What should I do when my mind wanders during prayer?
The following advice comes from Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894), a Russian Orthodox saint best known for his work, Unseen Warfare, and his spiritual counsels to beginners, especially youth.
In order to facilitate the development of true prayer, take these steps:
- Keep a prayer rule according to the blessing of your spiritual father – not more than you can read unhurriedly on a normal day;
- Before you pray, in your free time become familiar with the prayer in your rule, fully take in each word and feel it, so that you would know in advance what should be in your soul as you read.
It will be even better if you learn the prayers by heart. When you do this, then all of your prayers will be easy for you to remember and feel. There is only one final difficulty: your thoughts will always stray to other subjects, therefore:
- You must struggle to keep your attention focused on the words of your prayer, knowing in advance that your mind will wander.
When your mind does wander during prayer, bring it back. When it wanders again, bring it back again.
Each and every time that you read a prayer while your thoughts are wandering (and consequently you read it without attention and feeling) then do not fail to read it again.
Even if your mind wanders several times in the same place, read it again and again until you read it all the way through with understanding and feeling.
In this way, you will overcome this difficulty so that the next time, perhaps, it will not come up again, or if it does return, it will be weaker. This is how one must act when the mind wanders.