Sculpting Project Eight: Talking Back: Week 1
I am out working in the fall garden and my mind is far away. It is trying make sense of a troubling situation. It has been trying to make sense of this situation for a number of hours and I am beginning to notice that I am circling back to earlier attempts at a solution. This is starting to look like rumination. Rumination: analyzing problems over and over without reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Analyzing can be very helpful, to a point that is. Endless circling attempts to solve difficulties can led into depression. And today’s problem is the kind that comes with a knot in my stomach which is not a helpful condition to prolong. So how can I break this cycle of rumination. Today the trick that works for me is an old one I learned from Evagrius a forth century monk. His method is called Talking Back.
Talking Back in a nut shell
We get a thought in our minds that is not helpful.
We use a phrase to talk back to this thought
Today I take a phrase from Scripture that feels like it relates to my struggle and I say the Scripture out loud. The rumination starts in again immediately so I Talk Back again with this Scripture. The ruminating pattern is so strong in my brain that I find it helpful to just repeat the Scripture over and over. After several minutes of repetition I take a break. My mind is quieter; for a minute or two and then the rumination rut is back. So I begin Talking Back until I gain some control of my thinking and some peace of mind.
Two days later: Now I am working on pottery. Trimming finished pots and creating lids. The problem is not solved and my brain seems to feel obligated to keep dragging it up again. But no solution comes. My mind sometimes reminds me of an unruly two-year old. As I form the clay another Talking Back idea comes. The perfect word for this two-year old. “No.” As soon as my brain starts in again I simply say, “no”. My brain is startled. It pauses before it makes the next attempt at a solution. Kindly and firmly I say again “no”. “Really”, my brain asks, “ I can let this go for a while?” I begin to feel peaceful.
I use my Talking Back “no” throughout the day whenever I catch myself in the rumination rut. This is a very effective tool.
Sculpting Project summary: Watch our thoughts.
When we notice an unhelpful thought then:
We Talk Back using Scripture or another appropriate word.
Key verse: Take every thought captive to obey Christ. 2 Cor. 10:5b
Evagrius of Pontus (AD 345-399) wrote the book Talking Back to give monks a tool for their own soul sculpting. Aware of the power of thoughts, Evagrius encouraged the monks to keep a vigilant watch over each thought that entered their minds. In Talking Back Evagrius divided problematic thoughts into 8 categories (these are the origin of the seven deadly sins.) In each category he listed a typical thought and then provided a passage from Scripture to ‘Talk Back’ to this thought.
Evagrius listed 492 thoughts and Scriptures. Here is #71 in the Sadness(depression) section.
71. Against the soul’s thought that supposes that it is tested beyond its strength:
God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor. 10:13).
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Then secondly, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31
Using our strength to sculpt our heart, soul, and mind to love God and our neighbor.