Sunday, 12 January 2020

Daydreaming: Enemy of happiness; enemy of holiness

A talk to our parish men's group

West Moors 9th July 2019; 
Shaftesbury Feb 2015

Mortifying wandering thoughts 
         A big thought in any saint’s writings
A particular focus of St Josemaria: 
daydreaming as enemy of being rooted in your own life, of being able to care about and sanctity that everyday life

Talk plan:
Why daydreaming is an enemy of happiness
Why daydreaming is an enemy of holiness
St Josemaria: Dream of being holy as a monk, 
not work to be holy as the layman that am
How to avoid daydreaming: 
mortifying imagination,
Inc. Mortifying impurity 
As a habit to focus on the good that we have, rather than on the good we don't have
Sacrament of the Present Moment 

Preface: Imagination is a tool, and a useful one
To pray:
Many saints propose methods prayer using the imagination
St Ignatius: take a Gospel scene, 
imagine our Lord in it, talk to Him there etc
E.g. I meditate on the Cross by mentally taking myself there
By picturing it, smelling it, hearing it
Then, talking to God about it

Imagination is a tool to prayer
St Josemaria: “Make it a habit to mingle with the characters who appear in the New Testament.”(Friends of God, n.216)

To plan:
Envisage a new project by imagining it
Envisage a new achievement by imagining it
I don't just do the thing physically in front of me
I picture the task for next week
I imagine its details and circumstances, 
I imagine what could go wrong
I imagine what I need to do to ensure it goes right 
My imagination enables my planning
My imagination becomes a TOOL to engage with reality
Not a diversion from it
For planning –if engaged with reality, to envisage change 

Neither of these is the same as ‘woolgathering’ or idle daydreaming

What do I mean by daydreaming?
Answer: That mental behaviour by which we escape reality

(1)        Daydreaming is an enemy of happiness

How achieve true happiness?
Not by escaping from reality 
Not by living in daydreams!
Living in daydreams means:
We fail to ENJOY the good things that we have
Because we fantasise about other things that we don’t have
We fail to REMEDY the problems we need to remedy
Because we fantasise about another life, rather than move ourselves towards it

Daydreaming is very easy
It is EASIER than confronting reality 
I can daydream instead of praying, or while praying,
I can start by praying:
Lord, I thank you for the many things you have given me,
I thank you that you have put me in Dorset,
I thank you that you have made me a priest,
I ask that you will help me to be good,
Help me to be a good priest,
Help me to be a super priest
Being superpriest would be great
What kind of powers would superpriest have?
And before I know it my mind has wandering into daydreams 
Of what outfit superpriest would wear
And whether his X-ray vision of souls would be more important than his being able to fly around the parish
The imagination can DIVERT me from reality
Rather than ENGAGE me in it

Magnifies difficulties
Uncontrolled imagination sees problems that are NOT there
It can make us TIMID and indecisive 
Spanish proverb:
“The man who daydreams has little stomach for the fight”
(Through Wind and Waves, p.122)

(2)       Daydreaming as the enemy of holiness

Holiness is hard work
Holiness requires engaging in the reality I am situated in
Not daydreaming 

In particular,
St Josemaria was concerned about holiness for laypeople
About how a layman can become a saint
Yet, he noted that many laymen can make their being a layman an excuse to not be saint:
I'd have time to pray if only I didn't have this job
I'd have time to be recollected if only I didn't have the noisy children
I'd have time to be a saint if only I was wasn’t married
What all of these ‘if only’ statements have in common is that they daydream in an escape from reality

Yet, few of us are called to ‘escape’ the lay state, even though ALL of us are called to be saints:
As Scripture says, “Every one should remain in the state of life in which he was called”(1 Cor 7:20)
And, “What God wills is your sanctification”(1 Thess 4:3)
Giving glory to God in each and every vocation:
 “Whatever you eat, whatever you drink, whatever you do at all, do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31)

And of course,
Having fled to the monastery we find our lack of holiness has followed us there,
And the monk, too, can live in fantasy:
I'd be holy if only I was the guestmaster and not the sacristan etc

The truth is:
I can be holy exactly where I am, 
in the state of life that God has called me to

St Josemaria:
St Josemaria:
 “Stop dreaming.  Leave behind false idealisms, fantasies, and what I usually call mystical wishful thinking: If only I hadn't married; if only I had a different job or qualification; if only I were in better health; if only I were younger; if only I were older.  Instead, turn to the most material and immediate reality, which is where our Lord is” 
(St Josemaria, In Love With the Church, n.54, cited in Holiness for everyone p.119)

(3)       Thanksgiving: a remedy

One way to root ourselves in reality is a habit of thanksgiving

Giving thanks for what we have means:
We RECOGNISE the good things we have,
Rather than fantasising about other things that we don't have
We acknowledge that these things are actually GOOD:
Your job, wife, house, and childen are not distractions from God,
But are rather GOOD things given to you

