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Marsabielle

Your Opinion-Custody of the Eyes

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Marsabielle

Hi all,

 

I heard a  few years ago of a monk who practices custody of the eyes to an extent that most cloistered monks do not.  Of course, I have no firsthand knowledge of this. It was said to me that he constantly kept his eyes down, and never looked up at anything or anyone.

 

I have kept this in my heart and pondered it for a long time.  What is your opinion on this? Thanks ahead of time.

 

 I am editing this to clarify that I am asking for input specifically on what effect this would have on the spiritual life.  I am a lay woman, and so obviously not thinking of taking this up!  It seems like by practicing this so much she would become awfully empty, but awfully detached as well.  Would God come and fill all of that empty space ?

Edited by Marsabielle

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Antigonos

There are extremely pious ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who will not look at a woman.  Made teaching them how to inject themselves with certain fertility drugs [I worked in an infertility clinic for 8 years] EXTREMELY difficult, as there were no male nurses in the clinic.

As with all things, there seems to be a middle road.  In The Nun's Story, Sister Luke, having learned custody of the eyes in her formation, is sent to a mental institution where she must be constantly aware of all the action around her, lest her patients get themselves into dangerous situations, and initially she finds this difficult.  Eyes down in the cloister; watching everything at work.

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chrysostom

In “St. Dominic: The Grace of the Word”, I read that St Dominic constantly kept his eyes lowered as a form of practicing the presence of God and so being reverent in his presence. I’ve tried recently to practice the presence of God, in particular with the Eucharistic emphasis proposed by St Peter Julian Eymard, and while I certainly don’t manage to remember it very often at this point, during the times that I do remember, my eyes just instinctively are lowered in reverence. So I wonder if for some people this custody of the eyes may be a secondary effect of something else they are doing. Of course I can understand it being used as a devotion in and of itself, but there are many ascetical practices out there which are not for everyone. Go by the law of charity.

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Swami Mommy

In Hinduism there is a practice called ‘Shanbhavi mudra’.  In effect, it is the practice of keeping one’s attention turned inward on the heart center even as one interacts with the world.  It is, in effect, custody of the eyes, because one learns to see with the eyes of the heart instead of the mind.  This, to me, is the true purpose of the practice of keeping custody of the eyes, and has nothing to do with keeping one’s literal physical sight averted from the world.

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beatitude

Is it logically possible for someone never to look up at anything or anyone and just stare constantly at the floor? Think about all the practical tasks that a monk has to do in a day (and recreation with his brothers is one of those), and you'll see that it can't be done.

This issue is obviously important to you, or you wouldn't have paraphrased the Bible verse about Mary treasuring Simeon's prophecy and pondering it in her heart to show how much you've been thinking about it. You say you've been thinking about it for years. I'm curious: why is the second-hand story of the behaviour of one monk whom you've never met so important to you and so worth dwelling on? Why do you need to know how his religious practices affect him, seeing as you don't know him and you aren't joining him in his monastery?

Together with the other question you asked lately, about another discerner's suitability for religious life, the way you've taken this hypothetical scenario deeply to heart suggests to me that you might be anxious about religious life and what you're actually asking is, "Will I feel empty and lonely there, or will God help?" I'm sorry if I'm assuming too much, and please put me straight if I'm wrong, but this is the general sense I'm getting from your posts.

If you are anxious, bear in mind that it's absolutely OK to be anxious - I think sometimes Catholic women believe that if they voice any fears about religious life other than, "A consecrated vocation is so beautiful and I'm not worthy", they're somehow being bad Catholics. I was very nervous about trying religious life for a long time. In my late teens and early twenties I loved the idea of it, felt drawn to it...until I imagined myself requesting entrance, and then the nerves and the "what ifs" set in. I didn't feel as if I could be open about these, because I knew the responses were likely to be, "Trust God!" and that would make me feel bad about myself for not having enough trust. But God knows our anxieties very well; he is not frustrated with us for them. We really can bring them openly to him.

If I'm misreading you, I still think that it might be more helpful for you to meditate and reflect on something other than the hypothetical religious practices of a random monk. ;) Whoever he is, he would probably be very surprised to learn that he's interesting enough to occupy someone's mind for years.

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Marsabielle
3 hours ago, beatitude said:

Is it logically possible for someone never to look up at anything or anyone and just stare constantly at the floor? Think about all the practical tasks that a monk has to do in a day (and recreation with his brothers is one of those), and you'll see that it can't be done.

This issue is obviously important to you, or you wouldn't have paraphrased the Bible verse about Mary treasuring Simeon's prophecy and pondering it in her heart to show how much you've been thinking about it. You say you've been thinking about it for years. I'm curious: why is the second-hand story of the behaviour of one monk whom you've never met so important to you and so worth dwelling on? Why do you need to know how his religious practices affect him, seeing as you don't know him and you aren't joining him in his monastery?

