“He who yokes the practice of the virtues to spiritual knowledge is a skillful farmer, watering the fields of his soul from two pure springs. For the spring of spiritual knowledge raises the immature soul to the contemplation of higher realities; while the spring of ascetic practice mortifies our earthly members: ‘unchastity, uncleanliness, passion, evil desire’. Once these are dead, the virtues come into flower and bear the fruit of the Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control’. …
“Take note, too, that you who are a good friend of Christ, that if one passion finds a place in you and takes root there, it will introduce other passions also into the same shrine. For even though the passions, as well as their instigators the demons, are opposed to each other, yet they are all at one seeking our perdition.” ~The Philokalia
Gaining Spiritual Knowledge
Increasing our spiritual knowledge, and reaching higher levels of consciousness by doing so, is what real spirituality is all about. I’m not sure the metaphor of a farmer of spirituality is a great one, but the idea of such a farmer watering his soul from two springs does create an inviting image.
The first spring mentioned is that of Spiritual knowledge, and that is as it should be because you can make little progress without it. This does not mean that ultimate level of spiritual knowledge called “Gnosis,” although that is the goal. Some minimal spiritual knowledge is necessary to make any progress at all.
Spring of Knowledge
You would not head out on a journey to an unknown land without getting maps, planning a route, and possibly hiring a professional guide. The same is true for one entering the realms of spirit for the first time. It can be a very difficult place to find if you just wander around blindly with no idea how to get there. You need a map in the form of instruction on how to awaken and develop the spiritual faculties that lie dormant within us. You not only need the map, but you need to “plan a route” in a sense, by first figuring out where you currently are on that path of spiritual development, and how to move forward. This will likely include studies in the form of readings, and setting aside time to regularly practice spiritual development techniques (yes there is such a thing, it doesn’t just happen).
Spring of Ascetic Practice
Actually, the severe forms of asceticism practiced by some monks (The Philokalia was written to instruct monks) is unnecessary, and may actually be counter productive. It is true that we should avoid excessive self-indulgence since that is one of the tools those demons use to control us, but we do not have to live like naked in a cave and eat bugs, we don’t even have to live in a monastery and wear robes. We can, if we have sufficient self-control, and a community of others to help us, live as a part of society, hold down a regular job, and wear fashionable clothes. The important think is that we don’t over indulge in such things, or become too attached to them. It is just fine, for example, to own car for transportation, it is not acceptable to own a fleet of luxury cars because you thing God wants you to be rich. God doesn’t want you to suffer in poverty, but neither does he want you stealing other people’s share of natures bounty to satisfy your own greed, thereby denying them simple needs and comforts.
Watering the Soul
I once accidentally killed a houseplant when I fetched water in a cup that still had a bit of coffee in the bottom. The coffee, apparently, cause the plant to shrivel and die quickly. The point is that how often you “water” or “feed” your soul isn’t the only consideration. You must take care that you are not giving it poison. When you engage in spiritual practices, you should do so with a joyful, positive state of mind, or at least a neutral one. If you engage in spiritual practices while angry, jealous, or full of other negative thoughts and emotions, you will make no progress, You need to learn to clear your mind of such things before you do those practices.