Abbot Philip: The Importance of Mind Control


“The early desert monks and nuns realized that there is a huge importance in learning about how thoughts work in our lives. Only by beginning to deal with our thoughts can we begin to deal with all of our lives. I hate to say that we must control our thoughts because that really does not describe the challenge. The challenge is to learn to live with our thoughts in such a way that we can direct them in some sense. If we try to control them, then there is usually a rebellion!

Learning to live with our thoughts is one of the reasons for learning how to be silent and still with the Lord. We focus on being silent and still, not on stopping thoughts. When thoughts do come, we simply let them pass by because our attention is on being silent and still. We have to practice this before we can truly understand it. And it takes continual practice to enable us to turn aside from thoughts that really attract us and focus on other thoughts.

Another way of learning to live with our thoughts is to develop interests in many things. For some people, a good book can draw and attract their thoughts in a very positive way. For others, a hobby can do the same trick. For still others, a long walk or a vigorous period of exercise can help. Still other persons can relax and let go of attachments by listening to beautiful music and being drawn out of themselves into the music. Others can play a musical instrument and get totally caught up into that. Others can do works of charity, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc.

ChristinthedesertThere are countless ways to learn how to live with our thoughts. Why would be want to do that? Because our decisions in our lives come from our thoughts. We want to be able to see our own thought process and to be able to direct our thoughts. In that we, we can build the Kingdom of God together. What often happens in present culture is that our thoughts possess us instead of us possessing our thoughts. This is why it is so important to begin now to know how to live with my thoughts and how to direct my thoughts.

So often I have heard people tell me to go where my thoughts lead me. To some extent, I can understand that and even honor it. On the other hand, I have to know that not everywhere my thoughts might take me is a good place for me to be. There is always a matter of discernment: I have to choose if the direction of my thoughts really is in agreement with the deepest choices of my life.

Each of us is invited to live life to its fullness. In order to do that, we need to listen attentively to those who have gone before. When we find ourselves wanting to set out on our own, we need to be strong enough to hear what we may not want to hear. We may even try to run away from the things that we do not want to hear. Deep within us we remember that it is God calling us and it is God to whom we want to respond. …”–Abbot Philip, OSB

Read Abbot Philip’s whole essay (Abbot’s Notebook, Oct. 9, 2013).

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