Together with the other question you asked lately, about another discerner's suitability for religious life, the way you've taken this hypothetical scenario deeply to heart suggests to me that you might be anxious about religious life and what you're actually asking is, "Will I feel empty and lonely there, or will God help?" I'm sorry if I'm assuming too much, and please put me straight if I'm wrong, but this is the general sense I'm getting from your posts.

If you are anxious, bear in mind that it's absolutely OK to be anxious - I think sometimes Catholic women believe that if they voice any fears about religious life other than, "A consecrated vocation is so beautiful and I'm not worthy", they're somehow being bad Catholics. I was very nervous about trying religious life for a long time. In my late teens and early twenties I loved the idea of it, felt drawn to it...until I imagined myself requesting entrance, and then the nerves and the "what ifs" set in. I didn't feel as if I could be open about these, because I knew the responses were likely to be, "Trust God!" and that would make me feel bad about myself for not having enough trust. But God knows our anxieties very well; he is not frustrated with us for them. We really can bring them openly to him.

If I'm misreading you, I still think that it might be more helpful for you to meditate and reflect on something other than the hypothetical religious practices of a random monk. ;) Whoever he is, he would probably be very surprised to learn that he's interesting enough to occupy someone's mind for years.

Thanks beatitude! Spot on-though I myself am not looking to enter anytime soon. I heard this story of the monk from a Bishop who seemed very impressed by this practice. At first, it struck me as impractical. I have been pondering it for so long because for me, it really does have more to do with the spiritual life than being merely a physical practice. 

 

I am in need of an SD right now, but for almost a decade have been torn between two extremes of the spiritual life: that of complete self-emptying, and the other notion that we should go through life with a firm notion of Providence and striving to live in love. While moderation is key, it is interesting to me to note how many holy people practice one or the other in various ways. Not sure if I'm making sense!

 

Also, I do have contact with many people who have left religious life-some have been asked to leave, some chose to leave despite Superiors' wishes, some mutually discerned God's Will was elsewhere. It does make me have different concerns than I did when I first began discerning years ago.

 

Still, no one has answered my original query.. If someone practiced this, as a few Saints have done (and many more have not!), is that pleasing to God? 

 

I suppose, in typing this out, I'm being made aware of the fact that I'm pondering moreso the notion of how one is to please God. Oh Lord how I need an SD-stat!! 

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chrysostom

"It seems like by practicing [insert mortification here] so much she would become awfully empty, but awfully detached as well.  Would God come and fill all of that empty space?"

Yes, if it's done in the love of God.

"If someone practiced [insert devotion here], as a few Saints have done (and many more have not!), is that pleasing to God?"

Yes, if it's done in the love of God.

I could wear a hairshirt, but I don't. I could pray the Byzantine Rosary, but I don't. Should I worry? No.

Sounds like you're looking for confirmation in a number of highly personal spiritual decisions - and really, I think you know the answer yourself.

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beatitude

I don't think anyone can answer this query, because it's about a second- or third-hand anecdote and each retelling is coloured by personal interpretation. This is how urban myths begin. I don't think any saint lived with their eyes fixed perpetually on the floor, because logic tells us that this is not physically possible - they would have been constantly bumping into things and getting concussion. People can exaggerate or embroider the austerities they hear about without meaning to. A classic example of this is how people in nineteenth-century France reacted to the story of St Bernadette complaining about other children dancing around on the riverbank when she needed their help. At that time in France, there was a vocal group of Catholics who believed that dancing was immoral, and they interpreted this to mean that the visionary of Lourdes agreed with them. But those children hadn't been doing the waltz or the fox-trot along the riverbank, they'd been trying to warm up their frozen feet after crossing the river barefoot, and Bernadette (who was asthmatic and very delicate) wanted them to stop fussing and help her. So an anecdote about a bunch of cold children hopping about to warm themselves up turned into a pious legend about a saint rebuking her peers over the morality of dancing.

So if the story is very unlikely to be accurate, and if you're not planning to start looking only at the floor...how is the question about whether God is pleased with it relevant to you, or to anyone? I hope this doesn't sound critical; I don't mean it to be. I know that when we're anxious we get side-tracked by all sorts of questions that don't apply to our lives. But rather than trying to answer them, which can add fuel to our worries, I think it's better to focus on the questions that really are pertinent to us as we are now.

As you identify in your last paragraph, your question is really about how you can please God. :)

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dominicansoul

It all sounds practically medieval, doesn't it?

 

But it really isn't.  I found the practice of "custody of the eyes" extremely helpful to my spiritual health.  I went from staring out into space and day dreaming while waiting for the Mass to begin or paying attention to the people around me, to concentrating solely on Jesus Christ in the tabernacle.  At the refectory table, I concentrated more on chewing my food and sitting up straight and eating properly while listening to the spiritual reading without paying any mind to what Sister was doing next to me or across from me.  