Thanksgiving brings me into ENGAGEMENT with my reality

In practice:
If I am in the midst of mental wandering, daydreaming, what happens when I give thanks for God?
I immediately am shifted away from fantasy, 
And, focus on reality: focus in something about what is HERE
I don't fantasise about another parish
Rather, I give thanks for something REAL, here

HABITUAL thanksgiving:
How do we make a habit of this?
(a) Every night thank God for three things
Maybe something unusual, or maybe something routine
Examination of conscience to see my sins, and apologise for them
Recall the good things of the day, and give thanks
(b)         Every morning –some people thank God for a new day ahead
(c) During the day:
Pause to give thanks
Try to create a HABIT of this

Remedy: acquire a habit of giving thanks
Thanksgiving focuses me on the good I have
Rather than the imaginary things I don't have

(4)       Mortification of the Imagination another remedy

Mortify means to put to death
Some things in me need killing, like trains of bad thoughts

E.g. Fantasy of killing boss
E.g. Fantasy of sex with another woman 
-I can recognise that I have engaged upon a chain of thoughts

HOW mortify thoughts?
(A) first, simple ‘no
I say ‘no’ to the thought of killing the Bishop
(B) second, if sinful, v.brief prayer asking for divine help, 
or from my guardian angel
I recognise that I am tempted, so I call for help
“Lord, help me not consent to this”
(C) third, divert chain to some other topic
If a serious sin, then a random idle thought is better
BUT habits of idle daydream thoughts make us lazy
I.e. generally, not idle thoughts
I divert my mind from killing the Bishop to a thought of:
(i)            The plot of a book I am reading,
(ii)          A plan for my summer holiday,
(iii)        Or, something serious: 
A work dilemma
-but an issue that brings me to the real world
(iv) Or something pious:
e.g. Jesus dying in the Cross
(D) think of reality
your wife, your task, your fun, your novel

Same pattern with daydream:
‘no’ I do not wish to live in my dreams, I ask God’s help, I think of reality 

handout for purity, c.f. Mortification of impure thoughts

(5)       Another Remedy: The Sacrament of the Present Moment

A classic art of the spiritual life:
Seek to live in the current moment 
Seek to not be lost in YESTERDAY or in TOMORROW
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”, ”Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”(Mt 6:25; 34)

A sacrament: a place where we meet God
In the Mass: physically present
In confession: meet Him in forgiveness
The present moment: 
this is the most basic place to meet God

Pause during the day and:
Place yourself in the presence
Place yourself before God
And don't be lost in idle fantasies 

Summary Conclusions:
Daydreaming is an enemy of happiness
Daydreaming is an enemy of holiness
St Josemaria: Dream of being holy as a monk, 
not work to be holy as the layman that am
How to avoid daydreaming: 
mortifying imagination,
Inc. Mortifying impurity 
As a habit to focus on the good that we have, rather than on the good we don't have
Sacrament of the Present Moment

Spiritual Reading
From ‘Holiness for Everyone’ by Eric Sammons, excerpts from pp.117-120

We will find it no easy task to achieve holiness through our work…
we may be tempted to think that if we could just change our state in life, we could avoid those struggles. In ancient days, very few people had the opportunity to change their lot in life, so few even considered it. But today, when people change jobs — and even spouses — as easily as changing their shirts, such temptations can weigh very heavily indeed. We look at our life circumstances — a disappointing career or limited resources, for example — and believe that if these circumstances would just change, then we could really serve the Lord fully. …we whisper to ourselves, "If I could just get out of this job, I could really spend more time serving the Lord in prayer and good works;' or "If I hadn't married, then I could have served the Lord completely." 
Although we believe that different life circumstances would lead to a holier life, a holier life depends much more upon how we respond to our circumstances, and less on the circumstances themselves. 

For a number of years I went to the same priest regularly for confession. Young and enthusiastic, Fr. Woods was always compassionate and merciful to me while I recounted my sins. With one exception. I mentioned to him once that I was struggling with the responsibilities of being a husband and father, and made a comment that a life of holiness would be easier if I were single or a priest. Although I considered it an offhand remark, Fr. Woods immediately — and surprisingly — admonished me. He recognized my comment as a dangerous thought even to entertain, for he knew that such an attitude could grow and end up destroying my soul. He stressed to me that every vocation and state in life has its challenges, and it is spiritual suicide to fantasize that some other vocation — any vocation other than my own — would lead to a better, holier life. Although I was initially taken aback by his strong words, I came to realize the wisdom — and love — behind them.

No matter where we are in life we are going to meet challenges. … In these situations there are two possible responses: fight or flee. Will you fight to serve the Lord through these challenges, or will you flee to supposedly greener pastures? The saint faces these challenges and offers them to God for his glory; by befriending the difficult co-worker and embracing the demanding tasks, he unites these difficulties to the Cross and makes them part of our redemption. 

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