Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Wandering Mind in Prayer?

One of the great barriers to effective prayer is a mind that is out of control and wanders off to other subjects at the same time you are reciting your prayer. It's amazing that you can be saying the words of your prayer while you mind is in great detail thinking about an event involving your best friend or some problem you are facing. Why is this a problem? Where is your attention when this happens? It's not on your prayer and not on God!

Saint Theophan advices us as follows,
"You must not allow the thoughts to wander voluntarily, but when they stray involuntarily, you must immediately turn them back, reproaching yourself, regretting and grieving over your weakness."

Notice that he used the word "immediately." This is where we have to do a bit of forcing to reign in this beast called mind and "immediatley turn it back." It's like an untrained puppy. With training it becomes a most essential part of your spiritual life.

Similarly Saint Macarius says,
"Nor should they in prayer be satisfied... while all the while their mind wanders far from Him. They must guard against every neglect of thoughts and unseemly attitude and turn the whole soul with the body back to prayer."

Notice that He says, "every neglect." You may go for minutes and not be aware that you have lost control of your prayer and your mid has taken you elsewhere. As soon as you recognize this do not be tempted to continue what is most likely a most interesting dialogue you mind is having. No distraction during prayer is acceptable.

A wandering mind is normal and something we must struggle to over come. One of the things we are doing in prayer is learning to harness this powerful part of our body so our heart, our soul, can open and become focused on God's uncreated light. It is with this discipline, a mastery of attention, that the Holy Spirit fills us with God's grace helping us to live the virtuous life.

Saint Isaac the Syrian says,

When the mind turns away from distractions and wandering thoughts... and abides quietly within itself and the heart awakens for the searching out of deliberations that are within the soul."

Attention in Prayer

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