out how the practice of a given science will work, but whenever harmony practice springs from wisdom awakening, it takes us back into the heart, place of grace and root of harmony, however it is lived out.  Our secular age began in early modern times with the protestant closure of monasteries and the reduction of wisdom to science, leaving wisdom practice bereft of all support.  This deprived harmony practice of all sound foundations, depriving many generations of the spiritual means to address the crisis of disintegration.  This crisis is addressed in our time when wisdom traditions are renewed and their transmission restored, when government and business begin to acknowledge the necessity of wisdom practice if harmony is to be restored. Mindfulness practice inspired by Buddhism is one example of wisdom practice spreading into the workplace and nourishing new kinds of business practice.  The science of consciousness has been studying wisdom practices for decades and testing their claims against rigorous scientific criteria.  But all these initiatives are still in their infancy and call for sustained investment if they are to bear fruit.

Harmony practice is sustained when we awaken to the ground of harmony in our midst, however that source is named.  In Orthodox Hesychasm, the ground of harmony is the Father, the communication of harmony is the Son and the assimilation of harmony is the Holy Spirit, a Triune mystery, which transcends the binary mind and its shallow exclusions.  Elders transmit this wisdom to the saints as prophecy, which is assimilated as harmony practice through unceasing prayer of the Spirit in the heart.  This frees the mind to attend to the sciences whilst simultaneously nurturing and nourishing the heart, transcending every fatal either-or that deprives harmony practice of all sound foundation.  Wisdom culture is integral because it refuses to remain bound by division, having undone the confusion that degenerates sound difference into diabolical division.  In practice this means that harmony is never reified into fixated, monotonous consonance but sustains ineffable openness at each stage.  Monotony is avoided when dissonance and consonance are both integral to the free flow of sound harmony.  Wisdom practice constantly adjusts as the symphony of life unfolds in every moment.  It is not confined by narrow regulation nor stifled by rigid rules of procedure.  It dances in the Spirit as luminous wisdom, alive and alight in every moment.  When conditions fall short of harmony, it recognises the fact and moves on, releasing what was stuck and freeing what was confined.  The true practice of harmony is actually ineffable but can be shown when wisdom discerns where harmony is to be found.  To turn and see is to witness harmony in action in every moment.  It is to let harmony resound wherever we are. It is to live harmoniously without trace of fixation on past notions of harmony or addiction to old solutions to past problems of disharmony.  The wise practice of harmony is lived from an awakened heart, not from sterile formulas or from narrow dogmas, including those of scientism.

When situations arise which call for sound harmony practice, we do not live from our minds alone but from God ever-present in our midst, because we know where true and lasting harmony is to be found.  The Great Peace is not reactive peace that conceals subtle violence, neither is the Great Harmony conditioned uniformity, so to react by imposing conditioned harmony in conditions which call for unconditioned harmony produces conditions of increasing conflict or ambivalence. Harmony is completeness that precedes all incompleteness and transmutes it so that it bears witness to completeness even in its very incompleteness. In this way, harmony turns dissonance into a healthy tension that releases into resounding harmony without cacophony or monotony.  Confusion turns into communion just as division dissolves into sound difference.  Harmony practice is not a manipulation of conditions but a release of conditioning in the grace of the unconditioned.  It is profoundly mysterious but works, as the experience of wisdom practice over the centuries bears witness.

In Jewish mysticism, known as Kabbalah, and in Islamic mysticism or Sufism, harmony is a divine name that transmits uncreated deifying energy that heals what division destroys and cures what confusion dissipates.  In Orthodox Christian Hesychasm, harmony is a deifying divine energy accessed through the remembrance of God.  Harmony is seen when harmony sees who sees, God in the midst, God seeing seer and seen.  Holy Trinity is triune opening, triune revelation awakening the eye and ear of the heart so that separation turns back into union.  In Buddhism, the practice of harmony is grounded in the practice of compassionate mindfulness.  In Advaita Vedanta, harmony is rooted in realisation of the uncreated Self, Atman, and entails discernment as well as knowledge, jnana.  It is not a mere change of opinion, but accesses the transcendent depths of pure awareness ever present beneath the phenomena of the conditioned self or jiva.  Each wisdom tradition bears witness in its own language to the transcendent source of harmony, expressing wisdom in a different way.  Wisdom, however, remains wisdom and in Christian tradition, Christ is wisdom revealed in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, unveiling the wisdom of the Father.  Just as there is no revealed meta-religion transcending the religions, so there is no metaphysical way of accessing harmony outside the sacred wisdoms that open to it.  We are given these wisdoms so that harmony may restore us, and harmony heals us when wisdom is awake in the heart.  We turn and see so that wisdom, the state of seeing, cures all that destroys harmony within us, between us, and among us wherever we turn, for divine harmony is always already present awaiting us, calling us to turn and see.

