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Author Topic: Methods of Focus: Inflame thyself in prayer.  (Read 1408 times) Average Rating: 0
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Babalon
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« on: January 17, 2013, 07:17:54 AM »

I wish to open a discussion on the more practical elements of devotional work. The fact of the matter is, we are creatures of habit and few of us are exempt from the trappings of a wandering mind. That being said, I hope to open up a forum in which we can all discuss the problems surrounding "single-mindedness" and its application in prayer/contemplation/liturgical work, irrespective of religion or lineage. I understand this is an Orthodox website, so it will naturally be populated with questions and observeances tethered to that faith - but the central purpose of this thread is to address topics such as:

What distractions present themselves when you engage in devotional work (prayer,communion, ritual, meditiation) ?

How do you attempt to overcome or prevent these distractions?

Do you feel you've made progress, in the sense of concentration, since you first began practicing/converted?


By no means is this meant to be a linear conversation, but we should avoid dwelling too long on individual statements made by others. We don't need 6 pages of protest in response to a single misinformed post. It should be an advice thread,  or at least something like it.

March on!
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Babalon
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« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2013, 07:24:29 AM »

 I would also add that those "dark nights" ala: St. John of the Cross, are subjects worthy of focus. Periods of dryness when we feel as if God no longer abides with us and our prayers become empty words.  Wink
« Last Edit: January 17, 2013, 07:27:54 AM by Babalon » Logged

stavros_388
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« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2013, 10:20:26 AM »

Good idea, Babalon.

Quote
What distractions present themselves when you engage in devotional work (prayer,communion, ritual, meditiation)? How do you attempt to overcome or prevent these distractions?

Distractions? ALL kinds! In my prayer rule, the canonical prayers and physical movements help set the stage, and set my mind and heart in the correct "direction". During the silent repetitions of the Jesus Prayer, however, is when the brain really begins squirming. In my former meditation practice, I learned a strategy called "labeling" thoughts... not fighting them or stifling them, just noticing what they are. I kind of do this habitually if I get sidetracked in prayer. If I note "daydreaming" or "planning" or what have you, I say a Jesus Prayer out loud and make the sign of the cross, and return to where I was (using a prayer rope to give myself a certain amount of prayers). If my mind is especially busy and I cannot focus, I will switch from mental prayer to vocal prayer, and may even stand up and do prostrations with each prayer.

Quote
Do you feel you've made progress, in the sense of concentration, since you first began practicing/converted?

Yes and no. I can honestly say that over the years, my concentration has generally improved. That said, my concentration has been much, much better in the past when I consistently practiced (something I've failed to do recently).
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"The kingdom of heaven is virtuous life, just as the torment of hell is passionate habits." - St. Gregory of Sinai
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« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2013, 11:03:09 AM »

Hi Babalon, good to 'see' you again.  Smiley  I really liked the title of this thread and your subsequent ideas of discussion. God willing this will be a helpful thread. GBU.
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« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2014, 12:22:50 AM »

Good idea, Babalon.

Quote
What distractions present themselves when you engage in devotional work (prayer,communion, ritual, meditiation)? How do you attempt to overcome or prevent these distractions?

Distractions? ALL kinds! In my prayer rule, the canonical prayers and physical movements help set the stage, and set my mind and heart in the correct "direction". During the silent repetitions of the Jesus Prayer, however, is when the brain really begins squirming. In my former meditation practice, I learned a strategy called "labeling" thoughts... not fighting them or stifling them, just noticing what they are. I kind of do this habitually if I get sidetracked in prayer. If I note "daydreaming" or "planning" or what have you, I say a Jesus Prayer out loud and make the sign of the cross, and return to where I was (using a prayer rope to give myself a certain amount of prayers). If my mind is especially busy and I cannot focus, I will switch from mental prayer to vocal prayer, and may even stand up and do prostrations with each prayer.

Quote
Do you feel you've made progress, in the sense of concentration, since you first began practicing/converted?

Yes and no. I can honestly say that over the years, my concentration has generally improved. That said, my concentration has been much, much better in the past when I consistently practiced (something I've failed to do recently).

I can't believe I forgot about this whole thread!

Anyhow, the "direction" you mentioned is a crucial aspect i feel. Also, it seems most useful when you engage all manner of the senses, the eyes fixated on an object such as an icon, the lungs intaking the incense, beads against the fingertips also serve as useful distractions to direct the consciousness in the proper direction.

Tradition has it that the first problems arise from the body. I guess its more of an issue in eastern mysticism, to intentionally ignore the body. I have such a problem with comfort, given the way I tend to sit during prayer and contemplation. I was once told that if i pick a posture to sit in, i should stick with it until i overcome the body discomforts or else I'm liable to shift positions for eternity.

