Session 67 Spiritual Senses, part 2

Father Keating continues to try and describe for us what is meant by the Spiritual Senses as written about by the Desert Fathers.  He likens the first sign of spiritual attentiveness to a perfume.  When we smell a flower as we walk by it, we notice it and sometimes try to identify it.  Keating says, “Similarly, what the Fathers mean is that the first sign of spiritual attentiveness is the attraction for interior silence, the desire for a time of prayer in which to be still, for a place of solitude, for a few moments of quiet.”

He goes on to give this wonderful description, “It’s as if God, who dwells here in the ground unconscious and beyond [points to top of skyscraper chart], lifts a corner, so to speak, of the veil and a little whiff of the delicious and delightful scent, so to speak, of God’s beauty and goodness slips out, and a waft, or a little breeze of this, gets down into the spiritual faculties of passive intellect. And the will, then, is attracted with great desire to rest in this presence, to open to it, and to surrender to it.”

The second spiritual sense is when you begin to desire to take the time to practice your centering prayer twice daily.  One is aware that the experience may not be of solace, or rest, but the desire, the attentiveness and attraction to centering prayer is present and one responds to this.  Keating says this spiritual sense is more like a “touch.”  He notes “But an attraction that pulls you into your daily practice of prayer, to which you are committed rain or shine, in sickness and health, no matter what the content of that is in the form from boredom, distress, bombardment of thoughts, the unloading of the unconscious, the intense purification and humiliation of the false self system that gradually takes place through the dynamic of purification, healing, unloading the unconscious damage of a lifetime.”

The third spiritual sense is one that is compared to taste because one feels the presence of God as an interior presence.  One experiences unity with the Ultimate Reality and one may experience this occasionally and it comes and goes.  Keating notes “One experiences the presence of God as an interpenetration of spirits, as a decisive presence within us that is living our life, so to speak, or living in us, or, more simply, living you and I.”

Father Keating uses Mary of Bethany and St. John, the apostle, as examples of people with spiritual senses.  But he continues and acknowledges that we all have been enabled to receive the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus “So that you and I, as we receive the Eucharist, are offered the interior grace that corresponds to the spiritual sense of taste, the highest of all the experiences of spiritual awakening, at least in the doctrine of these Fathers of the Church. Taste then is the most intimate of the spiritual experiences in which the object of our knowledge of God disappears.”

And finally, Father Keating gives examples of what St. Teresa of Avila experienced, “And this is the grace that gradually develops from that prayer, the “lights on” mysticism, in which the presences of God gradually unfold as “felt” experiences at deepening levels of union, assimilation and transformation. This grace is the fruit of moving beyond experiences into the restructuring of consciousness and the transforming union where it takes place, in which the fruit of those experiences, of the undifferentiated presence of God, are now an abiding state of being …” 

Father Keating says “In other words, all that we experience of God, however exalted, is only a radiance of God. It can’t be God as he is in himself, because he infinitely transcends all our categories and experiences. So even these great experiences of union that St. Teresa describes, or the Fathers in the spiritual senses, is not the goal of the Christian life, but rather the transforming union in which the energy of faith and trust and love is constantly beamed to us, whether we experience it or not. And the body itself has become sufficiently stabilized and able to receive the divine communication. So that this gift of God’s person, his self, his love can be manifested in all our activities in daily life, even in the most ordinary.”

He also claims “This is total freedom, the freedom not only of union, but of a union that is maturing into unity. Thus, if you could envisage the divine energy as infinite potentiality, infinite possibility, and it gets localized in you and I, then, if there’s no obstacles in us, no self projects, no false self-system, then one becomes a pure light through which the Divine Presence can manifest itself as it is, as distinct from a stained-glass window in which the divine light is serving your virtues or your beauty.”

What a wonderful plan for us and I appreciate Father Keating bringing these possibilities to our awareness so we can possibly bring them into our lives through our practice of centering prayer.  Thank you.


