The wandering mind

Dear friends of Jesus’ prayer,

I begin my epistolary relationship with you by dealing with an incessant process, a constant dialogue, a permanent oscillation. It is our wandering mind that moves like a leaf blown by the wind. It is necessary to become aware of the state of our mind, how it tricks us, how enslaved we are by its ups and downs.

The movement of the body’s moods is reflected in it. For each digestive process, respiratory rhythm, state of the organs, each muscular tension, there is an inmediate mental agitation without us noticing it. It is what we usually call thoughts. But it would be more accurate to speak of ramblings, because thought is something organized and the outcome of intention.

A keen observation shows us that sensible thoughts are rare and that, in general, they are formed on the basis of cravings binding us to different kinds of appetites. Jesus’ prayer is a long and deep path that nevertheless does not take long to show its effects. But to do so, it is necessary to be clear as to what the first objective is: to replace ramblings with prayer.

Although it may not seem so, that permanent background chatter that constitutes the internal dialogues, can be silenced in not much time through the repetition of the Holy Name of Jesus Christ. After prayer has become a habit of the mind, it will be time for new stages of deepening, worship, silence and contemplation.

But to acquire this holy habit it is necessary to make the inner act of renunciation to mental chatter. Silence of the mouth is useful as long as it results from mental silence. Otherwise, he who is silent outside, shouts inside.

There are those who believe that Jesus’ prayer, also called “prayer of the heart”, is a method with regard to the meaning of “way”, and it is not wrong to think so. But those who practice it assiduously and over a long period of time have been convinced that it is much more. It is a way of living in the Presence of the Lord and it comes to modify the life of the practitioner from its very root. Those who go into it cannot go back. It is necessary to do some reflection before adopting it for oneself, since it produces an increasing depth in one’s own consciousness, in such a way that to know oneself as something small, in extreme need of divine help and prey to innumerable weaknesses, becomes evident.

From the point of view of the psyche, the one that embraces this prayer has to part with thoughts. The main difficulty is not to get used to prayer but to reject the thoughts. This is because we usually identify this flow of the mind with ourselves. This is not so, but it takes a while to realize it. We are not that which speaks at every moment, I am not the one who thinks this or that; I am not that opinion or that judgment or belief about that other person or what is beyond.

One comes to discover by one’s own experience and not by sayings or readings, that Christ dwells in the heart as a continuous altar lamp. And in the light of that beautiful radiance the very face of the sincere seeker who chose His Name as a tool, flag and object of devotion will come to be revealed. Those who are very attached to their thoughts should not begin this path. Nor should anyone who is satisfied with their spiritual life. It is for those who have not yet found God, for those who do not feel satisfied with their progress, for those who sometimes feel that they fail continuously in everything they undertake. And not because things go wrong for them in the world necessarily but because they do not feel complete in any activity.

The Lord calls us through different ways and all of them are suitable for different persons. To this path one also has to be called. This call usually manifests as an inclination of the heart towards simplicity, as a desire for silence and absence of complications. Also as a growing love for the person of Jesus Christ and a deep admiration for him. Therefore, the first thing is to accustom the mind to prayer. There are those who take paper and pencil and write it down as it used to be written in schools, to repeat the writing of a sentence. Some people go out for a walk and carry it on their steps as if accompanying the pace. Others pronounce it with their mouths whenever they can and even sing it. I have also seen those who sit quietly looking for the slow exhalation of the Name.

In general, some things can serve everyone:

– Upon wakening up, when you are barely aware of the start of a new day, pronounce the prayer of Jesus, once and many times, calmly, with your mouth or your mind, while you are getting dressed and preparing yourself for the day.

– Repeat it in every moment of solitude or when you pause in the midst of the frenzy of daily life. Whether you are in an elevator, waiting for the public transport or simply going to the bathroom.

– Appeal to it every time you find yourself restless, distressed or out of focus. Say the chosen phrase with depth of feeling.

– When you go to bed, while you get undressed, as you wrap yourself up in bed, entering into the restful sleep, trust in the mercy of the One whom we name.

Regarding the phrase in Jesus’ prayer

The ejaculatory prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, sinner” besides being the traditional form, offers a benefit that we will discuss later. There are those who replace the word “piety” by “mercy”, understanding by this that they call on the approach of the Lord to their own heart in a better way.

The prayer to be used can be shortened without any problem according to the feeling that the praying person perceives as more appropriate. Even many come to pronounce only “Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ!, as a way of constant adoration. Let us be careful to say it with feeling, emphasizing with emotion the words, whether mental or vocal. But let’s not be discouraged if we say it without having considered it or even not being totally aware of it at some point.

What matters is that it is sculpted throughout the inner temple and automatically will remind us that we were saying it without feeling it. But it is better to repeat His Name without being conscious of it, than to wander with the same unconsciousness around any wind. At some other moment we will deal with the revealed mystery that the same Name brings the presence of the One who is named.

I greet you by calling on Jesus Christ, the source of all mercies.