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« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2014, 01:23:33 AM »

I'm still learning... I've missed getting off the bus many times at the right stop (and stopped just at the point of 'vulgar words!');
sitting up with a friend in a hospital isn't much better, even when he's asleep, the ward-noises aren't!
about the only peaceful 'active' time I have is while kneading prosphora - or any other - bread. With my phone/radio/&c turned off.
Beats using a timer any time!

But my prosphora loaves are still not good enough....   Sigh
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kyril
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« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2014, 01:39:41 AM »

I'm still learning... I've missed getting off the bus many times at the right stop (and stopped just at the point of 'vulgar words!');
sitting up with a friend in a hospital isn't much better, even when he's asleep, the ward-noises aren't!
about the only peaceful 'active' time I have is while kneading prosphora - or any other - bread. With my phone/radio/&c turned off.
Beats using a timer any time!

But my prosphora loaves are still not good enough....   Sigh

I'm having a little trouble understanding this post, but what I do gather from it is a important aspect of all forms of mysticism and something that many people speak about but so few actually practice. It's this point where the whole of ones life becomes a continuous act of devotion, even those apparently mundane acts such as kneading bread. I always see it in the life of monastics, which as I understand, is actually the entire point of becoming a monastic.

As the old saying goes: "If you pray long enough with your lips, you will eventually begin praying with your heart."
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« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2014, 01:52:31 AM »

that's why I do it: the prayer of the lips, for anyone, becomes 'noetic' prayer - the continuous prayer St. Paul urges on us.
Prayer and 'silence' together with fasting and works of mercy are the pillars taught by Christ for our theosis - deification.
It is this 'focus' if you like,that protects us from that other kind of inflammation, worldly and even worse, daemonic.
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kyril
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« Reply #8 on: January 11, 2014, 03:01:34 AM »

We can only overcome distractions through God's Grace, God's literal presence. This is also the real goal, obtainment of His Grace, literal union with Him.
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Babalon
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« Reply #9 on: January 11, 2014, 03:14:59 AM »

We can only overcome distractions through God's Grace, God's literal presence. This is also the real goal, obtainment of His Grace, literal union with Him.

That is a nice thought and worth considering. We could talk for days on how we could interpret that statement, but this thread is for practical considerations only. Overcoming distractions by practical and the personal works has been done for thousands of years. We are here to discuss the distractions that we encounter and how we deal with them. Perhaps you could discuss with us the process of obtaining that Grace and how it is experienced? Prayer is an active offering, an effort on our part to obtain closeness with the deity. So how is this experienced in your practice?

that's why I do it: the prayer of the lips, for anyone, becomes 'noetic' prayer - the continuous prayer St. Paul urges on us.
Prayer and 'silence' together with fasting and works of mercy are the pillars taught by Christ for our theosis - deification.
It is this 'focus' if you like,that protects us from that other kind of inflammation, worldly and even worse, daemonic.

True, but its not without its difficulties is it not? It seems as though it given to us at times, 'grace' if you will, but for many others its something that I think must be earned. Like a process of purification, continual devotion which both sharpens the will and softens the ego behind it so that it may receive guidance.
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« Reply #10 on: January 11, 2014, 03:43:01 AM »

We can only overcome distractions through God's Grace, God's literal presence. This is also the real goal, obtainment of His Grace, literal union with Him.

Quote
That is a nice thought and worth considering. We could talk for days on how we could interpret that statement, but this thread is for practical considerations only. Overcoming distractions by practical and the personal works has been done for thousands of years. We are here to discuss the distractions that we encounter and how we deal with them. Perhaps you could discuss with us the process of obtaining that Grace and how it is experienced? Prayer is an active offering, an effort on our part to obtain closeness with the deity. So how is this experienced in your practice?

Well, it's just looking at the situation from a different perspective. As well, we can talk for days about the practical aspects of prayer and not get anywhere without the grace of God because we rely on our own means and powers.

How do I do it? I generally pack distractions into two categories as recommended by other ascetics. Those that appeal to imagination and those that appeal to rationality. And so I try to determine myself to overcome them (with the Grace of God). I have an article about this and on my blog about this and other related ones: http://theosis888.blogspot.ro/2014/01/from-teachings-of-elder-ilie-cleopa.html
« Last Edit: January 11, 2014, 03:45:14 AM by IoanC » Logged
Babalon
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« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2014, 04:02:46 AM »

We can only overcome distractions through God's Grace, God's literal presence. This is also the real goal, obtainment of His Grace, literal union with Him.

Quote
That is a nice thought and worth considering. We could talk for days on how we could interpret that statement, but this thread is for practical considerations only. Overcoming distractions by practical and the personal works has been done for thousands of years. We are here to discuss the distractions that we encounter and how we deal with them. Perhaps you could discuss with us the process of obtaining that Grace and how it is experienced? Prayer is an active offering, an effort on our part to obtain closeness with the deity. So how is this experienced in your practice?