The sciences of harmony do not contradict wisdom although wisdom practice transcends the practice of any given science.  Wisdom and science are not at war unless science is misread in dualistic ways and set up to undermine wisdom by usurping it.  It is up to wisdom to see through divisive delusions of this kind, the many versions of dualistic scientism, which destroy harmony between science and wisdom.  Wisdom turns and sees what the practice of the sciences overlooks so that science grounded in harmonious wisdom can fulfil its important functions without causing disharmony.  For science to play its part in the practice of harmony, wisdom practice is needed, awakening to the transcendent ground of harmony in the uncreated light of the heart. Wisdom turns and sees harmony heal by turning and deify through seeing.

When the practice of harmony is integrated with the practice of wisdom, an integral wisdom begins to emerge which grounds harmony in new ways and restores harmony where it was lost. Integral wisdom is crucial in our time because all the sciences are involved in the healing and all the sacred wisdoms are called to contribute their wisdom.  Mere theories of harmony are not enough.  Harmony generates harmony when wisdom is practiced and harmony is practiced when wisdom is loved and known, in harmony with all the sciences and technologies that heal and restore. The wisdom of the awakened heart shines forth into our broken world to restore it to harmony, uniting what our blindness has torn apart and healing what our diseased perception poisons.

So what happens when seeing welcomes wisdom home again, when the heart is once again a dwelling place for wisdom?  Wisdom descends as uncreated, creative energy when seeing sees as she is seen, when harmony is lived as deifying energy capable of healing infernal chaos and restoring hells.  Seeing transmutes into luminous being when harmony heals.  Seeing, being vision of God, transmits God’s vision of God through God in God, the hidden mysteries of God the Holy Trinity.  The hidden harmony of God the Holy Trinity shares the harmony of divine life with us, freely as forgiving gift.  Harmony is restored not as our technique but as divine grace, a gift that makes all things new.  This wisdom is far older than the hills and goes way back before the beginning and after the end.  We turn and see, letting grace unveil seer and seen as one in the uncreated light of wisdom.  We place our trust here where Great Harmony unveils her mysteries and we discover new ways to see and to be.  Wisdom restores harmony wherever she turns, so as our lives begin to open to wisdom our world is renewed.  Harmony practice is wisdom practice that turns and sees, seeing as wisdom sees, seeing as glory is seen, unveiling ineffable openness wherever she turns. Hope is renewed once wisdom restores harmony.  Trust is restored when turning sees and harmony sustains wisdom.  Love takes centre stage once wisdom practice is renewed, so that harmony is restored.

In conclusion, the renewed practice of harmony in our time will continue to draw on the world’s wisdom traditions to address the global crises that beset us, but also on the sciences and technologies required to restore balance and harmony.  But without wisdom, there is no renewal of our perception and our destructive mind-sets.  Wisdom practice is illumined vision that unveils ineffable openness, an infinite capacity for harmony that totally transcends us.  Harmony practice, therefore, draws on resources of harmony that have no limit and discovers depths of harmony that know no bounds.  If we trust our own limited capacity to assimilate harmony and this alone, we run the risk of cutting ourselves off from the wisdom and grace that can heal us.  Harmony practice therefore becomes wisdom practice when we turn and see, seeing as we are seen, knowing as we are known, awakening wisdom hidden in the depths of the illumined heart.   Wisdom loves harmony because she is harmony that sees, harmony that sees as she is seen. Wisdom is completeness that completes us even as we acknowledge our incompleteness.  Harmony practiced is wisdom lived as Great Completeness, healing our brokenness and restoring our world.

This essay can be viewed and downloaded as a pdf here

Priest-monk Silouan of the Wisdom Hermitage in St Davids, Wales.

Father Silouan was abbot of the Orthodox Monastery of St Antony and St Cuthbert on the Stiperstones in Shropshire for eighteen years, having been tonsured a monk at the Monastery of Archimandrite Sophrony in Essex ten years before that. He taught at Winchester College, having graduated in theology at Nottingham and awarded both MTh and PhD from Glasgow University. 

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