Session 65 Mary and Martha from a new perspective

Father Keating begins the story of Mary and Martha that we have heard so many times before at the beginning of this session. And he acknowledges that analysis we commonly hear, that Mary was listening to Jesus and she had “taken the better part.” Keating goes on though and says that Mary perhaps is listening to the Word, she is listening past the personhood of Jesus and is going deeper to the spiritual center of the Divine. He compares Mary’s attention to the practice of Lectio Divina, when we listen to the Word of God and the meaning it has for us. And Lectio Divina, in the way Mary was present to the Lord in the gospel story, Keating notes “… is to give us God’s thoughts and these good thoughts kind of push out the ordinary run of worldly concerns and self-centered programs, and the whole world of the false self system around which our thoughts and reactions to events circulate and produce behavior in accordance with the value systems of our childish programs for happiness: security ... pleasure ... power, as absolutes. “

Keating compares what is happening for Mary as she sits listening to Jesus to what happens for us when we are listening to someone who is fascinating and there is a shift, or a blurring, that occurs and we go deeper in our understanding of that person, beyond the words being said to the sacredness of the speaker. Keating says, “So, having left aside, then, the thoughts and the concepts in some degree as this process deepens, one also begins to lose track of the images and reflections that you were making on the texts or the words that you were hearing in Scripture. And now one is beginning to wait upon God, listening to his person and entering into union with that person.”

Father Keating discusses further that we surrender to the presence of the Divine and we need help to do that. He says that the sacred word helps us “. . . to maintain that surrender, given the distractive-ness of human nature, we need some little help. And that help is simply the sacred word, which gently, ever so gently, maintains our attentiveness to the Presence. It doesn’t create the Presence. It doesn’t hold it in place. It simply holds us in the attitude of waiting upon God in general loving attentiveness. Not to his words, not to concepts, but to the Presence itself. “

He next identifies the sacred glance and the sacred breath as other ways to help us surrender to the Divine within us. Keating says, “What happens, then, as one practices the sacred word as the take-off point, or the sacred glance towards God, or the sacred breath, is that one begins to realize that these gestures are like what is happening on the spiritual level, where one is in the presence of God “as if” you were looking, “as if” you were hearing, “as if” you were breathing the Spirit. But you’re no longer on the external level. You’re not involved in the external senses. But you’re involved in the awakening of a spiritual experience which is removed from the senses; but is similar to them. In spiritual things you can’t explain what is happening because there’s no language for immaterial experience.”

Keating ties it all together in the final paragraph and I am just going to quote it so you can get the entire point, “ It’s as if you were looking at a tree and then your gaze expands and you’re looking at the whole woods. Only in this case the difference is maximal, because when you move from a tree to the woods, you’re still on the same horizontal plane of reality. Here you move from the senses to the Spirit and there’s a vast difference in the vertical plane that we’re dealing with on those two levels. And so, spiritual attentiveness, then, is the fruit of the practice of listening to the Word of God, of looking lovingly upon God, icon, or at the tabernacle, or at the Eucharist exposed on the altar, or in breathing, following one’s own breath as a symbol of opening, receiving, and surrendering to the Spirit. And at that point, then, one becomes aware of the undifferentiated presence of God beyond thinking, feeling and particular acts. And this is where every method of contemplative practice is designed to bring us.”

And though Father Keating doesn’t bring it back to Mary here, the implication is that this is what happened for Mary as she sat “listening to Jesus.”

Session 63 Beatitudes as Spiritual Journey

Session 63 The Next Four Beatitudes

In much the same way as the previous session, Father Keating goes through four beatitudes explaining their place on the spiritual journey.

Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.

Keating explains “The beatitude, then, that corresponds to the full reflective self-consciousness of the Mental Egoic level is the beatitude of the Merciful: “Blessed ... Oh how happy you’ll be if you show mercy, forgiveness and compassion because you will then receive the same.” And as Jesus says in another place ... “in ever increasing abundance.”

He notes that we are to love one another as Jesus loved us, not merely as we would want someone to love us, but to love as Jesus did.  “To love one another as Jesus has loved us is to love one another in our humanness, individuality, in our opinionated-ness, in the things that drive you up the wall, in the personality conflicts. In other words, it’s to put up with this guy or this person with love and to continue to show love no matter what the provocation may be in the opposite direction for us coming from them. This is great freedom indeed ... not to react in kind out of compulsivity: to attack, insult, abuse, or whatever.”