In the convent, during silence, custody of the eyes helped me not to engage my other sisters at a time when we were not allowed to.  

Outside in the world, I like to practice more than custody of the eyes, more like "custody of the senses."  At my office, I practice this when I'm trying to get a project done, or when my fundie coworkers are being extra anti-Catholic..."custody of the senses" has been my refuge.  I shut them out.  It's difficult when they keep pecking at me, but overall it's been extremely helpful to my religious sensitivities...

 

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Marsabielle
10 minutes ago, dominicansoul said:

It all sounds practically medieval, doesn't it?

 

But it really isn't.  I found the practice of "custody of the eyes" extremely helpful to my spiritual health.  I went from staring out into space and day dreaming while waiting for the Mass to begin or paying attention to the people around me, to concentrating solely on Jesus Christ in the tabernacle.  At the refectory table, I concentrated more on chewing my food and sitting up straight and eating properly while listening to the spiritual reading without paying any mind to what Sister was doing next to me or across from me.  

In the convent, during silence, custody of the eyes helped me not to engage my other sisters at a time when we were not allowed to.  

Outside in the world, I like to practice more than custody of the eyes, more like "custody of the senses."  At my office, I practice this when I'm trying to get a project done, or when my fundie coworkers are being extra anti-Catholic..."custody of the senses" has been my refuge.  I shut them out.  It's difficult when they keep pecking at me, but overall it's been extremely helpful to my religious sensitivities...

 

Wow, dominicansoul, food for thought. Thanks for this post!

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beatitude
1 hour ago, dominicansoul said:

It all sounds practically medieval, doesn't it?

 

But it really isn't.  I found the practice of "custody of the eyes" extremely helpful to my spiritual health.

I completely agree that custody of the eyes as it's usually practiced is a normal and beneficial part of our life, but the original post asked about a monk who supposedly "never looked up at anything or anyone", which seems to be rather a different question. I've never heard of any monastery in history where custody of the eyes was defined like that.

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Era Might

Monks do strange things. So do athletes and anyone who's devoted to anything in particular. I'm guessing every monastery has its oddballs.

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BarbaraTherese

"Custody of The Eyes" to me is more about indulging curiosity.  I still at 72years of age (and many years long out of religious life) walk with eyes cast down, hence bump into things and people.  Eyes cast down is habitual and not a good habit either, but I just can't break it to date.  The only time I am aware of it is when I do bump into someone or something.  I am even a danger with my walker and especially crossing roads.  Eyes cast down is not at all a good habit for me, it is a quite negative one.

Attending a family gathering where a new branch of the family was attending due to a coming marriage, I felt that they had been informed that I suffered a mental illness - as I can at times unintentionally put my foot in things unaware that I have - and MI offers some sort of explanation.  It was a warm day and there were pedestal fans under the very large pergola.  As I was leaving I bumped into a fan and said "Oh I'm sorry" and then turned to the gathering and said "See I even talk to inanimate objects".  Laughter.

I recall while I was in monastic life that the novice sitting next to me in the refectory did absolutely everything with applied thought eyes cast down, hence in very slow motion.  She was the same with anything she did.  On the one hand it was admirable, on the other it used to annoy me intensely and the more I tried not to see, the more I did see.  The more I tried not to think about it and my annoyance, the more I did think about it annoyed. 

What I eventually did manage to do was to regard her as an inspiration by correcting every annoyance with "She is inspiring" - but it took a very long time indeed.  She inspired me to regard everything I did as done for God without allowing my thoughts to wander all over the place as they very easily still do.  

Edited by BarbaraTherese

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Bonkira
16 hours ago, Swami Mommy said:

In Hinduism there is a practice called ‘Shanbhavi mudra’.  In effect, it is the practice of keeping one’s attention turned inward on the heart center even as one interacts with the world.  It is, in effect, custody of the eyes, because one learns to see with the eyes of the heart instead of the mind.  This, to me, is the true purpose of the practice of keeping custody of the eyes, and has nothing to do with keeping one’s literal physical sight averted from the world.

This is an example a spiritual director once gave me. The act of keeping one's eyes down is a tool to achieve the inner tabernacle for Christ.

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dominicansoul
14 hours ago, beatitude said:

I completely agree that custody of the eyes as it's usually practiced is a normal and beneficial part of our life, but the original post asked about a monk who supposedly "never looked up at anything or anyone", which seems to be rather a different question. I've never heard of any monastery in history where custody of the eyes was defined like that.

Anything done to an extreme is never a good thing.  Except maybe love... 

