I am now doing “Consciousness, Part 2” for two reasons. The first is an email that I received from a recent college graduate, and the second is to refine a little more for myself and for you how we deal with negative thoughts. So about the email exchange: I counseled a young woman, both on email and on the telephone—we’ve talked over the last while. Recently, she broke up with her boyfriend of some long-standing, who had great promise for her for her future, and for very good reasons she broke up with him. When she asked to speak with me and when we spoke on the phone, she was very negative about herself, very self-downing, very glum. So as we talked, I pointed out to here: There are two things. There’s the event of the break-up, and there are your thoughts about the break-up. Much of her dark thoughts was the pain she was causing the young man, and he, on his part, was fueling that fire by telling her how pained he was and how he couldn’t live without her and so on. I won’t go into the details of why the break-up, but from my point of view it was for very, very good reasons.
So she and I spoke about thoughts, her thoughts about the break-up. We spoke about how she might counteract her dark thoughts as temptations, that when she began to think less of herself and become depressed, that was not helpful nor even appropriate in this situation. The next day, after we spoke on the phone at some length, she sent me an email that said,:
It’s good to know my thoughts don’t have control over me, and I can use the darkness of them as a prompt to pray or call on Jesus while dismissing the thoughts. I’d also like to add that after our phone conversation yesterday I felt an incredible amount of peacefulness throughout the rest of my day, I kept saying, “Peace that surpasses understanding,” and that’s the only way I could explain it. That was the rest of my day.
And that’s what she said. Well, you and I know that in the conversation whatever I said to her was from God, not me, but it was exceedingly helpful to her to understand that she can actually counteract her dark thoughts and knowing that and doing that gave her great peace. So that’s what I’m trying to do [in] part 2 here.
I also want to say that in Part 1, I mentioned that most of our thought, most of the day, most of our thoughts are dark, and when we become aware of them, we say no, and then I say one word, “Jesus.” That’s according to Fr. Lev Gillet, from his book, On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus, who says that the single word, the name, “Jesus,” is the short form of the Jesus prayer. That wasn’t really clear in Part 1, at least not sufficiently clear for me. So I just want to let you know, listeners, how I try to deal with my mind, that I’m aware of so many worries and thoughts…
And you know what’s really interesting? Most of our worry projections about what might happen in an hour or in a day or at this meeting or with this activity or with children we know, most of the dark what-ifs, they never happen. So when we’re in the mindset of the dark what-if—“Oooh, what if, what if, what if?”—that’s time that’s not very creative. It’s not very useful; it’s not very joyful, because it’s dark. This little podcast, and Part 1 is an attempt to help us have those less-joyful, less-creative dark moments, to have them less. The end goal of this, as T.S. Eliot suggests, “The end is the beginning, the terminus.” The end goal of these thoughts is to become more aware of these thoughts and to combat them with the words, “No,” [and] “Jesus.” It’s pretty simple. Hard, but pretty simple. It’s hard, because I want to think my thoughts. I want to know where my thoughts are going. I want to know where my stream of consciousness is going.
So some of the Fathers do look upon dark thoughts, logismoi, as gifts from God that we can use to turn and become more prayerful. That’s what we’re saying. We’re told that all behavior, virtue and vice, good and bad, all behavior begins as thought. St. Gregory of Sinai says that first comes the thought, then the sin; first the thought, then the virtue is enacted, or basically enfleshed the spirit.
I’m going to play a couple of bars of the song that I played in Part 1 from the Medford, New Jersey, choir, that will tie this podcast in with the other podcast, “The Lord is My Light and My Salvation.”
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Whom then shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life.
Of whom shall I then be afraid?
That song, then, shows us that the Lord is our light. Most of our thoughts are negative, but we do have positive thoughts. That is the Lord guiding us in the Lord’s way. He said that. He said, “My sheep hear my voice,” in John 10, and in the Book of Revelation 3:20, it says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in with him and eat with him, and him with me.” And that’s the end of that quote. And the Fathers, some interpret that knock as heart, Jesus knocking at our heart all day long and night long, always long, trying to have us… He’s trying to be our strength and our song.
So our thoughts are mostly negative, sometimes positive, and we learn to distinguish the two. It’s pretty easy to distinguish the two. God’s thoughts, Christ’s thoughts in us, produce peace, as I quoted that email from that lovely young woman. Dark thoughts, negative thoughts, cause anguish, worry, glum[ness], depression. So we know that. Rejecting negative thoughts can be an inner martyrdom, because sometimes they seem overwhelming and larger than life. Negative thoughts can enlarge during times of low moral resistance. They’re often unpredictable, and they can happen suddenly; they can happen in the middle of the night or evening as we’re going to sleep, times when we’re sick. It’s hard, then, to resist temptation. It’s hard to resist negative thoughts.
Other times of moral resistance can be what’s called HALT, H-A-L-T: times when we’re hungry, angry (A-angry) or anxious (A-anxious), L-lonely, or tired. Negative thoughts during these times seem more difficult to combat precisely because we have less combative strength. It might be low blood sugar; it might be the common cold; it might be some more serious sickness. But we do have the words of St. Paul: “When I am weak, then I am strong,” because we can, to the extent that we can, say, “No. Jesus!” And then the name Jesus becomes a filter. The filter of the name Jesus can filter incoming thoughts from ourselves or from wherever the thoughts come, and outgoing thoughts, activities, so Jesus is our strength and our salvation.
I completed this podcast a couple of days ago and am now adding this addendum—that’s a fancy word, but an extra—because I received an email from the young woman I mentioned at the beginning, because I wrote to her and asked her permission to use the content summary of her email, because I did not want to offend her in any way. I really do treasure her delicacy, her respectfulness. So she sent me back this email that I’m going to read to you.
I am totally okay with you using any of our conversations. The conversation with you truly had a great impact on me for the better. The thoughts do not stop, but they have much less power. As much as they come, I am given another opportunity to call on the sweet name of Jesus.
Now I share that with you. Again, it’s not me; it’s God through me. I know that; you know that. But I simply want to say that this process of becoming aware of our thoughts and confronting them, when we’re aware of them, the dark ones, we say, “No,” and then the word, “Jesus.” That process works, and this recent college graduate, who’s struggling with some very dense, dark thoughts, testifies to the process working.
I’d also add that the word “Jesus” is code for the Jesus prayer. So I get a negative thought: “Oh, I have to worry about tomorrow”—“No. Jesus!” And then I try to become aware of the present moment, all the kaleidoscope of meaning that the present moment holds. But I want to add that that word, “Jesus,” when we say it, is the Jesus prayer, and it’s an act of surrender of the thought, the dark thought, that we’re having. “Oh, I’m so worried!”—Jesus. But not only does the word “Jesus” contain, is a code for, surrendering the thought to Jesus, it can be code of surrender at that moment for surrendering all of me to Jesus. So I get a dark thought: “Oh, I’m so worried about tomorrow, oh, oh, oh!”—No. Jesus. And then I become aware of the present moment.
So the dark thought was a stimulus cue to prompt me to say no and then the word “Jesus,” and thereby surrendering all of me to him then. So dark thoughts can be an opportunity many times a day to surrender that thought and all of me to him. So this is the little extra that I wanted to add.