Keating reminds us that we need to have loving kindness and compassion for ourselves as well.  “Another aspect that’s important at this level and which goes with this beatitude and which is something that we can do, is to practice also great compassion for ourselves. It’s astonishing how important that is, especially in our time, when so many people have a low self-image and experience self-hatred, which is simply the pride system in reverse . . . . we don’t measure up to the idealized glory or perfection that our preconceived ideas require. And so, the pride system, not God, says: “You’re no good. “

We are responsible at this stage to continually keep our connection with God, “we are responsible for this co-operating with divine transformation, . . .  to develop the devotion and dedication to God that comes through prayer. And prayer as a relationship, then, as we saw, becomes more intimate, more of a resting in God’s presence.”

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

At this level, we are approaching the Intuitive stage of development. “all our relationships change towards ourselves, towards God, towards other people, towards the cosmos, etc. And we then spend a period of time integrating and adjusting ourselves and all our faculties to this new experience or level of being.  And the promise is “they will see God.” Not with bodily eyes, of course, but with the x-ray eye of faith that is purified in the Night of Sense and which now penetrates through experiences. .  . In other words, our sensitivity to the message of divine love that is beamed to the whole universe is sensitizing us to how it speaks to every creature at every level of its being.”

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 

And this is the beatitude of the peacemakers. These are peacemakers not so much because they demonstrate (although this is useful perhaps) or run all over the world, or preach it; but, more important, they have become peacemakers in their inmost being by establishing, through their sensitivity to the Spirit, peace within themselves.   Keating relates that one is able to act through and with Jesus and not through the ego. 

And finally Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

People are at a pretty well-developed level for this beatitude because suffering for righteousness sake can be very difficult.  In this category is someone like Nelson Mandela, but it may be your next door neighbor and you are unaware of his circumstances. Keating says “And one perceives that in persecution, one is actually serving in the most decisive and perhaps effective way of all the means of exercising ministry.  In the experience of union, one not only enters the peace of Christ, but becomes oneself a transmitter of the divine life. This energy that God has given us is being transmitted constantly to those with whom we live and love and beyond. As even the physicists say, you can’t have a thought without the rest of the universe being instantly affected.”

For Further Study, read Invitation to Love by Father Keating.


Session 61 The Beatitudes as Spiritual Journey

The Beatitudes as an Indicator of the Spiritual Journey

Father Keating looks at the Beatitudes and compares them to the stages of consciousness the human goes through in the spiritual journey.  He notes how each of the Beatitudes illustrates to us how we can free ourselves from what causes us to suffer through our false self-system once we become aware of these challenges and how to “repent” or change the direction in which we are looking for happiness. 

Keating notes, “The false self-system, with its longing or desires or demands for various forms of happiness that can’t possibly happen, is constantly being frustrated; hence the upsetting emotions of anger and grief which put us into emotional binges of one kind or another, day after day, maybe several times a day.”

He continues, “That’s the source of frustration: to demand from the legitimate pleasures of life an absolute happiness. This is idolatry. This is making this particular pleasure or experience an idol, something to substitute for the happiness that we are not experiencing from union with God. That’s the human condition.”

How does this happen?  Keating reminds us, “Each one of these energy centers develops in the context of isolation and in the consciousness of an identity, a self-consciousness, that is developing without the experience and reassurance of divine union. So, each time we move to a new level of self-consciousness, we move to a new level of fear, dread, isolation, alienation that comes from the separate self-sense. This is what the Spirit of God is trying to heal, along with the damage that developed because of our ways of coping with these impossible situations. “

We can use our study of the Beatitudes to help us heal.  Father Keating uses four Beatitudes in this session to show us how they apply to our growth or lack of growth of consciousness.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Father Keating notes that the gift of piety is asked of us to be “poor in spirit.”   We are asked to be aware of reality and to accept reality as it is and not how we want it to be.  He says “This attitude of happiness in the face of destitution, poverty and affliction, is the fruit of letting go and of acceptance of what is. But it’s not just a passive acceptance. The eighth Beatitude is the “Beatitude of Those Who are Persecuted for the Truth or for God’s Sake.” And their reward is exactly the same as that offered in the first Beatitude; namely, “the Kingdom will be yours.” In other words, by accepting reality and events, one is free of the predetermined goals and demands and shoulds.”

