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...]

When We Ignore the Image and Forget the Likeness

According to the Holy Scriptures, we were created in the image and likeness of God. For the Church Fathers, this means that there is an unbreakable relationship between God and humanity inherent in man’s very being, that humanity and God are for ever distinct as creature and Creator, and that a dynamic movement towards perfection, a movement from the image to the likeness, is an inherent part of the spiritually healthy life.  The Fall, like an ontological sickness, weakened man’s relationship with God and derailed the upward movement from the image to the likeness. This derailment, which meant … [Read more...]

More on Thoughts and Prayer

In my last post, I mentioned that we have a choice to make when it comes to how much time and focus we will give to a particular thought.  With our will, we can choose whether we engage the thought and dwell on it or let it pass through the mind like a bird flying through a blue sky, leaving the heart undisturbed.  This exercise of free choice is especially important at times of prayer.  Anyone who has made a serious attempt to pray recognizes that at the very moment of prayer, extraneous thoughts assault us from all sides.  The temptation at this point is to throw up our hands in despair and … [Read more...]

Thoughts and Prayer

Some people think that by attending Church at the prescribed hour, they are fulfilling their Christian duties. They may be, but that is dependent not on the external place and time, not on whether they be “in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem,” but if they worship “in Spirit and in Truth.” How is one to worship truly and spiritually? The answer is simple: to mean what we say and to say it with our heart and from our heart. Cognitively speaking, it means to keep our mind from wandering. Dr. Jeffery Schwartz from UCLA School of medicine in his book, The Mind and the Brain, writes “The only … [Read more...]

Remembrance of God

The nihilistic worldview of which I wrote in the last blog post is a formidable adversary to psychological and spiritual well-being primarily because at the root of nihilism is pride, the greatest of all lies and the most luciferian expression of evil.  (One will find in my book that the spiritual and psychological run along parallel and not dissimilar lines and therefore I often refer to them in conjunction).  That is why the antidote proposed in the last post was the humble remembrance of God.  Traditionally, this is done in two ways: 1) the prayerful recitation of the Psalms and 2) the … [Read more...]

The Nihilistic Worldview and Its Spiritual Consequences

If the contemporary era can be characterized by a particular worldview, that guiding template would have to be nihilism born out of centuries of arrogant philosophical and scientific thought laden with an excessive rationalistic empiricism that was supposed to find the cure to every ill and take the mystery out of every experience.  In chapter 2 of my book I describe the onset of this worldview in these terms, “If anything was “reborn” during the Renaissance, it was the pre-Christian philosophical position of humanism, namely, that ‘man is the measure of all things.’” There are real … [Read more...]

“Wherever You Go, There You Are”

This blog post’s title is not an original one.  It’s used in AA circles when discussing the so-called “geographical cure” whereby alcoholics are tempted to think that a change of venue may be the cure to what ails them.  However, it’s not just for alcoholics or those suffering from addiction.  It’s an apt expression for each of us burdened by the human condition. In Greek monastic settings, the watchword is “ouk en topo, all’ en tropo,”a saying taken from Evagrius on achieving virtue and basically meaning it’s not the place, but the way of living in the place that is key to leading a virtuous … [Read more...]

Despondency and the Application of Biblical Parallels to Personal Experiences

The initial stages of the spiritual life resemble the experience of falling in love for the first time. Being with one’s beloved makes everything beautiful. During such periods, many people experience an abundance of divine consolation. Prayer is effortless and the benefits derived therefrom seem endless. This stage is marked by the grace given by God in order to attract the soul to spiritual concerns and draw her away from sin and the transitory, sham happiness offered by the world.  However, this initial grace is withdrawn in order that a deeper, more profound purification can take place.  … [Read more...]

More on Butterfly Wings, Strange Attractors, and the Human Soul

In an earlier post, we spoke about one way that the butterfly effect from chaos theory can be applied to the spiritual life and the inner world of our thoughts. We spoke of the macro effects reverberating throughout all of humanity. We can also consider how a single powerful thought, like a lone fluttering butterfly, can reverberate throughout the world of one’s consciousness and paradoxically enough utterly change it. Turning from the world at large to the single soul, we are simply following fathers such as Saint Maximus the Confessor who taught that the world can be viewed as macrocosm of a … [Read more...]

The One Thing Needful

“To leave this bruised and wounded state, there is but one path, that of repentance.” We may speak at length about strategies for coping with bad thoughts; we may carefully develop approaches for cultivating good thoughts; we may wax eloquent about all the ills that afflict humanity; but without repentance (μετανοία), that deep change (μετα) in the basic orientation that governs our life (νόησις), we remain very much and very sadly the same.  This is true because what fundamentally ails us is our estrangement from God. In order for the therapies, strategies, and reconstructed schemata to be … [Read more...]