The discursive mind (dianoia) constantly generates a stream of images and stories based on your memories and senses. It’s meant to be one tool among many in the human mind. But passions have darkened and fragmented the nous and left the will divided against itself – so the dianoia is running the show. That inner 24/7 commentary fills all the available space in our head.
Thinking intelligently isn’t a problem. But when the fathers talk about “the thoughts” (logismoi) they mean that distracting stream of images and inner talk that’s familiar to anyone who tries to pray.
Seeing a naked body of your favorite gender isn’t a temptation. Hearing yourself slandered isn’t a temptation; neither is the opportunity to cheat or steal without getting caught. Those are just data, and your senses are faithfully sending the data to you for judgment.
But now a thought arises in response: Now you’re aware of the opportunity to sin. The beginning of a memory or fantasy or image starts to arise. It’s not even a temptation yet. It’s just the awareness of an opportunity to say something, do something, or make room for something in your head. Now is the time to cut off that thought.
You don’t objectify it, make it real by investing your attention into it, make the thought part of your identity… instead, you make a positive choice to turn to Christ and pray the prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. You replace that nascent thought with the Person of Christ.
Because, if you don’t, that thought will become a temptation: it will engage with your desires, and now you have inner warfare – you might still avoid falling to the temptation, but you’ve already lost the battle for peace and freedom by not cutting off the thoughts.
Abba Dorotheos talks about the ability to see a brother walk by and not indulge in storytelling: “He’s probably going to X to do Y…” You’re not obligated to let a chain of words and images unroll in your head every time you see or hear something. One teacher compared it to sitting quietly in your room at prayer, when you see a ball fly by your window. Do you leave your prayer, get up, and go see who’s playing ball outside? Or can you just LET the ball happen? Don’t deny it, but don’t be taken out of your prayer by it.
Genesis 3:6 “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom…” That’s a logismos.