Change of habits

One of the best teachings I have received about habits and their modification says: “The first step in changing a habit is to replace it with another.” In this clear case, the instruction referred to quitting a harmful habit for another good one, or at least one that was not as harmful as the previous one. This allows the displacement of energy that was used in one activity to another. It is something transitory and in a way it comes to compensate for a deficiency and not to resolve it or transcend it, however it is a good beginning of the transformation.

Then, each time the compulsion or the impulse towards the realization of that habit that I want to give up arises, I immediately start the new behavior with which I intend to replace it. You will remember the example given in “The Russian Pilgrim” where an alcoholic practiced this. Every time he wanted to drink, he read the Gospels and in a short time the urge to drink had passed. And this serves as an example that we can adapt to our own life. This immediate replacement of one behavior for another shows us that vices have a “peak of the wave” and that then it diminishes by itself. It is necessary to go through this kind of “critical moment”, until one can intentionally overcome the stimulus that presses us with strong desire. Habits are formed by simple repetition.

You have to repeat the new behavior you want to install each time the desire for the previous habit appears. In a few days we will feel stronger, increasingly able to overcome the difficult moment. Later, we get used to going through the critical moment without replacing the behavior. We simply remain attentive to this desire that arises with force to repeat some behavior and when observing what happens in some way we differentiate ourselves, we distance ourselves and a space appears that gives some margin of freedom. So first replace, then learn to go through and while this happens, understand what is hidden behind the habit.

A harmful habit is a symptom, it has arisen in response to certain internal and external situations. In a way it served as an analgesic, it was like an anesthetic for the pain that was there at that time. But you cannot live on painkillers, you have to discover and solve the origin of the pain. In very general terms, a life in which we do not find meaning and where we do not often perceive the presence of God in the everyday is a breeding ground for a multitude of harmful habits. The integral answer lies in the sacralization of life. Or, rather, to attend to the sacred that is shown in passing.

But this cannot be imposed, it must be experienced. For this, it is necessary to cultivate attention and train the look. The gaze (towards where we direct the perception) can also get used to and get into the habit of looking for God in everything and everything. A fraternal hug to all invoking the Holy Name of Jesus.

The desert of the unexpected

Our particular internal situation becomes clear when we are in the middle of the desert. When we are left without being able to dispose of what we cling to. Suddenly, we cannot repeat the execution of that habit or start a conversation with that person, we can no longer count on what we had. The desert can come when sickness, unemployment, unwanted loneliness or a sudden change in mood that leaves us in heartburn.

The desert, that which has no boundaries, leaves us without hold, tears away our dependencies, strips us; it shows us its own face, the one we do not want to see, so as not to feel the pain of our constant postponement of change. This figure – that of the desert – which is always mentioned in the history of spirituality, reflects the situation of the human soul: We are here, in the middle of the immensity, included in what cannot be measured or understood.

It is in this situation of perplexity before the mysterious existence, when the real questions can manifest in us. For this reason, The Voice cries out in the desert, (John 1, 23) calling us to profound transformation, to a more true living, inspires us with the desire to make life sacred. Is it that life has meaning without the sacred in it?

The irruption of the desert in our life, -the emergence of the unwanted or the fall of illusions- is a way in which God calls us to awaken the spirit. The emptiness of the desert overwhelms us, dismantles false securities, reveals what it is. What if I am not going to make that purchase? Or if I’m not going to talk to that person? Or if I don’t turn on the television or go online? What if I allow the desert to enter my life? And, in that case, how do you really go through it on a daily basis?

Let us clear the way, so that that Light of which John was a witness may manifest in our lives. (John 1, 6-8) And then how to clear the way?

Opening the spiritual senses

The great mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal was able to say at the time that most of the problems of the human being arise from his inability to sit still and do nothing in his room. How right he was! Let’s reflect on this a bit.

Lacking fullness, that is, a feeling of autonomous well-being in ourselves, we throw ourselves towards things, people and situations, pretending that contact with them produces that satiety that we never achieve. Lacking the perception of the divine presence, life appears to us desecrated, meaningless or with meanings that continually change and are transitory.

We live to achieve this and then that and then the beyond, in a hurry we go after a mirage that will always be ahead. An object, a title, a person, a trip, a love affair, an acknowledgment, a meal … inside us a constant murmur tells us: “When you have this or that you can rest and be happy …” “This now is not important, hurry to achieve that, that is what you lack … ”and similar statements.

The fact is that if we stay still, we soon despair. “Go inside!”, “Heaven is within us”, “Find God in your heart”, the spiritual texts tell us, but when we remain still and pay attention inside, we conect with anxiety, boredom, fear, negative thoughts, oppressive memories, fatalistic imaginations, anger, worries and an extensive menu that makes us go terrified towards any activity that allows us to anesthetize and forget this absence in us: the absence of contentment that derives from a brittle faith , of multiple dependencies and the feeling of being separated from God.

