“We carry about with us impassioned images of the things we have experienced. If we can overcome these images we shall be indifferent to the things which they represent. For fighting against the thoughts of things is much harder than fighting against the things themselves, just as to sin in the mind is easier than to sin through outward action.
“Some passions pertain to the body, others to the soul. The first are occasioned by the body, the second by external objects. Love and self-control overcome both kinds, the first curbing the passions of the soul and the second those of the body.” ~The Philokalia
We are all familiar with the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” When trying to explain something to another person, a photo of the event can often show a lot more than your attempt to describe it in words. And when dealing with a person who speaks a different language, you can often get them to understand what you want by showing them a picture. Yet few stop to consider how important this is with the mind.
I think any psychologist, psychiatrist, or brain researcher will tell you that the brain-mind is very image-oriented. When you say a word, it is meaningless to the mind. It is only when the mind forms an image based on the word that the person gets any comprehension. The problem comes in when we then interpret that image, or in the details of it.
If I grew up loving cats, and playing with kittens, the word “cat” will invoke a pleasant image of a cat. If, however, I was attacked and injured by a stray cat as an infant, my image of “cat” will involve sharp claws and pain. So what we are being warned of is that words invoke images, images invoke emotions, and those emotions may be misleading. The vast majority of cats will not harm us, but to that person who was attacked as an infant, he will never truly accept that until he can get that image out of his head.
Advertisers recognize this, so they try to fill our heads with images of their client’s product that will make us desire it. We see nice people buying car X, so that image makes us want car X. In another commercial, we see healthy, happy people drinking Z beer, so we start to associate health and fun with beer Z. We tell ourselves that beer can’t make you slim and healthy. But after seeing the commercial many times over, the image is trapped in our brain and we go buy some beer Z.
Overcoming Impassioned Images
The Philokalia, or at least one of the authors of that book, tell us that we overcome such impassioned images with love and self-control. That is true to some degree, but it isn’t that simple.
Psychiatrists treating people for phobias like fear of spiders, or a fear of height often search for events in that person past that brought about the fear. Once they find it, they try to talk the person out of the belief that what happened on that one occasion represents a universal truth. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t. There is a simpler solution, however.
If you have false images in your mind that are causing problems, you don’t have to remove them, you simply have to overlay them with a new image.
These impassioned images that prevent out growth are not always about material things. Sometimes, false images and false beliefs of spiritual matters can also hold us back.
If we have been fed a lot of nonsense regarding the spiritual worlds and how to get there, we will not follow the correct path. For example, when we have been told to worship Jesus instead of following His teachings, we will be going down a false path. If we have been told that we simply have to be a nice person, then drop dead, to earn a place in heaven, we are following a false path.
We cannot make significant spiritual progress when we are full of false impassioned images regarding spiritual matters. In this case, though, most spiritual teachers do say we need to clear these beliefs out before the truth can come to us. Overlaying the false beliefs with new ones can work, but only if the new ones are to have an open mind and to be a seeker of truth. Truth can’t come to us from a book or from listening to sermons. It comes to us directly from the spiritual worlds when we open ourselves up to it.