Stuck on obsessive thoughts like how to change someone’s behavior? Tired of dwelling on a perceived insult against you or sinking into self-righteousness and self-pity? Going in circles without a clear path out? St. Maximos totally gets you and has some answers for you.
Mental dysfunction of any kind occurs when we misuse and distort these powers against their nature. The hopeful message here is that restoring them to their natural state is within our control. Both the descent into dark passions and healing are matters of choice. The soul functions in accordance with nature when its passible aspects – that is, its incensive power and its desire – remain dispassionate in the face of provocations both from things and from the conceptual images of these things.
It is not the external triggers that darken our souls but the passionate thoughts about them that we allow to take root within us. Our weapon is “love and self-control” that keep the intellect dispassionate in the face both of things and of the conceptual images we form of them.”
Like the other Fathers, Maximos repeatedly conveys our vulnerability to passions and the implicit need to admit our powerlessness, as 12-step programs have found out. Only this awareness will keep us engaged in active warfare every minute of our day.
Yet it is a waste to expend our resources on fighting the triggers of our passions. Here is what St. Maximos advises us on how to conduct effecting warfare:
The intellect of a man who enjoys the love of God does not fight against things or against conceptual images of them. It battles against the passions which are linked with these images. It does not, for example, fight against a woman, or against a man who has offended it, or even against the images it forms of them; but it fights against the passions which are linked with the images.
If you are looking for a “trick”—a practical tool you can apply the moments that passionate thoughts begin to form in your mind, Maximos readily provides you with concrete tools.
When consumed by desire, envy or anger, for example, we should first separate our own impassionate thoughts from the objects that triggered them. Instead of becoming consumed with plans for witty comebacks to insults or self-pity for our inability to make our children choose the path we believe is right for them, for example, we should examine the real roots of our passions and our acquiescence to their dominance.
The whole purpose of the monk’s warfare against the demons is to separate the passions from conceptual images. Otherwise he will not be able to look on things dispassionately.
A thing, a conceptual image and a passion are all quite different one from the other. For example, a man, a woman, gold and so forth are things; a conceptual image is a passion-free thought of one of these things; a passion is mindless affection or indiscriminate hatred for one of these same things. The monk’s battle is therefore against passion.