Guarding the Hearing and Sight

The guarding of the hearing and sight. How to destroy bad impressions of what one has seen and heard.

I mentioned to you last time how the passionate thoughts, feelings and desires are aroused, and how you must not shift the blame onto them. Now I will tell you a little about them.

Passionate thoughts, followed by passionate feelings and desires, sometimes arise within the soul on their own, in some unknown way. For the most part, however, they are engendered by the influence of outward stimuli. The things, people and events that a person encounters excite ideas in him in accordance with their nature. Good thoughts are engendered from the good, while evil thoughts are engendered from the bad. Everything depends on the permanent or accidental state of the person who encounters them. Consequently, the answer also lies entirely with him. How can this be?

Transient

First. Do not give free reign to your senses, especially the eyes and ears. Do not allow them to see everything, hear everything and be concerned with everything indiscriminately. Your senses are like windows or doors, or better, like a pail. A person who opens the windows and lets in bad air is doing wrong. A person who opens the doors and lets all kinds of livestock come into his house is going to be reprimanded. But what would you say if someone were to take a pail (or a cup or mug) and go to a dirty, unclean puddle and draw from it and pour it over himself? Can you think of anything more stupid? And yet, isn't someone doing the same thing when he stops in front of some bad person out of curiosity and listens to profane words? A smattering of evil thoughts is picked up through this; these turn into evil feelings and desires, and the person walks around distressed, as if in some sort of fog. Thus, prudence and the responsibility for maintaining one’s inner peace require that one not look at everything, listen to everything or concern himself with everything that he happens to come across. A thing will hardly show that it is capable of rousing passions, so it is necessary to turn the eyes away from it, plug up the ears in front of it, or seeing do not see and hearing do not hear.

Second. Evil thoughts have been engendered from some evil stimulus. It necessary to rush immediately to blot out the stimulus and suppress the thoughts using the method shown earlier, after the flow of stimuli has been stopped, of course. It would be foolish to remain under the influence of the bad stimulus, or to postpone blotting it out and restoring peace of mind until another time. By remaining under the influence of the stimulus willingly, we encourage the breeding of evil thoughts and feelings. By leaving the evil within ourself for a long time, we give it the opportunity to become more deeply implanted and then further oppose expulsion and cleansing, if not to take complete possession of the mind.

Third. Once a person has experienced harm from some stimulus, he should not willingly allow himself to encounter the objects that caused it again. This would signify that the person acting in this way delights in the evil thing, and consequently is impure to the bottom of the heart. If some necessity should force him to encounter it again, then he must arm himself ahead of time and prepare his heart to resist the evil stimulus and not allow it to enter himself. Attentiveness, increased resistance on the person's part and prayer will make this possible.

Fourth. I already wrote you about reinterpreting everything you encounter and that you might encounter in the spiritual sense. It is necessary to do this also with respect to objects of evil significance. After encountering them, you will not have bad thoughts but good ones instead, in the same way when St. Ephraim the Syrian, having encountered an enticingly dressed woman, told his disciples, “You see how she takes care to adorn her body, which will soon be dust; how can we not be concerned with adorning our immortal soul?”

These rules are sufficient. It would be proper to indicate those contingencies in your everyday life that are harmful to your inner life. But I suppose that there are none, either in your immediate family or relatives. You would not come across them in any way except outside the home, for example, in the society in which you spend little time, as you wrote. With regard to such contingencies, keep to what was written in the third point. Then place all similar things you encounter in the future under this rule. Make it a general rule to measure what is permissible by the influence that it exerts inwardly. You may permit yourself that which is constructive; do not permit that which disturbs in any form. Who in his right mind would knowingly drink from a glass into which poison has been poured?!

Transient

I do not have in mind that you restrict yourself and become a recluse. I just want to guide you toward the decision to not take in what is harmful for your spirit, since you determined that the only true life is that in the spirit, and have also experienced this.

May the Lord bless you!

Source:  Bishop Theophan the Recluse, 1995, The Spiritual Life And How To Be Attuned To It, St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, New York, pp. 257-259.