Interior Mortification of the Imagination

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I think sometimes we have a tendency to escape inside ourselves if things are not going our way. We compensate for not being satisfied in this world by going to an imaginary world inside our heads where we always make the best decisions, there are always exciting adventures to be found, and our relationships with others are perfect. I feel like we can also be stuck in the past, reliving glimpses of our lives, either exciting moments where we found happiness for just a moment, or moments where we said or did the wrong thing that we want to take back, but are still kicking ourselves for saying or doing them.

There’s only one a lot of problems with that. That world inside our head, that we make up, or are stuck in the past in, isn’t real. There is no truth to it. And worse then it being useless to continue to live in our imaginations, it can be harmful to our spiritual life.

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This subject of practicing interior mortification of the imagination has come up in a number of different meditational books I’ve been reading and has been convicting for me. And one point they make is crystal clear.

You can not have an interior spiritual life if you do not control your imagination.

In other words, it is vital to the life of your soul to practice interior mortification. 

Now, please don’t leave this thinking that I think imagination is sinful, and we should try to squash the imagination of little children everywhere. I think it is a beautiful gift that God has given us and should be used and exercised, but unfortunately like anything good in the world, the devil can so easily twist it into something harmful, and we should be aware of the temptations that our soul can fall into. Here is an excerpt that I found helpful when reading about this subject:

“The imagination is a faculty that is undeniably very useful to us, since the soul united to the body cannot think without images. But, to be useful, the imagination must be directed by right reason illumined by faith; otherwise it may become, as someone has said “the mad woman in the house.” It diverts us from the consideration of divine things and inclines us toward vain, inconsistent, and fantastic, or even forbidden things. At the very least, it leads us to daydreaming that gives rise to sentimentality, which is opposed to true piety.”

Here is also a definition of mortification of memory, another important interior practice:

Mortification of the memory —

avoiding useless recollections which make us waste time and which could lead us into more serious temptations.

Just like we are called, in order to avoid spiritual slothfulness, to practice daily mortification, such as giving up Facebook for a weekend, or not putting creamer in our coffee, or deciding not to eat sweets or listen to music, we are also called to practice interior mortification. I’m definitely not an expert at this – here I am, sitting in a ridiculously comfy papasan chair, drinking coffee (aka 3/4 creamer and a dash of coffee), in yoga pants and a delightfully warm thrift store sweater trying to get up the energy to think about which of those things to give up this week for mortification. Oh yeah, and I just ate two brownies. It’s really difficult sometimes.

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But sometimes, my weak nature decides to be like:

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My household at college should probably just have a jar like this:

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This is part of the path to holiness. So often I forget that my end goal is to be with Christ forever – to become a saint. But daily mortifications, the giving up of good things for the sake of suffering for Christ, it reminds me of what I am here to accomplish – who I am here to love. You can’t be holy without an interior spiritual life, and you can’t have an interior spiritual life without this interior mortification. It has been helpful for me, along with picking an external mortification, to pick some sort of interior mortification – perhaps deciding not to think about certain memories that tend to come back to me daily, or to not think over something I said that I wish I hadn’t. It’s been harder for me than I expected, and it will be impossible if I don’t come to Christ for help. But the results of constantly working on interior mortification is purity of heart and purity of intention, which is something that is vital to the life of the soul, which is why I will continue in my daily struggle to master it.

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