How can I resist thoughts which from time to time weigh heavily upon me and which try to force me to surrender to them?
Occupy your leisure with some other stronger thought to take the place of such thoughts…
Do not wait until such thoughts have completely worn you out, before trying to resist them, for it is better – if you are able – not to give them any opportunity at all to reach you in the first place. But how does one do that?
Always occupy your mind with what is useful, so that if the devil wants to mount an attack upon your thoughts, he will find your mind occupied and not taking any notice of his ideas, so he will pass you by. Thought becomes extremely difficult once Satan has come to a person and found his mind wide open and ready to accept his ideas!
If a nasty thought comes to you, replace it with some other idea, for your mind cannot think of two subjects at the same time to the same depth. It is therefore necessary that the new thought, with which you want to cancel out the attacking thought, must be deep enough to banish the other. It could be, for example, thinking of a tricky problem, a difficulty, or question of faith, or some topic that interests you, or remembering something you have forgotten.
Superficial thinking will not banish the thoughts that are attacking you. The only thing that can do this is thinking other types of thoughts which can enter deeply into your mind or heart, such as thinking about an important family problem or some abstruse question that is difficult to solve, or about a subject that is dear to your heart which you enjoy dwelling on.
Another solution is to banish the thought by reading.
But again it has to be reading of a sufficiently deep nature to occupy the mind fully, because light reading provides the scope for the mind to wander, so it roams freely and is still distracted by what is attacking it.
Therefore, suppose a person is attacked by the thought of lust. Ordinary spiritual reading would not be as useful for him as would, for example, reading about solving problems in the Bible, or about doctrinal differences or refutations of them, or about some new subject which he hasn’t studied before, or a scientific problem which requires concentration.
Unwanted thoughts can also be banished by prayers and prostrations.
For while the individual feels ashamed of, or embarrassed about thinking his wrongful thoughts when addressing God, he at the same time draws help from the prayer, provided, of course, that his prayer is made with fervour and feeling, and resists any tendency to wander from the point. Prayer accompanied by prostrations is even more powerful…
Attacking thoughts can also be driven away by engaging oneself in manual work.
It is because this activity likewise occupies one’s thoughts and diverts them from being under attack, just as much as an activity that requires attention and concentration.
Work also occupies a person and relieves him of the war being waged against his thoughts, in contrast to having nothing to do, which gives scope for an attack on his mind. This is why the Fathers said that if a person works, only one devil attacks him, but if he does not, then he will be attacked by several. Notice how God gave our forefather Adam work to do while he was in the Garden of Eden, even though he did not need to work to provide for himself.
If the offending thought is not banished by all this, then the best thing is for the person to break out of his isolation and speak to someone else.
For it will be difficult for him to talk on one subject while his thought are on another. In fact any kind of amusement, whether it is pursued alone or in the company of others, can also help to drive away relentless thoughts.
The important thing is that you don’t let yourself remain alone with those thoughts, or allow them to be your only concern.
Deflecting one’s thoughts, or replacing them, or diverting the mind from them by some kind of activity or entertainment, conversation, reading, writing or prayer, can all weaken the attack upon one’s thoughts, banish it, or make you forget it.
You also have to recognise the cause of the thought and deal with it.
For instance, a thought of anger or revenge may occur to you on account of a certain subject inside you, which needs to be dealt with and dispensed with. This is because as long as the reasons for anger remain within you, then thoughts of it will continue to attack you, however much you try to banish them.
If the thoughts have come from reading something in particular, or from listening to other people, or from some stumbling of the senses, or from a problem that is bothering you, try to protect yourself against all this, or find a solution for it, and thereby stem the original cause of the ideas.
If the thought of pride or false glory overcomes you, and there is a reason for that, you must fight this pride in your heart in a spiritual way. If you triumph over it, then those thoughts will leave you…
This is the method for you to follow in order to deal spiritually with thoughts of any kind of sin that you are attacked by.
In all of this you need to act quickly, and not be soft on yourself when it comes to such thoughts.
If you drive away the thought quickly, it will grow weak before you. But if you give it a chance, it will grow strong and you will grow weak trying to resist it. Then it may even combine itself with other ideas and branch out further, just as it may also move from the mind to the heart, and turn itself into desire or craving.
Be on guard against the way that excessive curiosity can deceive and mislead you.
A person may hang on to an idea or thought, with the excuse that he wants to know what it will result in, and in which direction it is leading, out of a kind of inquisitiveness!! You yourself actually know very well the likely outcome of a good many ideas, and if you don’t, then you can at least deduce it from the way they have begun! So what use is it to be so curious, if it is only going to lead you astray?
There is another way, which is to counter the thought:
St. Evagrius laid down a method of renouncing thoughts with verses from the Bible. For every sin that attacks a person, there is a verse which can be put before it to reject it and calm it down. in the temptation on the Mount, the Lord rejected Satan’s taunts with verses from the Scriptures.
There are thoughts, however, which require a swift repulsion, without any debate or discussion.
For to discuss them may invite such thoughts to become more permanent, and prolong their stay, besides causing them to branch out.
Thus if thoughts, which you ought to block quickly, should come to you, do not be sluggish or delay in doing so, nor wait to see where they might lead, and don’t negotiate with them or have anything to do with them. For the more you hold on to such thoughts, the stronger they will get, and the more they will overpower you, whereas when they first come, they are still weak and you can more easily banish them.
Banishing thoughts calls for wisdom, discernment and assistance.
Some people are experienced at identifying and combating unwanted thoughts and, as St. Paul noted, we are not ignorant of the wiles of Satan. If anyone doesn’t have experience in this, he should ask a spiritual guide. Generally speaking, divine assistance that comes with prayer and humbling oneself, helps to eliminate such thoughts.
The Lord is able to banish Satan and all his wicked thoughts.