We are to remember that God may be asking us to change a situation that we see as a reality and so Keating uses both of these Beatitudes to illustrate moving beyond our demands for security.  

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Keating believes the Beatitudes are wisdom sayings and they help us to let go of what holds us back while not taking all of our knowledge from us.  Here he discusses the discipline required in fasting, or praying in a certain situation, or a type of work.  We mourn how we want it to be and use discipline to help us do what we are called to do and to be rather than how we envision it should be.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Father Keating says “And here the Beatitude is ‘Oh how happy you would be if you don’t want to have control over anybody, dominate situations, other people and try to control your life and events and even God, if you could get away with it.’

Here the happiness consists of the freedom to be able to accept . . .  and to get along with people who you don’t like, or whom your chemistry doesn’t seem to agree too well, or who drive you up the wall.

One of the great traditional means of working this distortion or malformation out of our system is the vigorous practice of serving others . . .”

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Keating goes on to explore “The fourth stage of our development, then, moves out of these childish programs for happiness and brings them into a new dimension which is the ... fourth stage-mythic membership consciousness.

Here the Beatitude addresses over-identification with a group to free us from too great a dependence on social pressure, from human respect, from wanting to belong to the group to such a degree that we do not respond to the request of the Gospel to go beyond the conformity level of morality or the respectable behavior that may be an honor in a particular peer group we might be in. This is the Beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. They will have their fill.’”

Keating concludes “Notice how the Beatitudes are all directed to one project ... inner freedom: freeing us from the fascination of programs for happiness that are doomed to failure; freeing us from an over-dependency on unquestioning values, what might be called pre-packaged values, preconceived ideas.”

Keating relates “ . . .  these first four Beatitudes correspond really to the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. Because it is through these Beatitudes that we finally let go of those demands or needs which, when frustrated, tend to push us to disregard or despise or neglect the needs or rights of other people. And when we ratify such attitudes, this is what leads to personal sin. And so, these first four Beatitudes are preparing us to graduate from our childish programs for happiness and our over-dependency on our early relationships so that we may begin to hear the Word of God in the Gospel addressing our hearts and to respond now with the kind of freedom that will enable us to negotiate the higher levels of consciousness.”


July 30, 2018

Session 58 is a rewording and “staying with” the presentation of Session 57 of St. John of the Cross and the dark night of the soul.

Session 59: The Night of the Spirit as summarized by the Retreat Directors

     "God as he is in himself can be fully accessed only by pure faith. The purification of faith and love, not spiritual consolation, leads to transforming union. ... For those enjoying the path of exuberant mysticism (the path described by Teresa), as well for those on the hidden ladder, there comes the further purification of the night of spirit. Even in the experience of the unfolding stages of prayer, the false self is at work, subtly transferring its worldly desires for satisfaction to the good things that are now available on the spiritual path." 
-- Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love 

In past sessions we talked about the dismantling of the false-self system and in the above quote from Fr. Thomas, we see that despite our best efforts, the false self persists. Up to this point on our spiritual journey we are largely engaged in getting to know this false self as we progress in self-knowledge, what some say is the purpose of a spiritual journey. Mary Mrozowski, one of the founders of Contemplative Outreach, used to say that we should be gentle with our false selves because for most of us it is the only self we know. During the dark night of the soul, as Gerald May reminds us, we are being led by God into places we could not or would not go on our own, the purpose of which is to get to know who we really are in God. The night of sense moves us in that direction but doesn't quite get us there, so we enter into the night of spirit. 

The night of spirit is a more intimate purification where all "felt" experiences of God disappear, but we enter into a process of liberation. In today's video, Fr. Thomas describes five significant fruits of the night of spirit. The first is freedom from the temptation to assume a glamorous role because of our spiritual gifts and charisms (humility). The second fruit is freedom from domination of any emotion. Third is purification of our idea of God, the God of our childhood or the God worshipped by the particular group to which we belong. The fourth is the purification of what are traditionally known as the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. And the fifth fruit is the longing to let go of the selfishness that still lingers in us and to be free of every obstacle that might hinder our growth in divine union. 

