Posted by: shawnjohnston | October 17, 2007

Contemplation and Gnosis

Contemplation can be defined as “meditation on spiritual matters, especially as a form of devotion”. Contemplative practices are tools by which one pursues contemplation. This can include meditation, prayer, study, music, and art…essentially anything that has one attempting to get in touch with our inner landscape and make it available for an outward expression.

Paul tells us that “faith without action is meaningless” and Thich Naht Hanh reiterates “mindfulness without engagement is useless”. We need to outwardly live our internal revelations. This is, I think, a critical indicator in whether or not what someone has experienced and/or realized is gnosis rather than an epiphany. And there is a definite difference.

Epiphanies are wonderful, like a door opened onto a winter landscape, they bring a gust of refreshment and invigoration. But they are not gnosis. Why? Because even though epiphanies bring important realizations and understandings to the forefront of our minds, they do not inherently and irrevocably change us. Gnosis does.

Gnosis isn’t so much a “thing” as it is a frame of mind or a way of perceiving our reality or even a previously hidden understanding. Jesus tells us “there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.” One does not obtain it for this implies you were missing it. It’s like stating you have “found God” when He was with you all along. Just because you suddenly noticed the nose on your face doesn’t mean it wasn’t always there.

Gnosis is a gradual lifting of the veil of our senses and our ego, so that for the first time we are able to see and understand the nature of True Reality, that which IS free of our prejudices, judgments and self-interests. It is a symptom not a completion. The goal is Theosis, or total surrender of Self and union with the Divine. Gnosis is the road signs along that path.

So if a person has truly experienced or is experiencing gnosis, then they cannot help but be changed. Through your gnosis, if you are in tune with the nature of our inter-being and oneness with all people around us, then anger at them is no longer possible. Compassion is a natural replacement, and with compassion comes humbleness, kindness, love and a desire to help and serve. It is obvious then from this standpoint to see the difference in those that have mistaken epiphanies for gnosis.

So why do I bring up this distinction? Because I think it is possible, for those of us that have experienced gnosis on a much more subtle level to not live our gnosis in its entirety. We are programmed beings, in many ways mindlessly carrying out robotic actions and reactions based on stimuli and situational behaviours. But our gnosis gives us the ability and the desire to lift off our veil of ignorance and apathy and to begin to live as we ought to, not necessarily as we are expected to or programmed to.

A regular and commited spiritual practice makes it easier to implement these changes in our external lives instead of containing these changes within ourselves. There is also a certain liberation that can be felt by openly living our understandings and gnosis, allowing the example of our lives to speak more clearly then our words ever could. Daily meditation or prayer, for example, gives us the opportunity to engage our gnosis and within it, live in mindfulness in the moment throughout the day. Deprogramming ourselves is hard work and can and will take a lifetime especially with the the pressures of social life and gnosis will not do this work for us, it simply provides a mirror and a template by which we can accomplish this task.

This is a step, I think, that is a trifle overlooked and perhaps neglected in modern Gnosticism. In discussion forums you see people new to the tradition trying to figure out what gnosis is and how to get it. Talking about it is not the way, but living towards it is. There is a certain value to discussion and debate, for learning will naturally serve to augment our understandings, but it cannot and really should not replace an active personal spiritual practice. This can be as simple has faithfully observing the Aurum Solis Solar Practice or running through a Rosary once a day, Catholic or Gnostic, or just sitting quietly in a special space for 10 minutes every morning.

The power behind the practice is not the practice itself but the intent it represents. It is the intent to carve out a space in your life for it, to pattern your life around it, not fitting it in whenever it’s convenient. It is creating that link of mindfulness between yourself and God. It is beginning that relationship with a part of yourself and of the world around you that has always and will always be there. A spiritual practice is like finally focusing at the landscape visible through your window, rather than constantly focusing on the glass fitted between the panes.



  1. […] find there. in the meantime, i would recommend reading Shawn’s post about contemplation & gnosis, which i found useful, as it gives an honest & personal take on what gnosis […]

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