There are some who scoff at the notion of slowing down. But I can attest with my own life that this is possible and most beneficial. While I presently have the flexibility of a life without worries of a paying job or raising a young family, for many years I had great responsibilities and jobs that many would say are quite stressful and a young family. Early on in my career as a production control manager in an automobile assembly plant I had to resort to taking tranquilizers to avoid anxiety attacks. Later, I learned how to manage such stress with even greater responsibilities. There was not just the issue of job related stress but also the need for quality time at home with my wife and children. Many have complain that they do not have enough time with their children or even worse feel like their children are bothering them. This, as well as stress, is the result of a life that is not under control and a mind running at too high a speed.
Initially, I did not have the benefit of good instruction about my Orthodox way of life and did not know about the practice of the Jesus Prayer early in my life. My faith at that time was about going to church most Sundays. But I was led (I am now sure it was by my guardian angel) to learn about the practice of passage meditation. This allowed me to learn to slow my life down, to manage job related stress and to have quality time with my family without feeling that they were bothering me because of my overly busy schedule and relentless responsibilities of work.
At the urging of a friend who heard about the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, I went to a meditation retreat for a weekend. As a result, I made a choice to spend a half-hour each morning saying over and over slowly in my mind the prayer of Saint Francis. I simply chose to get up a half-hour earlier each day to do this. I committed to do this every day without fail. I convinced myself that each day I missed would be like losing three days practice. I did this even when I traveled, which I was frequently called to do because of my work as a general manager. Rather than giving me less time, by taking this half-hour in the morning I gained more quality time later. I immediately saw how confused my mind was and began to observe my own thoughts. This is a perspective gained that comes from a higher part of our soul. This is one of the first significant insights I gained from this meditation practice. Once you begin to observe your own thoughts you begin to see how you can control them by accepting or rejecting them.
In the practice of passage mediation, which is similar to he practice of the Jesus Prayer, you learn to deal with thoughts that enter your mind when you try and say a passage over and over slowly. You focus on the words of the passage allowing small spaces of silence between them. It is like a physical workout. You exercise you brain "muscles" to slow down your thought process. It is by working at this over and over each day that your mind begins to slow down. Very quickly this begins to have a positive effect our your daily life. At work your mind does not get confused when a stressful situation arises but stays calm and clear so you can address the most difficult issues with your best thoughts and actions. At home you are no longer driven by your worries or left over burdens from your work. You can leave theses thoughts at the office and concentrate on quality time with your family and friends. You are no longer bothered by their interruptions but enjoy this interaction. It's all about control of the mind.
Later, this practice led me to the discovery of the Jesus Prayer which is even more powerful than passage meditation. By repeating, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner," you are humbling yourself in front of God and seeking His mercy and grace. This God freely gives when we are humble and seek His help. So now in addition to the control of the mind you also receive the help of God through His grace to focus your life on His purpose for you. The Jesus Prayer begins to bring us closer to God while at the same time slowing down our life. The passage meditation is more about reducing stress and developing a discipled mind, while the Jesus Prayer will in addition bring you closer to God. Orthodox Christians are most blessed to have this teaching as a part of their faith.
This half-hour in the morning eventually became an additional half-hour in the evening. Then later, I supplemented my Jesus prayer with the reader services of the Church for Matins and Compline plus the reading of psalms. It was a progression.
From my experience, starting with simple passage meditation using the Jesus Prayer, even if it seems mechanical, builds a foundation for true prayer and the possibility of controlling the passions that distract us from God and lead us to a stressful and busy life.
You can find more information about the Jesus Prayer on our Orthodox Prayer website
or in other postings in this blog
. On the Orthodox Prayer website you will find articles
by many Church Fathers as well as other references for your study. But, as my initial meditation teacher used to say, "Just start it and do it every day for a half-hour." It's that simple. Start and struggle with the thoughts that will try and distract you. It's not as easy as you might think. As you struggle you will naturally gain a welcome control of your mind. This is only gained by doing it and not reading about it. So do it!