Experiencing these fruits "we are free to devote ourselves to the needs of others without becoming unduly absorbed in their emotional pain. We are present to people at the deepest level and perceive the presence of Christ suffering in them. We long to share with them something of the inner freedom we have been given, but without anxiety and without trying to change them or to obtain anything from them. We simply have the divine life as sheer gift and offer it to anyone who wants it."
-- Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love 

Resources for Further Study: You may wish to read Chapter 15 - 17 in Invitation to Love (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 14 - 16 in older editions. 

You also may wish to read The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May. 


July 25, 2018

Session 56 and Session 57 continue to present the complicated Dark Night of the Sense experiences that humans on the spiritual journey may have as God brings them closer and closer to Himself.  Father Keating gives an overview of the experiences of Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross as he explains what happens during this period of time in the spiritual journey.  Father Keating reassures the listener/reader that one needs to continue on the path and though it seems difficult at times, it is a sign the individual is growing spiritually.

Gerald May writes in The Dark Night of the Soul, 

"If we really knew what we were called to relinquish [consent to] on this journey, our defenses would never allow us to take the first step. Sometimes the only way we can enter the deeper dimensions of the journey is by being unable to see where we're going. 

"We cannot liberate ourselves; our defenses and resistances will not permit it, and we can hurt ourselves in the attempt. To guide us toward the love that we most desire, we must be taken where we could not and would not go on our own. And lest we sabotage the journey, we must not know where we are going. Deep in the darkness, way beneath our senses, God is instilling 'another, better love' and 'deeper, more urgent longings' that empower our willingness for all the necessary relinquishments [consents] along the way."
-- Gerald May, The Dark Night of the Soul 

Going through the dark Night of the Sense brings us to transforming union with God.  Each person has experiences that are a bit different, but there is some commonality.  As noted in last week's blog post in which Fitzpatrick-Hopler and Best discussed, there are feelings of being left alone, of being separate from others, yet feeling a closeness to God, a need to spend more time with God, which may not result in feeling better.  One needs to continue on the spiritual journey; it helps to have others to talk about these experiences with to aid in understanding what is happening. 

Father Keating notes "The experience of the transforming union is a way of being in the world that enables us to live daily life with the invincible conviction of continuous union with God. It is a new way of being in the world, a way of transcending everything in the world without leaving it."
-- Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love 

Resources for Further Study: You may wish to read Chapters 15-17 from Invitation to Love (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 14-16 in older editions. 

You also may wish to read The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May. 

July 17, 2018

Session 54 is about the Dark Night of the Soul.  Interestingly, the retreat leaders clarified that for St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, both Spanish speakers, dark meant obscure or hidden, like not being able to see at night.  It wasn’t “dark” like evil as we define the word today.

The Session is a discussion between Mary Anne Best and Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler

Mary Anne begin by talking with Gail, “As you noted, the night of sense, when we’re in it, it may not look like a profound invitation from God, but it leads to deep healing and purification of our motivations in our hearts into all of the other fruits that were given by the spirit. I, myself, think of it as illuminations in the soul by God.”

Gail notes, “Interesting because I realized I had similar experience in that, and I suppose it’s an earmark of going deeper. The God I knew was gone and I didn’t feel anything, or I didn’t know anything anymore. And I didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the people, with my peers and my family members. I felt separated in a certain kind of way. I felt really kind of perplexed and I was having some sort of, I would call it suffering, I was suffering internally in a way because of the losses.”

Gail later discusses our options during the experience of the dark night, “I think we just make the commitment to take ourselves to our prayer chair every morning and just sit down and do it. The whole idea of practice is we practice every day and we make the commitment to practice every day. It’s not about sitting down and feeling good. It’s about sitting down and deepening our relationship with God for the 20 minutes. We just take ourselves and do that and in faith believe that this is what we’re doing even if it doesn’t feel comfortable or right, we do it anyway. In fact, I think St. John of the Cross had said when your life is busy, and you feel discouraged, don’t do less prayer, do more. If you could add a few more minutes, just sit down and then take yourself back to your chair in the afternoon or early evening and do your practice and just get up from there, not trying to figure out what happened in the inner room or not trying to understand what’s going on per se, but just go about your life. And allow your life to show you markers about where you are in your relationship with God and others – and it will be an interesting experience but not to hold onto the time of prayer as like the place where you and God are working on something. It’s just an opening so that God can do the work. It’s really kind of a break. I remember one time, Father Thomas said to me, I don’t know, I said something about doing my Centering Prayer and he said to me, ‘Well, that’s kind of like a vacation, a vacation from yourself and you just sit down and it’s like a relief.’ That was another good tip for me and kind of helpful – a vacation from myself, a vacation from that constant inner chatter.”

