There are two main levels here: first, the memory images we have seen that are connected with our passions; the second, images from our imagination. All the images we have ever seen are stored in our brain. They range from the face of our mother from our infancy, and other joyful images, to pornographic and violent images or those who have hurt us. These images are especially powerful if they are attached to some kind of passionate act, of lust or anger. They can be a strong distraction from awareness of God.
What is important is to remember that these are just thoughts, memories, and we can dismiss them. They have no power over us that we do not give them. The task is to get beneath them, and let them go, and eventually take them to confession.
The second level of images is what is produced by the imagination. We quiet down, and start to pray, and go into all sorts of imaginal realms, populated by angels, demons, and any and everything else. Many people take this as spiritual vision. But it is not. It is the realm of delusion, and there is nothing spiritual about it. This is especially dangerous if one has a past with hallucinogens and other psychotropic drugs.
The task is, first, to stay with the Jesus Prayer. Then, after much practice, go into silence and be absolutely resolute to allow no images, even of Jesus or the saints, into one’s mind during prayer.
The imagination is still part of the mind, not the spirit (nous). Even icons are not to be contemplated in an objective sense, bringing the image into the mind. As St John
Chrysostom wrote, somewhere, “When you pray before your icons, light a candle and then close your eyes!” The icon is a sacrament of the Presence.
Spiritual work is very serious business. If we do not work through the issues that arise in a healthy way, they can literally drive us crazy. It takes a deep commitment to the spiritual process, so as not to be distracted by the emptying of our subconscious, and led into despondency or despair. The task is to persevere, and let the process take its course. This means confessing our thoughts and resolving our resentments, and receiving absolution of our sins.
Eventually, it works itself through, though it may take months or years to do so. As Metropolitan Anthony Bloom said, somewhere, when it gets too heavy, sit back and have a cup of tea! God is going to be there; it is we who have to work through our issues so we can be present to him.
Metropolitan J Pafhaussen