If during periods of temptation and trial you refrain from natural contemplation and hold fast to prayer, withdrawing your intellect from all things and focusing it on itself and on God, you will put to death the inward disposition which produces evil and you will send the devil packing with his tail between his legs. For it was the devil who insinuated this habit into you and, relying on it, he boastfully approached your soul, vilifying truth with proud thoughts. David who had vast experience in the front line of every kind of spiritual battle, was most likely not simply familiar with these tactics but actually put them into practice: for he says: ‘While the wicked one stood before me I was dumb and humbled myself and refrained from uttering even good words’ (Ps. 39: 1-2. LXX). Jeremiah, in the same spirit, warned the people not to go out of the city because the sword of the enemy lay about it (cf. Jer. 6:25).
We may apply this also to Cain and Abel (cf Gen. 4:8). Cain is the law of the flesh, and the field into which Cain and Abel went is the realm of natural contemplation. Had Abel kept guard over himself and had he not gone out with Cain into the field before attaining dispassion, then the law of the flesh would not have risen up and killed him, cleverly deceiving him when he was engaged in the contemplation of created beings before being fully prepared.
Similarly, if Dinah the child of Jacob had not gone out to the daughters of the land – that is, into the world of sensible images – Shechem the son of Hamor would not have risen up and humiliated her (cf. Gen. 34:1 -2).
We should abstain from natural contemplation until we are fully prepared, lest in trying to perceive the spiritual essences of visible creatures we reap passions by mistake. For the outward forms of visible things have greater power over the senses of those who are immature than the essences hidden in the forms of things have over their souls. Of course, those who confine their minds Judaic -wise to the letter alone expect the promises of divine blessings to be fulfilled m this present age, for they are ignorant of the qualities naturally inherent in the soul. —St Maximos the Confessor ‘Philokalia’