In discussing how to combat the passions in the current series of posts, we have until now begun with the more external factors and worked our way in to the interior world of the monk or nun. Let’s do the reverse here. Let’s take the more interior case first.
The thought of sorrow arises as an intrusive tempting thought that if accepted makes us feel ‘down’ or depressed. If we are strong, we can reject such a thought. This is the mental ascesis that we have mentioned in other posts. When sorrow is at its initial stages and has not overwhelmed us, such a mental ascesis is possible. If the monk is experienced with the Jesus Prayer (say, 30 years of it) and also experienced with mental ascesis, this mental ascesis is also possible at the later stages of the evolution of a thought of sorrow into a full-blown funk or depression, when we feel quite down or depressed. However, the beginner in the Jesus Prayer and the weak will find it hard to resist the thought of sorrow once it has progressed beyond the initial stages of a tempting thought.
When we speak of the ‘evolution of a thought of sorrow’ we mean that any attack of any passion begins as a simple thought in our mind which we accept and involve ourselves with. This personal involvement with the thought brings on the further stages of the thought, here the thought of sorrow: this is the funk or depression.
Just as we might have a thought of fornication which if not rejected will evolve to a full-blown sexual temptation or sin, or a thought of avarice which if not rejected will evolve to a full-blown temptation to or act of greed, we might have a thought of sorrow which if not rejected will evolve to a full-blown temptation to or condition of depression. It is much easier to reject a temptation at the stage of the thought than it is at the later stages. This is true of all the passions, but the difficulty of rejecting a full-blown temptation to sorrow is stark: we simply don’t have the strength.
Now the above considerations apply, as we have already pointed out in the other posts, to persons in whom there is no underlying biochemical disequilibrium. We are not suggesting to anyone that an organic illness can be cured by the power of positive thinking. The above considerations apply to persons in whom the cause of the sorrow is not organic. The cause might be a sin that we have committed, an objective sorrow such as the loss of a loved one, an inability to accomplish a desire, an inability to revenge ourselves on someone who has hurt us (let us be honest), an objective hurt we have suffered, and so on. We are saying that in these cases, in the initial stages of the thought, we can reject the thought and be free of the subsequent sorrow.
In cases where our grief or hurt is great, rejecting the thought of sorrow may be very difficult indeed. If we are strong and experienced in the Jesus Prayer and mental ascesis, we can exercise, with the Jesus Prayer, patient endurance until our sorrow goes away by itself.
In some cases we cannot even do that. In those cases, we may be obliged to seek medical assistance, just as in the case of a sorrow which has an organic basis in a biochemical disequilibrium.