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Sister Leticia

There are still a lot of mediaeval monasteries in continental Europe. If you ever visit them (and if you raise your eyes!) you will often see carved, vaulted ceilings and lovely, intricate carvings on walls and pillars. All done for the glory of God, but also, presumably, for the inspiration of the monks and nuns - to help them raise their hearts and souls to God. These carvings aren't only in the chapel (where the non-custody of the eyes public would have attended Mass), but also in the chapter house, refectory and elsewhere. I really cannot believe that stonemasons went to all the trouble of putting those carvings up there for people who were never expected to raise their eyes and see them!

Ergo: as Beatitude has said, mediaeval monks and nuns can't have spent ALL their time staring at the floor, and later ones wouldn't have either. (This is quite apart from the practicalities of actually needing to look up and around you at times!)

Edited by Sister Leticia
incomplete

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28yrolddiscerner

I think it would be good practice to keep one's eyes down in the presence of someone who was improperly dressed.  But being a monk around other monks, there seems to be no reason unless he is living among laity.  I think it is admirable, but could become a wall in getting to know people. He or she could become uncomfortable looking at people, which would be a shame.

Much better than oogling people though.

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Indwelling Trinity

In the missionaries of Charity there was great emphasis put on custody of the senses.  What evil you do not see cannot come back to your mind at night and tempt you and cause you to sin. Having  custody of your thoughts when not occupied by other things not related to your vocation allows you to brood over little irritations by other sisters to the point you are sweating bullets. And if you are in the cloister,  these things can become quite distressing. Think of being next to a sister 7-9  times a day who clears her throat about every 30 seconds. For the next 30 years  Custody of the tongue. Have you e ever meet someone who always knows t the inside scoop on almost everything? Walking nearest the wall we did not practice but I tried to give others the r right of way as a sign of respect and love. 

I cannot tell you how many times these  little things saved my vocation but they also taught me how to pray a and how to love. 

Most young  people myself included, 30 years ago are drawn e excessively b by the things  that shine in religious life. I do not condemn it rather I see it as a visible struggle for the soul to truly become inside what he or she manifests to the world outside. 

It is fine to do that but keep a balance in what you do. 

What you want to be in seminal form, you already have God is calling you each has a special vocation whether to the priesthood,  religious life, active or contemplative  or holy matrimony whatever it is live it now as you can. Pray as you can  and not as you can't. 

 

What I say to you most emphatically is get your heads out of the small stuff. We may very well be headed for a 1nuclear meltdown, a collapse of our economy and in the media sheer evil. Don't wait u until  tomorrow to  radiate Jesus  start now for the sake of souls and to comfort Jesus bringing his mercy to all you meet. 

 I am praying for you  take heart! .I am 30 years a religious and still growing and learning. In my case t the lord forgot to put in a few screws. 

Indwelling Trinity

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nikita92
On 12/8/2017 at 12:25 AM, Indwelling Trinity said:

In the missionaries of Charity there was great emphasis put on custody of the senses.  What evil you do not see cannot come back to your mind at night and tempt you and cause you to sin. Having  custody of your thoughts when not occupied by other things not related to your vocation allows you to brood over little irritations by other sisters to the point you are sweating bullets. And if you are in the cloister,  these things can become quite distressing. Think of being next to a sister 7-9  times a day who clears her throat about every 30 seconds. For the next 30 years  Custody of the tongue. Have you e ever meet someone who always knows t the inside scoop on almost everything? Walking nearest the wall we did not practice but I tried to give others the r right of way as a sign of respect and love. 

I cannot tell you how many times these  little things saved my vocation but they also taught me how to pray a and how to love. 

Most young  people myself included, 30 years ago are drawn e excessively b by the things  that shine in religious life. I do not condemn it rather I see it as a visible struggle for the soul to truly become inside what he or she manifests to the world outside. 

It is fine to do that but keep a balance in what you do. 

What you want to be in seminal form, you already have God is calling you each has a special vocation whether to the priesthood,  religious life, active or contemplative  or holy matrimony whatever it is live it now as you can. Pray as you can  and not as you can't. 

 

What I say to you most emphatically is get your heads out of the small stuff. We may very well be headed for a 1nuclear meltdown, a collapse of our economy and in the media sheer evil. Don't wait u until  tomorrow to  radiate Jesus  start now for the sake of souls and to comfort Jesus bringing his mercy to all you meet. 

 I am praying for you  take heart! .I am 30 years a religious and still growing and learning. In my case t the lord forgot to put in a few screws. 

Indwelling Trinity

This is off the orginal topic- "Clearing of the throat" is a "Habit" of some people (religious AND not) that can really grate on one's nerves!! I know! I was involved in a relationship, where the person ALWAYS seem to clear their throat!! When I would ask (repeatedly) "what was wrong?" they would answer with a variety of explanations! It also can be considered a "TIC"! 

I am no longer involved with that person....and I certainly do not MISS hearing that person continuing "Clearing their throat"!! Lol (Same with a person that continually makes "Sniffing" noises!  (However, that is another experience!  lol )

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