Chapter Twenty-One: ON THE AVOIDANCE OF EXTRAVAGANCE
IT is a known fact that a person who practices the piano too zealously gets cramp in his hands, and a too diligent writer exposes himself to writer's cramp. Dejected and downcast, the musician or author, just now so full of hope, must break off his work; in idleness he is exposed to many evil influences.
From this example you should take warning. Fasting, obedience, self-discipline, watchfulness, prayer all make up the constituent parts necessary for practice, and only practice. And any practice should be always undertaken genuinely, quietly taking into account one's own resources of strength (Luke 14:28-32), and without exaggeration at any point. Be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer, advises the holy apostle Peter, and through him the Lord (I Peter 4:7).
Drunkenness does not always originate in alcohol and other means of inebriation. just as dangerous is the drunkenness that springs from all too great self-trust and the eagerness that ensues. With an abandoned zeal that expresses itself in exaggerations and extravagances, it sows its sacrifice on the soil of practice. The crop that shoots up out of this is unsound: it bears such fruit as overstrain, intolerance and self-righteousness. No, here it is a matter of not turning aside to the right hand or to the left (Deuteronomy 5:32) and never having the slightest confidence in one's own strength.
If we do not find within us rich fruits of love, peace, joy, moderation, humility, simplicity, uprightness, faith and patience, all our work is in vain, points out St. Macarius of Egypt. The work is carried on for the sake of the harvest, but the harvest is the Lord's.
Therefore, keep watch over yourself and be deliberate. If you notice that you are becoming irritable and intolerant, lighten your load a little. If you have the desire to look askance at others, to reproach or instruct or make remarks, you are on the wrong road: he who denies himself, has nothing with which to reproach others. If you think you are becoming "disturbed" by people or by external circumstances, you have not understood your work aright: everything that at first glance appears disturbing is really given as an opportunity for practice in tolerance, patience and obedience. The humble man cannot be disturbed, he can only disturb. Therefore keep yourself under, hide yourself. Go into your room and shut the door (Matthew 6:6), even when of necessity you find yourself in a large and noisy company. But if this sometimes becomes too hard to bear, go out anywhere where you can be alone, and cry out from your whole soul for help from the Lord, and He will hear you.
Think of yourself always as like a wheel, advises Ambrose: the more lightly the wheel touches the earth, the more easily it rolls forward. Do not think of or speak of or concern yourself with earthly matters more than is necessary. Remember, too, that a wheel that is completely in the air cannot roll.