Friday, June 4, 2010

Guarding the Mind - Watchfulness - Getting at the Root

Engaging in spiritual disciplines such as fasting, we develop the will to exercise self-control over our passions.  But the real cure is to eradicate the root––to get rid of the passionate thoughts.

Fr Dimitru Staniloae tells us that passionate thoughts are put into our consciousness by Satan. He attacks where we are weak by amplifying patters that have been etched in our brain by previous behaviors. We also have good thoughts that come from the spirit. But they too can be transformed into passionate thoughts. Our passionate thoughts come from connections with our biological being and its desires. The challenge is to connect the good thoughts which come from God to oppose the ones that arouse our passions.

Our aim is dispassion.  Dispassion is the dominance of the good thoughts which are calm and peaceful.  It is where we overcome our automatic responses to our desires or passions.

Mark the Ascetic says,
We must bring any good thought that arises within us––just as soon as it appears––to Christ as a sacrifice.
 In this way it is protected and not likely to be polluted with thoughts which amplify our passions. Think of this as a shepherd tending his flock of sheep.

Evagarius says,
The thoughts of this world, the Lord has given to a man like sheep, to a good shepherd... . So the anchorite must keep this flock day and night so that no lamb be seized by wild beasts, or by thieves... . Thus if the thought about our brother is spun around in us and enveloped in hate, we should know that a beast has gotten hold of it.
So, let your simple thoughts be directed to Christ, bringing them to Him as a sacrifice. In this way we create a shield to protect us.

Fr. Dimitru says,
The guarding of the thoughts is a shield which the mind itself produces.  Of course the mind can't be stopped from working continually.  Therefore we must supervise it continually. The purpose of this watchfulness is twofold: When the thought is received we should see that either it develops into a devout one and creates an association with pious ones, or that with the appearance of other thoughts as the beginning of still more, we should see from the first moment that they are directed to the safe channel. This is a narrow way, a way sustained by a continual effort which at the beginning is very hard, but in time also becomes easier.
This is an advanced step and requires preparation and a life dedicated to Christ with continual repentance. More on this to come.

Ref: Orthodox Spirituality, p 158 - 162

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