The two close the discussion with this reading, “I have a little, another little reading from Invitation to Love that we can close with and I think it really affirms what we’ve been saying, ‘The night of sense enables us to face our distorted views of God and to lay them aside then we are free to relate to God as he is and to use the immense energy that this freedom releases to relate to others with respect and love. One way, God deals with the limits we have of relating to him is by reducing our concepts of him to silence. As resting in God as contemplative practice becomes habitual, we spontaneously disidentify with our emotional programs for happiness and our cultural conditioning. Already, we are meeting God at a deeper level. In time, we will grow from the reflective relationship with God to one of communion. The latter is of being to being, presence to presence relationship which is the knowledge of God in pure faith.’”

Session 55 continues with Father Keating explaining the process of the Dark Night of the Soul and the need to stay with the spiritual journey although it may be very difficult.  The retreat directors summarized Father Keating’s complex discussion well.  It follows:

“Once we start the healing process during the night of sense, the energy that previously went into satisfying the demands of the energy centers is freed up and becomes available for other purposes. We might say that instead of running on the energy of the false self we are running on divine energy. The freeing of this energy can be quite powerful and sometimes overwhelming, especially if we are not prepared for it. The Gospels suggest that we prepare ourselves by creating two banks in our lives, likes the banks of a stream, so that this energy can be channeled for our good. The first bank is created and maintained through the discipline of our practices and our devotion to God. The second bank is service of others through our state in life, our commitments, and perhaps some ministry. 

The two banks prepare us to channel the energy of what Fr. Thomas calls the unloading of the unconscious into higher levels of consciousness. The night of sense is a transitional stage in our growth and development where God shakes the ground on which we felt secure and opens us to new ways of seeing and experiencing reality. It is the interior silence, the resting in God, the opening in trust that enables the night of sense to begin its healing work. It is in this transitional stage that we begin to dis-identify with our emotional programs and with our cultural conditioning, which in early life formed our identity, our image of God, and our relationship with God. God relates to us wherever we are in our level of human development; the fruit of the night of sense is that we have the opportunity to relate to God in a new way, face to face, being to being, in pure faith. 

The night of sense challenges our commitment to the spiritual journey. Commitment in relationship, including our relationship with God, allows us to be vulnerable and let down our defenses, which sometimes causes the dark side of our personality to arise. This is our growing edge, part of the process of purification and transformation. This can be very painful, especially if we are experiencing aridity, that feeling that God is absent, and the loss of our previous spiritual consolations. We may start to have second thoughts about the path we have chosen. In today's video Fr. Thomas says, "If you ... walk away from your commitment to the spiritual journey, who goes with you? The false self, of course. And wherever you go, you take it and you just have to face it once again under some other circumstances, with some other community, or with some other person."

"God is calling us in the night of sense to take responsibility for ourselves and for our personal response to Christ's invitation to follow him. This includes our response to the people we live with and, ultimately, to the whole human family."
-- Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love 

Resources for Further Study: You may wish to read Chapter 11 - 14 in Invitation to Love (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 10 - 13 in older editions. 

You also may wish to read The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May. 

July 10, 2018

Session 49 of the Spirituality and Practice Retreat focuses on what the Holy Spirit does for us as we consent to its presence and action in our lives.  As we are more and more open to the Spirit, the Spirit allows us to see who we really are, our good characteristics and the characteristics we struggle with.  As we are allowed to see this information about ourselves, we are healed from our false selves.  This begins when we consent to the transformative process and one of the actions we can take to consent is centering prayer.  

