As the early contemplatives worked the example of Jesus into their own desert psychology, they realized the importance of not getting caught up in interior dialogues; for this gives way to the obsessive thinking that spells the ruin of inner peace, to say nothing of prayer. The demons could not enter the inner depths of the person. This was the Lord’s domain. But the demons could exert considerable effort to keep us ignorant of these inner depths by bombarding us with whatever thoughts would most likely excite our patterns of obsession (the technical term for them is “the passions”). Once these obsessive patterns got going, the contemplative was thoroughly preoccupied by the flood of churning commentary that followed. Decade after decade, indeed a lifetime, can be spent in front of these videos.

The desert contemplatives saw this mind tripping all too clearly in their own lives and took to heart Jesus’ example of refraining from inner dialogue with the afflictive thoughts. Instead of talking to yourself, recite, as Jesus did, a short phrase from Scripture. And so during periods of manual labour or solitary prayer, a short phrase, or a word was quietly repeated. An early example of this is found in St. Diadochos of Photiki. “When we have blocked all its outlets by means of the remembrance of God, the intellect requires of us imperatively some task which will satisfy its need for activity. For the complete fulfilment of its purpose we should give it nothing but the prayer ‘Lord Jesus.’ ‘No one,’ it is written, ‘can say “Lord Jesus” except in the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor 12:3). Let the intellect continually concentrate on these words within its inner shrine with such intensity that it is not turned aside to any mental images.”

Martin Laird. Into the Silent Land. A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation, Oxford University Press, 2006. 50-51.

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