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...]

The Role of the Mind and the Body in Behavioral Modification

The Fathers rightly understood that man is a composite of mind and body and that both must be addressed in order to correct the thoughts and actions.  Long before cognitive psychology appeared on the scene to correct one-side behavioralism, patristic tradition had a unified understanding of human mental functioning in terms of theoria and praxis.  For the Fathers, theoria and praxis refer to the inward and outward aspects of life in Christ respectively.  Theoria concerns the correct ordering and control of thoughts while praxis refers to properly ordered outward acts.  Nepsis (or watchfulness) … [Read more...]

More on Thoughts. . .

One might wonder why I’m spending quite some time on the nature of thoughts.  Well, they are at the root of every human act-whether it be virtuous or full of vice.  The act starts in the thoughts.  It’s also in the realm of the thoughts that the spiritual warfare is fought.  In chapter 8 of my book, entitled, “To Survey the Thoughts”, I note that “monastic tradition enjoins beginners in the Christian life to turn to prayer whenever they are confronted with enticing, ambiguous, or deceitful thoughts.  For example, St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite advises those who are unable to resist or repel … [Read more...]

Loneliness and Monasticism: Incompatible Concepts

Monks, as the name suggests, are solitary sorts who enjoy keeping to themselves. And yet, I think it is safe to say that monks do not suffer extensively from loneliness.  Still, it is not unusual for monks, especially hermits, to be asked if they are lonely. It would appear to be a perfectly natural question from outside of monasticism, but within the cloister walls it sounds strange indeed. When Saint Herman of Alaska was asked if he felt lonely on Spruce Island, he replied, “No, I am not alone there. God is there, as God is everywhere.” His answer suggests not only a qualitative difference … [Read more...]

Monasticism and Mental Health

Orthodox monasticism is an exceptional way of life that requires exceptional resources of the mind and spirit. Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea and revealer of heavenly mysteries, set forth teachings on Orthodox monasticism that have defined it to this day. In his Discourse on Renunciation, he relates "Many come to the virtuous life [meaning monasticism], but few are able to take on that yoke. The Gospel declares, 'The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.' It calls those disciples of Christ to voluntarily endure corporal weariness by the denial … [Read more...]

Healing and Well-being in the Fathers and Contemporary Psychological Research

Therapy and psychological counseling have been concerned for years with pathology-oriented models, essentially borrowed from medicine. Today, however, there is a turning towards Seligman's  "positive psychology" movement and an examining of notions of well-being in order to promote positive psychological functioning with resiliency to stressors. In trying to understand well-being, psychologists define well-being either hedonistically in terms of pleasure or happiness or eudaimonically in terms of self-actualization, meaning, and purpose. These are good attempts, but they fail to offer a … [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...]

Counsel for Daily Training in the Virtues at Home

As teachers of the Christian faith and way of life, the fathers were well aware of basic pedagogical principles such as the necessity to practice learned material consistently in order to apply it in real-life situations.  Christian virtue, like every other art, requires daily practice and the support of others. The faithful are encouraged to study throughout the day whatever they gather from the texts of the liturgical services, from sermons given by priests, or from the advice of spiritual fathers in confession. According to Saint John Chrysostom, it is fitting for the faithful to form study … [Read more...]

Thoughts-What Neuroscience and the Church Fathers Have to Say

To some, Saint Peter of Damascus's list of virtues may not be their first choice in spiritual reading, but it's value extends beyond an attempt at thoroughness or an exercise in categorization. Given the associative nature of memory and the way one idea/thought/image primes neural circuits for a series of related thoughts that in turn have a significant influence on how one engages with the world, reading regularly about the virtues may be one of the best ways to ingrain virtuous behavior. In fact, one doesn't even need an elaborate commentary. Simply mentioning a word -- such as forgiveness, … [Read more...]