Well, it's just looking at the situation from a different perspective. As well, we can talk for days about the practical aspects of prayer and not get anywhere without the grace of God because we rely on our own means and powers.

How do I do it? I generally pack distractions into two categories as recommended by other ascetics. Those that appeal to imagination and those that appeal to rationality. And so I try to determine myself to overcome them (with the Grace of God). I have an article about this and on my blog about this and other related ones: http://theosis888.blogspot.ro/2014/01/from-teachings-of-elder-ilie-cleopa.html

That obstacle, the toll-house of Rationality, you've spoken of is exactly the sort of thing that I had intended this thread to be a discussion of. The grace of God is crucial, yes, that is not up for debate- but a critically minded analysis of the toll-house concept is something i'd like to go into further. I like what you wrote so far.

I'm wondering though, are you naturally adept at ignoring the body during your devotional work? Does it pose a problem for you as much as it seems to do for others? Drawing a distinction between prayer and meditation may be necessary when answering this as meditation tends to draw focus inward, evoking distractions surrounding the "self", while prayer is akin to projection (in a sense.)
« Last Edit: January 11, 2014, 04:03:34 AM by Babalon » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2014, 04:38:46 AM »

We can only overcome distractions through God's Grace, God's literal presence. This is also the real goal, obtainment of His Grace, literal union with Him.

Quote
That is a nice thought and worth considering. We could talk for days on how we could interpret that statement, but this thread is for practical considerations only. Overcoming distractions by practical and the personal works has been done for thousands of years. We are here to discuss the distractions that we encounter and how we deal with them. Perhaps you could discuss with us the process of obtaining that Grace and how it is experienced? Prayer is an active offering, an effort on our part to obtain closeness with the deity. So how is this experienced in your practice?

Well, it's just looking at the situation from a different perspective. As well, we can talk for days about the practical aspects of prayer and not get anywhere without the grace of God because we rely on our own means and powers.

How do I do it? I generally pack distractions into two categories as recommended by other ascetics. Those that appeal to imagination and those that appeal to rationality. And so I try to determine myself to overcome them (with the Grace of God). I have an article about this and on my blog about this and other related ones: http://theosis888.blogspot.ro/2014/01/from-teachings-of-elder-ilie-cleopa.html

That obstacle, the toll-house of Rationality, you've spoken of is exactly the sort of thing that I had intended this thread to be a discussion of. The grace of God is crucial, yes, that is not up for debate- but a critically minded analysis of the toll-house concept is something i'd like to go into further. I like what you wrote so far.

I'm wondering though, are you naturally adept at ignoring the body during your devotional work? Does it pose a problem for you as much as it seems to do for others? Drawing a distinction between prayer and meditation may be necessary when answering this as meditation tends to draw focus inward, evoking distractions surrounding the "self", while prayer is akin to projection (in a sense.)

The reason why rationality can be approached through a toll-house concept is because demons try to "tax" the soul as it tries to unite with God through prayer. Demons take advantage of the fact that man does not have a clear direct communion with God and they fill it with their own stuff. They can be very believable and seductive because they can transmit a lot of very high theological ideas that can even be true since they know their existence and God's better than us. Problem is that we don't need that stuff during prayer. What we need is God and perhaps Him giving us that stuff for real.

I also consider there are two aspects of prayer. There is the continuous state of prayer, or unceasing prayer, which is basically being aware of God's presence at all times no matter what you do. Orthodoxy is very existential and experiential, or is existence itself even, existence with God. Then there is structured or typicon prayer for the various occasions and needs; in other words, the outward form of prayer. What we need primarily is the continuous state of prayer because whatever we do, even if it's typicon prayer, we cannot get around the fact that we need to recover from our fallen state and be united with God at all times. Yet, outward form and method are also important. I confess, I generally focus on the theological aspect because that's how I am as a person, but I am not at all trying to undermine the outward and practical aspects; just doing the things I can.

Hoping to get back to this thread with some blog posts. I believe the practice of the Jesus Prayer will actually be closer to the topic and that's what I would to like to cover.
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« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2014, 01:25:50 PM »

Well, OK: I use prayer in the morning - to the Father: 'Our Father'; (after all- why not?); to the Holy Spirit: 'Heavenly King...' and thereafter; for as long as I can, the Jesus Prayer; aloud, whispered, then just 'moving my lips' and then, well, just 'thinking' it.
And Yes on the bus, in spite of my above comment - especially while waiting for it! and while waiting in the cash line at the grocery store - and as I mentioned - while kneading bread.
It is a wonderful source of strength - if only I remember to use it! - when I hear ' why don't you...?' Lord Jesus Christ...!
Like any other human activity, the more often repeated, the sooner it becomes a habit, and ten simple words are very easy to remember and repeat to recall us to God's presence!
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« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2014, 01:26:45 PM »

and in the evening as well of course!
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