Question. (#86) How should one examine the thoughts? And how does one avoid the stage of captivity?
Response by Barsanuphios.
The examination of one’s thoughts follows this pattern: when a thought comes, you should pay attention to what it produces. Let me give you an example. Suppose that someone has insulted you, and your thought troubles you in the matter of responding. Say to your thought: “If I respond, I disturb him and he is grieved against me. Therefore, be a little patient, and it will pass.” However, if our thought is not against some person, but thinks about evil by itself, then you must examine the thought and say: “Where is this thought of evil leading?” and your thought will cease. Do the same in regard to all your thoughts.
When the thought enters, examine it immediately and cut it short. As far as the stage of captivity is concerned, great vigilance is required. So, then, as the fathers have said, if this leads your nous to fornication, you should lead it to sanctification. If it leads your intellect to gluttony, you should bring it to asceticism. If it leads your nous to hatred, you should bring it to love; and so on, and so forth. Do not grieve, for you will find mercy, according to the promises that you have received. “For if we live, we live unto the Lord; and if we die, we die unto the Lord” (Rom 14.8).
—Sts. Barsanuphios and John: Letters from the Desert