Philokalia, Part II

On the second method of attention and prayer

The second method is this: a man tears his mind away from all sensed objects and leads it within himself, guarding his senses and collecting his thoughts, so that they cease to wander amid the vanities of this world; now he examines his thoughts, now ponders over the words of the prayer his lips utter, now pulls back his thoughts if, ravished by the devil, they fly towards something bad and vain, now with great labor and self-exertion strives to come back into himself, after being caught and vanquished by some passion.  The distinctive feature of this method is that it takes place in the head, thought fidgeting against thought. In this struggle against himself, a man can never be at peace in himself, nor find time to practice virtues in order to gain the crown of truth.  Such a man is like one fighting his enemies at night, in the dark; he hears their voices and suffers their blows, but cannot see clearly who they are, whence they come and how and for what purpose they attack him; because he himself remains in his head, whereas evil thoughts are generated in the heart.  He does not even see them, for his attention is not in his heart.  The darkness enveloping his mind and the storm raging in his thoughts are the cause of this defect (for they prevent him from seeing this), and it is impossible for him to slip away from the demons, his enemies, and avoid their blows.

But if, together with all this, a man is overcome by vainglory and imagines he has attention on himself as he should, the unhappy man works in vain and will even lose his reward for ever.  In his pride, he despises and criticizes others and praises himself, deeming himself worthy to be a shepherd of human sheep and to guide others—and so he is like a blind man who undertakes to lead the blind.

Such is the second method of attention and prayer.  Every man striving after salvation should know the harm it does to the soul and should carefully watch himself.  Still, this method is better than the first, just as moonlight is better than a dark night without a moon.

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