Doing Nothing

To what extent can the traditional Hermit be considered to be “doing nothing”? Are hermits inclined to “quietism”?
solitary hermit
“Quietism is the name given (especially in Roman Catholic Church theology) to a set of Christian beliefs that rose in popularity in through France, Italy, and Spain during the late 1670s and 1680s, were particularly associated with the writings of Miguel de Molinos (and subsequently François Malaval and Madame Guyon), and which were condemned as heresy by Pope Innocent XI in the papal bull “Coelestis Pastor” of 1687.
Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon (commonly known as Madame Guyon) (1648-1717)

The “Quietist” heresy was seen to consist of wrongly elevating ‘contemplation’ over ‘meditation’, intellectual stillness over vocal prayer, and interior passivity over pious action in an account of mystical prayer, spiritual growth and union with God (one in which, the accusation ran, there existed the possibility of achieving a sinless state and union with the Christian Godhead)…. The key components of Quietism, as it has traditionally been characterised, are that man’s highest perfection consists of a self-annihilation, and subsequent absorption, of the soul into the Divine, even during the present life. In this way, the mind is withdrawn from worldly interests to passively and constantly contemplate God. Quietists would say that the Bible describes the man of God as a man of the tent and the altar only, having no part or interest in the multitudinous affairs, pursuits, and pleasures of the world system.”

Does this relate to the Orthodox tradition of Hesychasm?

“Hesychasm (Greek: ἡσυχασμός, hesychasmos, from ἡσυχία, hesychia, “stillness, rest, quiet, silence”) is a mystical tradition of prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine Rite practised (Gk: ἡσυχάζω, hesychazo: “to keep stillness”) by the Hesychast (Gr. Ἡσυχαστής, hesychastes).
Based on Christ’s injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray”, hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God…
Kallistos Ware distinguishes five distinct meanings of the term “hesychasm”:
1. “solitary life”, a sense, equivalent to “eremitical life”, in which the term is used since the 4th century;
2. “the practice of inner prayer, aiming at union with God on a level beyond images, concepts and language”, a sense in which the term is found in Evagrius Ponticus (345-399), Maximus the Confessor (c. 580 – 662), and Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022);
symeon new theologian
3. “the quest for such union through the Jesus Prayer”, the earliest reference to which is in Diadochos of Photiki (c. 450);
4. “a particular psychosomatic technique in combination with the Jesus Prayer”, use of which technique can be traced back at least to the 13th century;
5. “the theology of St. Gregory Palamas”, on which see Palamism.””

The concept of “doing nothing” as a spiritual path has been the subject of a number of modern explorations, both Christian and non-Christian. One popular author on the subject is Steven Harrison.

Steven Harrison “Doing Nothing: Coming to the End of the Spiritual Search” [Sentient Publications, 2008]
Doing nothing
“Doing Nothing” is for those who have found themselves religiously following practices that have not fundamentally changed their lives: new therapies, ancient meditations, exotic religions, or old-time religion. It encourages them to find the truths of life through the simple act of stopping the search.
What do you do after you’ve tried everything to find enlightenment or happiness? “Do nothing,” writes Steven Harrison. “As it turns out, nothing is a surprisingly active place, but it is here that we discover who and what we are.”
“..Steven Harrison left the security of university life to trek the world in pursuit of the answer to human suffering. He prayed with Quakers, fasted with hermits, danced with Sufis, chanted with Hindus, sat zazen with Buddhists, meditated with Tibetan teachers, and visited sacred spaces throughout the world.
One steamy day in Bodh Gaya, India, while standing near the tree where Siddhartha first sat still and saw with the eye of his soul, Harrison realized: “There is no path to enlightenment. There is no enlightenment. The problem is the seeker trying to be in control.”
Steven let go and let God be in control…
Steven Harrison has written eight other books and helped start a publishing company, Sentient Publications, which brings out books on spirituality, holistic health, experimental education and ecology.”

“While Steven’s own writings may seem antithetical to traditional Catholic spirituality, they strike a chord with the themes of many Catholic mystics, such as French Jesuit Fr. Jean Pierre de Caussade, who preached self-abandonment and surrender to God, and whose teachings weren’t published until after his death for fear of being misunderstood.
Jean Pierre
He wrote: “In the state of self-abandonment … the soul is as light as a feather, as fluid as water, simple as a child, as easily moved as a ball, so as to move and receive all the impressions of grace.”
It’s easy to misunderstand something so simple and profound as “doing nothing” because it suggests quietism and non-involvement with issues. Truth is, doing nothing is a well of creativity. When we let go, God takes over.
It matters not whether we study at Harvard or climb a cliff to see a guru or just stay put in Kansas. Wherever we are, God — always active everywhere Love and Wisdom — is. “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there. If I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there!” (Psalm 139:8). We don’t have to do anything. We have to know something. God, benevolent divine energy, is already here, running through all our lives like gold through a mountain chain. Everything is connected. Everything belongs. Everything is somehow right.””
Michael Leach “An extract from ‘Doing nothing’ a place of surprising activity” in “The National Catholic Reporter”, Aug. 13, 2013

Steven Harrison “The Question to Life’s Answers: Spirituality Beyond Belief” [Sentient Publications, 2003]
The questions to
“Steven Harrison takes a unique approach to spirituality and social change by rejecting contemporary spirituality and maintaining that the answers are not in self-help books or gurus. He empowers the reader by putting control back in their hands. Grappling with the questions we have about life, Harrison deconstructs the prevailing spiritual, therapeutic, and self-help methods we use to try to change ourselves. By taking this journey of exploration with him, we come face-to-face with the potential for radical transformation.”

Steven Harrison “The Love of Uncertainty” [Sentient Publications, 2008]
lofe on uncertainty
“In his international dialogs, Steven Harrison invites his audiences to deconstruct their belief systems, examine their actual experience, and explore what is truly real in life. This book provides readers a unique window into these conversations, which have supported so many in living a life without practices or belief systems.
He asks, “Can we have an experience that is truly new, truly unknown? Is experience shaped by what we know?” This is not an idle philosophical pursuit, since the state of the world seems to hinge on our ability to step out of our belief systems and see others in a fresh way. In “The Love of Uncertainty”, Harrison continues his exploration into the nature of our existence, reaffirming that openness to the questions themselves is more important than any answers.”
steven harrison
For Steven Harrison and “Doing Nothing”, see:


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