Father Keating uses a model of a spiral that descends at the same time it is connected with a spiral that ascends, like a DNA model that is moving up and down at all times.  He says "So down is up and up is down. You can’t humble yourself without being exalted. And you can’t exalt yourself without being humbled. This diagram becomes a circle in which you arrive at the same place whichever spiral you are emphasizing. You find purity of heart; the emptying of the unconscious junk of a lifetime and the transforming union which is the full development of grace and the supernatural organism (true self), the results of which move us towards the experience of Oneness in varying degrees."

Session 50 and 51 are Pauses in the Retreat.  Session 52 begins the third phase of the Retreat and begins with a lecture by Father Keating on the Dark Night of the Sense.  Keating explains that we all have a false self system and so has everyone except the very few, which he lists as Mary and "maybe" St. Joseph.  What we all have to cope with is "Our experience, then, as we approach full self-reflective self-consciousness, is the experience of an uprooted identity, an identity that is experienced as alienation from ourselves, from other people, from God. And we come to this full existential separate self-sense without the experience of union with God. And this gives rise to all the alternate or substitute or pseudo ways of finding happiness in a heart that is existentially alone and afraid."

Keating notes PROGRESS IN THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY DEPENDS ON DEVELOPING THE PERSONAL LOVE OF CHRIST.   We establish and build this relationship through prayer.  Keating notes we can use Lectio Divina to establish, build and maintain a friendship with our Lord.  He then explains that as our friendship deepens, we begin to be able to let go of our ordinary requirements of safety and security, affection and esteem, power and control, but it doesn't feel good to let go of our usual and depended upon methods of "feeling better".  We begin to know we have to trust in God even though we may not feel His presence as we have in the past and at times, these trials result in some false self system needs that overwhelm us and we do not behave as we would like to.  Keating explains, "Actually, it’s the divine light simply focusing on one area of basic selfishness so that we may experience inwardly and face that particular mixed motivation or that dark side of our personality which prefers our own satisfaction, when the chips are down, to the rights and needs of others. In other words, these energy centers are the sources of personal sin."  For us on the spiritual path, we must keep going.  Next, we undergo the trial of believing, that because we are holy or trying to be holy, that God needs to reward us and we feel betrayed, hurt, and bewildered when this is not what we experience in our daily lived experiences.   

We eventually come to know, as Father Keating acknowledges, that God is going to "TREAT US LIKE AN ORDINARY PERSON One of the great fruits of this Night of Sense is humility in which we begin to assume once again our place as a member of the human family, suffering all the human conditions that anybody else does. And now we allow God to treat us like an ordinary person without expecting special treatment. But now we know, as we accept that situation, that at a deeper level, God is actually giving us even greater protection, because as we go through a few impossible situations, we find that somehow God always provides us with a way out. And little by little, as we accept the disintegration of the false self system which the Night of Sense is gradually, gently, bringing to an end, then the levels of prayer [pointing to the list above Night of Sense on chart] that St. Teresa describes in “The Interior Castle” may begin to unfold. The Night of Sense, then, is designed to bring about the death of the false self, the dismantling of the energy centers, and the enormous freedom of being able to decide what to do with our lives, with everything that happens, without the compulsions, the routines, and the fixations of the false self system."

You may wish to read Chapter 11 - 14 in Invitation to Love (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 10 - 13 in older editions. You also may wish to read The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May.  

June 24, 2018

Session 47 and Session 48 of the Spiritual Journey series focuses on what happens during Centering Prayer for the individual pray-er.  Father Keating discusses the process of how the pray-er, with time, as she Centers on a day to day basis, begins to be more aware of inner awareness-es and less dependent and reactive to the outer awareness-es of life.  For example, when an upsetting event may occur, the pray-er is able to "watch" the event rather than be absorbed in the event without the awareness of how the event is touching or effecting the pray-er.  

As time goes on, the pray-er becomes more aware of inner processes and is able to respond with compassion and love which emanate from deeper levels of our spiritual selves during these events and with continual discipline to centering prayer, this deepening level of awareness continues until, as determined by God, we become more and more united with our God.  

In Session 48, Father Keating discusses the "moments" of Centering Prayer.  I copied and pasted the summary from the retreat leaders here:

"In today's video, Fr. Thomas introduces us to the seven moments of Centering Prayer, an unfolding psychological process we go through in Centering Prayer and then day after day, and year after year. This process opens up our awareness of these deeper levels of being. We begin to experience God's healing action, what Fr. Thomas calls the Divine Therapy. 

