For quite a while now, I’ve found myself in a repeated conversation with various people. The topic? Simply this: our thoughts. For one it is the question of, “How can I quiet chaotic thoughts? ...my mind races all the time. I don’t know how to make it quiet.” For another, it is thought manifested in worry. “I don’t know how to escape the repeated images in my mind. I keep creating the worst case scenario...” Still another said, “I can’t rest...my body is tired, but my mind never shuts off.”
I say, simply, but in truth, our thoughts and the effect they have on our physical body and behavior is a complex thing. I’m not endeavoring to make this a scientific exploration, but just wish to share some things I’ve learned. This much is clear: there is direct relationship between our thoughts and how we feel, which affect behavior. Most of us live in a fast paced world where modern gadgets that seek to connect us, actually distance us from human interaction. A world where the to-do lists must get done, at the expense of tending the garden of holiness, or of friendship and family. A place where we must strive to get ahead because the economy is against us, or a chronic state of fear besets us because our loved ones are suffering and we don’t know what tomorrow holds. Add to that, the continuous stream of advertising and headlines to remind you of the harsh world just outside the door. These things carry weight and it’s no wonder we have a million chaotic thoughts running through our minds at all times.
But have you considered that your thoughts do not have to control you? Have you ever considered the notion that you can entertain good thoughts and bar the door against damaging ones? Have you thought that this is what Christ wants for you?
|Prayer Rope, or Orthodox Chotki|
Reflect on the words of Christ as written by the beloved apostle, St. John:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27)
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Puzzling isn’t it? I mean, how can I watch the news and at the same time, understand the words of Christ and enter into His peace?
How does that knowledge translate into experiencing that peace & calm and not just knowing it exists? It’s the difference between studying the rings of a felled tree and experiencing the coolness of the shade it provided. I experience that blessedness through the life of the Church and want to submit to you a few things that have helped me to quiet that inner chaos, to enter into Christ’s peace:
Saying the Jesus Prayer & using a Chotki
I learned about the “Jesus Prayer” through my Orthodox reading some years ago but never implemented it until Fr. Seraphim recommended it as part of my daily prayer life. The Jesus Prayer, “Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” , is based on the plea of the publican in the temple found in St. Luke 18:9-17:
“But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’
Although it may seem simplistic, this prayer is anything but... it is powerful because it centers our thoughts upon Christ and our relationship to Him. My personal experience has proven to me time and again that when I say this prayer, the chaos of my mind decreases and I am ushered into the calm of Heaven. If you’re skeptical, try this:
Remove all distractions from a room (turn off the t.v., radio, phone, and any other techno devices) sit down on the edge of a chair or sofa, attentively, with back straight. Face your icon corner (or if you don’t use icons, place a cross or the Word of God before you) and say the Jesus Prayer for 10 minutes. Ok, try 5 minutes. It’s not easy! You’ll discover just how much our enemy uses the constant distraction of our thoughts to keep us away from the purity of prayer and centering our minds upon God.
"Be still and know that I am God."
This is the beginning of meditation, bringing our thoughts under control. Prayer and meditation are not passive, but actively seeking God in our innermost being. It requires effort, discipline and strength; all of which Christ grants as we seek Him.
Using the prayer rope, or Chotki, aids this prayer discipline. Contrary to what some may think, this devotional tool is just that - a tool. It is not magic or a superstitious charm. It’s a material tool (usually made of wooden beads or wool) that helps us to focus on prayer. As the beads move through our hand with each recitation of the Jesus Prayer, we are connecting the physical with the mental, tuning our bodies and minds to Jesus Christ.
Stay tuned for the next entries about quieting the mind through meditation and spiritual readings.