By Fr. Sean Kilcawley, STL
I have always loved technology. When I was a cadet at West Point, we all had to pick an engineering track, and I chose computer science. So I was one of the first of my peers to get a smartphone and among the first to learn to jailbreak it. I bought a 2 in 1 Lenovo Yoga as soon as it was released. My newest computer is a Microsoft Surface Book, which I love. The detachable screen is more functional than my Yoga was in tablet mode, I like the functionality of being able to write on the screen with a pen, and with the base attached it is a powerful laptop. The only thing is, the touch screen goes dead if I haven’t restarted for a while.
Although I love keeping up with new technology, I don’t know exactly why this happens. My best educated guess is that there are too many processes running in the background and the system gets overloaded. It becomes unresponsive and slow. However, as soon as I restart it, everything is up and running again. As I continue to work with porn addicts and learn more about counseling interventions, I am realizing that our brains are a lot like my Surface Book. We consume so much information each day that we get overloaded. We don’t stop to fully experience the range of emotions we have each day. While we might not pay attention to them, they are still “running in the background.” When our system gets overloaded, we stop responding properly. Unprocessed anger, grief, rejection, fear, or anxiety can lead to a relapse before we realize that we were feeling those emotions in the first place. But, is there a restart button for our brain?
Many of my therapist friends recommend mindful meditation to their clients. You can find several videos on this technique on Youtube. Sometimes, mindfulness comes across as hokey, weird, or uncomfortably close to New Age and Eastern religious traditions. For good reason, we Catholics tend to stay away from anything like that. However, I would frame this practice as “preparing your mind for prayer”, or “cultivating interior silence.” The spiritual tradition of the Church has always promoted the necessity of silence, especially in Religious Life. In the seminary, we observed “grand silence” each evening after night prayer. Silence allows us to quiet our brain in order to make space for Christ. It clears out the processes, conversations, and emotions running in the background so that we can be more focused on the present moment. I recommend that you spend 5-10 minutes cultivating this interior silence each day.
What it looks like:
The goal is to spend 5-10 minutes per day thinking about nothing. When you go to prayer, sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and focus your attention on your breathing. You might notice your breath go in and out of your nose, you might pay attention to your diaphragm as it moves in and out, or the rise and fall of your chest. When thoughts come to mind, or you start replaying conversations in your head, simply notice those thoughts, acknowledge them, and turn your attention back to your breathing. Focus on the darkness as your eyes are closed and on your breathing. After some time passes you should feel more calm, relaxed, and clear.
Now, you’re ready to invite Jesus into the silence. Jesus, you are welcome into my thoughts right now. Relate to Him the desires of your heart. Talk to Him about what is going on in your life, and give Him the opportunity to respond to you. Then you might begin whatever formal prayer disciplines you have taken on (rosary, divine office, etc.). Most of the spiritual directees that I work with have found that their prayer is more efficacious if the spend the first 5-10 minutes cultivating interior silence.
Cultivating this interior silence is like hitting the restart button on your brain. It only takes 5 to 10 minutes to refocus on the present moment. It will help you to pay attention to the movements of your heart and to respond to the emotions you are feeling in a healthy way. Interior silence will help prevent relapses because it will clear out all the negative emotions, worries, anxieties, and stresses that are running in the background. For a quick reminder of how this process works, see the video.