Jesus said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided house falls”
– Luke 15:17
“Where do you live?” Several times last week I was asked that simple direct question. I responded with the expected answer by providing the street address of my house. However, being a teacher of meditation, the answer I wanted to give was much more nuanced. Where do I live? I live where you do. We all live in our minds.
We may think we live in our homes. But 24 hours a day, whether residing in our residence or not, we dwell in our minds. If an important visitor were coming to our home, we would most likely clean the house and perhaps adorn it with flowers. But how much attention do we give to cleaning and purifying the mind?
We may think we live in our bodies. A lot of interest goes toward our physical appearance, staying healthy and keeping fit. Yet most people give little attention to creating a mental environment of contentment or ridding their psyche of mental demons which inflict so much misery.
The mystics of all religious traditions stress the importance of purifying the mind of mental defilements. Evagrius Ponticus, an under-appreciated monk of the fourth century, was an astute observer of the inner world. In Praktikos, his guide to the Christian ascetical life, Evagrius analyzes the cognitive processes of meditation. One of his great legacies is a description of the principal mental defilements which obscure awareness and thwart access to the inner dwelling of Christ in our hearts. This eventually becomes the foundational source for the catalog of seven deadly sins. But Evagrius’ concern is not with a list of moral misdeeds. He wants to explore and expose the subtle mental dynamics which ensnare the mind and hinder us from abiding in God-consciousness.
These obstructive mental phenomena (logismon) he describes as demons. Evagrius writes: “We must take care to recognize the different types of demons and note the special times of their activity…so that when these various evil thoughts set their own proper forces to work we are in a position to address effective words against them…. In this manner we shall…pack them off, chafing with chagrin, marveling at our perspicacity” (Praktikos, #43).
Evagrius helps us understand that the demons Jesus speaks about in the Gospel (Luke 11:15-26) are not just sentient spiritual beings, but any dynamic mental force which inhibits the Reign of God from permeating our consciousness. They come ensconced in the destructive mental patterns of cogitation, rumination, and daydreaming. They appear as revelers in the inner cocktail parties of our minds – commenting, labeling, criticizing, judging, lamenting and desiring.
Anyone who has meditated for two minutes knows that if you think you control your mind, think again. Generally, we are not masters of our mind. We are afflicted with numerous mental obscurations which entangle us in misery and lead us astray. For this reason, St. Paul suggested: “be renewed in the spirits of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23). This is the work of meditation. This is the arduous path of purification which gradually enables us to “receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14).
Now, if you would please excuse me, I’ve got to get back to cleaning my house!
Fr. Joe Mitchell, CP is the President of the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center in Louisville, Kentucky. See his website: http://www.earthandspiritcenter.org/