How happy the one who does not fear because he needs nothing! And needs nothing because has everything. He has a heart full of certainty, he feels the living God acting in him, as present and real as the sun feels on his face or the sound of thunder and then heavy rain. It seems necessary to open and strengthen the capacity of our spiritual senses; the eyes of the heart, the ears of the soul, the touch of the Spirit within. How will we do this?

How many activities did I do today feeding dependencies or habits that enslave me? How many activities were there to anesthetize the pain that Your absence causes me? Have I tried to make things, no matter how small, as a worship liturgy? How to officiate the ceremony of the moment? For a muscle to grow, it must be exercised, to achieve proficiency, it must be dedicated to it, any development depends on grace but also requires application of our energy and attention.

Let’s see if we can go on tackling some exercise later that allows us to awaken and strengthen the spiritual senses that lie intact but asleep in the depths of the soul.

The Quality of the eternal

What is the most important thing in your opinion in religious life? What is essential, that which cannot be missing?

The intimate experience of God in the heart. That certainty of his existence, that sense of his presence at every moment while the everyday goes by. The purpose of religious life is to facilitate access to this inner experience. Of course, everyone lives it in their own particularity and approaches or moves away from it according to the path of their own spiritual development.

It is good to remember this, not to forget the ultimate meaning of what we do. Even more so in these times, in which, in addition to a continuous desacralization of human activities, a certain relativism of faith prevails, which I believe manifests a fundamental nihilism.

In a way, it is as if a “habit of disappointment” tended to settle in, a condescending way of looking, as if we knew how all things are and what can be expected of life. More than a routine in itself of events, it is a routine of the gaze, a vice in the way of seeing.

In your opinion, what is the closest thing to this experience of God in your heart?
The sentence. And this, understood not only in its particular liturgical and / or personal meaning, but also as a way of being and being in life, as a way of being the conscience pending of God, of his presence and manifestation while time passes. 
We live unfolding our intention between the categories of space and time; however they are not absolute but are traversed by what we would call the quality of the eternal. This divine quality of events that is present as the background of existence, can be made perceptible to those who, with attention and love, seek the sacred in events.

What happens can be pleasant or unpleasant, it can give us happiness or sometimes a lot of pain; even many times it is incomprehensible, not assimilable. The behavior of others and even our own often leave us perplexed and frightened. However, the intelligence of redemption is also at work there.

Could you explain a bit more?
Hardly. It is something that can be sensed but not fully explained. I would tell you that everything is made for our redemption and transformation, that the destiny of individual and social man is good and perfect, although we cannot see it at times.

And how can one pray, how to reach that state of continuous prayer?
The prayer of Jesus is my way, the invocation of the Name, which tends to replace ramblings and desires and which little by little is focusing us on the only thing necessary. However, there are different ways of praying and approaching God. Each one is called to travel a certain path and that is for something, some particularity has that form to which the heart of each one leans that makes it necessary, suitable for each one.

In general, I would say that it helps not to spend yourself on secondary things, to focus on what is important. We must not forget certain truths, which we do not like to remember very much. We must remember that this life is transitory, that old age, illness and death exist and that only before them do we put things in the necessary perspective.

When you remember these things, you immediately turn to God and wonder about the meaning of life. That question, that excruciating concern is the first form of prayer that I have ever known and, at the same time, the first manifestation of God’s love, of his intimate and personal call.

Renewing the garden

Imagine what was a beautiful garden, which has been abandoned for years. The undergrowth took over and now covers everything. It is hard to guess where those flowering plants survive and the aromatic ones are hidden among the thistles. Everything seems lost. Where to appreciate beauty in this opulent chaos of weeds and vermin of all kinds?

Try to find a small sample of the former beauty. Search well, calmly go reviewing part by part until you find a small flower or one of those plants that you appreciated so much. So, put the general clutter aside. Put all your attention on this little wonder and little by little remove from its environment what is hindering growth. Create for her a space free of danger and that allows her to rise and let herself be caressed by the sun.

Clear its boundaries, remove dry and hardened soil and give it nutrients with pure water. It will not be bad that you also caress its leaves and that you control it avoiding that ants or insects damage it. And from there, from that small clean place he rebuilds the garden. Be patient, it will take days, months or even years. It does not matter how fast you advance but the direction you take. Who goes to her destination walks firm and you can be indifferent to the speed of the march. Establishing the purpose is the important thing and taking it as a north.

Make an effort not to let yourself be carried away by haste, this is the enemy of good work. Anxiety about the final achievement is a mirage that deceives us and ends up draining our forces. In the rest of your life areas it is the same. Apply the garden thing. The ego often deceives us by offering us big and radical goals. They can be very holy goals, but that from so high then they drop us below where we were. We have to accept that we are not special. We are a person like all the others. With our qualities, defects and peculiarities, but we are like everyone else.

Grace knows how to lead us. Attend to the heart as a criterion to decide situations in which we doubt. What is caring for the heart? Not paying much attention to the mental story about ourselves. Rather, attend to those actions that leave us warm in the heart. If we stop for a moment, if we breathe and invoke God, the deep voice of grace that lives in us will tell us what to say, what to do and how to position ourselves in the face of what is happening.