When Sickness Heals Sickness: The Podvig of Illness Healing the Illness of Egocentricity

Podvig is a Russian term that is used to describe struggle, ascesis, and quite literally, hard work that become spiritual offerings by virtue of the orientation of the soul from self to God.  In the previous posts concerning egocentricity, Elder Sophrony noted that harmful self-love can be overcome only through much struggle and effort.  According to Saint Theophan the Recluse, “all the saints accept the only true path to virtue to be pain and hard work... lightness and ease are a sign of a false path. Anyone who is not struggling, not in podvig, is in prelest” [spiritual delusion] (The Path … [Read more...]

The Cosmic Power of Kenotic Prayer: From Egocentricity to the World’s Salvation

In the last post, we looked at the debilitating effects of egocentricity and philautia. I also suggested that when the nous functions properly, being God-centered replaces egocentricity and the love of God and neighbor takes the place of philautia.  In this post, I would like to examine how the nous is renewed through prayer of cosmic dimensions by reflecting upon the writings and counsels of Elder Sophrony, the spiritual child of Saint Silouan the Athonite.  In Elder Sophrony’s work, Saint Silouan the Athonite, the Elder speaks about “prayer for the entire Adam,” which can occur only once the … [Read more...]

The Fallen Ego versus the Renewing Nous: The Ancient Battle for Supremacy of the Soul

In diagnosing the post-fallen human condition, the ancient fathers recognized that the natural order of the soul had become disordered.  As a result of the Fall, the lower aspects of the soul—the discursive faculty, the desiring faculty, and the aggressive faculty—have become so dominant and reduced the faculty of the nous to such obscurity that by the time of Plato, the soul was defined exclusively by the three lower faculties and known as the tripartite soul. In the present state of affairs, the nous, highest faculty of the soul through which the soul has communion with God, has been … [Read more...]

Patristic vs. Contemporary Secular Notions Concerning Thoughts

For the purposes of this blog post, I would like to make some general statements about the contemporary secular worldview concerning the thoughts.  Such a worldview holds that there is essentially no moral character to thoughts; only actions are right or wrong in relation to the rights of others in society at large.  Thoughts are neither good nor bad, but in the language of evolution, adaptive to one’s environment leading to self-actualization, or maladaptive leading to mental distress. And of course, the distress is mine to keep if I want it.  Thoughts expressing anger, lust, or jealousy are … [Read more...]

Philautia versus Agape

In my last post I shared some thoughts about the patristic notion of philautia and the psychological concept of self-esteem.  In this post, I would like to offer a reflection upon the difference between philautia and agape.  As I described it, philautia is characterized by an obsession with the self.  It is always directed inward and if perchance it finds itself concerned with others on the outside, it is only because of their importance for the preservation of the self’s inner world, the center of all possible universes.  This tends toward a narcissistic myopia that holds up an illusion of … [Read more...]

Self-esteem, Philautia, and the Fathers’ Solution

For many people, the barometer, that determines whether they are happy or not, has to do with their self-esteem. William James once defined self-esteem as “perceived competence in domains of importance.” So if I value writing good posts, my self esteem should go up if others tell me that such is the case and I will then feel good about myself. If a businessman values becoming a CEO, a promotion to that position will be a promotion in self-esteem that will make him feel good about himself. If young woman values being a smart dresser, comments by others to that effect will increase her … [Read more...]

Self-Pity and Self-Satisfaction Opposite Sides of the Same Self-centered Coin

In a recent blog post entitled “Get Tough With Yourself”, the author relates the unavoidable pitfalls for people who give in to self-pity.  I’ve broached this subject before in a previous post (Patristic Cognitive Tools for Coping With Bad Thoughts) in which I related the AA slogan “poor me, poor me, pour me another”.  Self-pity is one of the first signs of giving up, throwing in the towel, and beginning the downward spiral of comfort-seeking rather than virtuous striving. Here’s an excerpt from the “Get Tough With Yourself” blog post, “Anytime a man is in a downed place—i.e. he’s annoyed, … [Read more...]

Pain of Heart

In Chapter 2 of my book I discuss the problem of pain in terms of cognitive therapy and the ascetic tradition.  While there may be some outward similarities, there are also some really important differences.  Here’s an excerpt to clarify both: “In terms of a diagnosis of the human condition, cognitive therapy locates the sources of human psychological dysfunction in (1) egocentric biases leading to inappropriate anger, envy, cravings, etc., and false beliefs, (2)underlying self-defeating beliefs that reinforce biases, and (3) attaching negative meaning to events.  These dysfunctional … [Read more...]

More “Where Thoughts Lead Us”

There's been quite a bit of discussion concerning the last blog post "Where Thoughts Lead Us" so I thought I'd add a few thoughts to what I'd said in the last post: Yes, the woman could have been calmly assertive in a non-threatening way and checked out  her interpretations with her colleagues and that may have resulted in some minor shifts in the group dynamic towards egalitarian behavior. Fine. But that's not the path that leads to holiness, which is the only path worth walking upon. I repeatedly tell my spiritual children that evil can never be destroyed with evil, but only with goodness. … [Read more...]

Where Thoughts Lead Us

I’ll begin this blog post with a story related to me by an acquaintance.  It involves a work situation and how one’s thoughts can lead to destructive and bad behavior.  It’s a story about a successful female executive who is a junior partner in a firm.  While she has attained success, status in the firm, and is widely regarded as a bright, articulate lawyer, she harbors deep-seated resentment for what she perceives as “slights” from her male partners.  As she continued to harbor these feelings, nurturing them in her imagination, she was unable to interact with her partners without seeking out … [Read more...]