The first moment of Centering Prayer is when we settle into our intention to consent to God's presence and action within by introducing our sacred word. During the second moment we start to quiet down and experience the rest that begins to work on the unconscious. The third moment may bring feelings of uneasiness and apprehension because our defense mechanisms are lowered and repressed psychological material starts to emerge. In the fourth moment we may begin to feel the emotions we dreaded or experience psychological insights. We don't pursue insights during prayer but allow feelings to surface as part of the healing process. The fifth moment is acceptance. We allow the body to feel what we have avoided feeling so that we don't perpetuate the pain. Acceptance moves us into the sixth moment which is evacuation, getting rid of the emotional junk of a lifetime. With each evacuation the Spirit rushes into the empty places and fills us up with the capacity for human health, the seventh moment. Each time we move through the cycle of the moments of Centering Prayer, we get closer to the center, our True Self and the Divine Indwelling." 

The moments of Centering Prayer are not just in the period of the prayer itself, but what happens through the years of praying.  The first couple of years may be spent at the first moment and as one continues to pray, one begins to get in touch or connect with who one is at a deeper level through one's greater connection and trust to God.

I appreciated this video and the knowledge of the "moments" because this is the first I have heard of this and I am experiencing this in my prayer time.  I am feeling anxiety and it is pretty consistent about 15 minutes into the prayer.  I really want to get up and stop praying as it if quite uncomfortable.  I now know I need to sit and stay with it and "This too shall pass."  This is an evacuation I need to experience and I do trust God, so this understanding helps me recommit to my centering prayer practice with more courage.

Resources for Further Study: You may wish to read chapter 4 in Intimacy with God (20th anniversary edition), Chapter 8 in older editions. 

June 18, 2018

Session 45 is a Transformation Story; Father Keating’s story about a Brother in the monastery whose name was Bernie. 

Father Keating tells the story of how loving Brother Bernie was and how strict as an Abbot Father Keating was and how Father Keating was eventually transformed as he learned to recognize the love in Bernie’s heart for him and all of life.  If you ever have the chance to read or hear the story, it illustrates the love of life through who Bernie is and the transformation Father Keating experiences as he comes to see the love of Christ in Bernie. Here are some quotes from this Session:

"When someone treats you in such a way that it makes you think of God, then they're a sacrament of God. And the sacraments are really meant to make us into sacraments; that is to say, to enable us to transmit the experience of divine love in some way."

"If there's any way of possessing anything in this world, it is in loving it."

It’s the acceptance of everything God wants us to accept and the willingness to give it back to him at a moment’s notice. That is human freedom. And it’s not loving the world less that makes you holy. It’s loving it passionately and the people in it and the concern ... this is how God is. And, at the same time, for the love of God ... to let it go when he requests it, without a moment’s hesitation.

Resources for Further Study: You may wish to read Chapter 9 in Invitation to Love and review Chapter 8 on "The Four Consents" (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 8 and 7 in older editions. 

Session 46 is about The Consent to be Transformed

"We are now approaching our true self.  We are approaching our inmost center. We are approaching 'Love loving itself.' What is going to happen? Without intending anything special, without necessarily doing anything special, people begin to find God in us as we humbly do what we are supposed to be doing. Complete submission to God allows the divine energy to radiate, and others seeing this have a sense of being in touch with God or in the midst of a community where divine love exists. This is what a Christian community is supposed to be, whether it is a family, parish, or organization. This ... way of working or acting in daily life might be called 'transmission.' 

"... Our contemplation is thus perceived, enjoyed, and received, perhaps without a word being spoken, or without anyone being able to explain it. People know that, somehow, Christ is active and present in us - loving them through us. This is the atmosphere in which people can grow and become fully alive. One needs to feel loved as a human being to come alive. The greatest love, of course, is divine love, especially when it become transparent in others. And divine love is most impressive when such persons are not even aware of it, when that love just happens." 
-- Thomas Keating, The Divine Indwelling 

And Now What? 

"Q: Is there any regret?

"A: No regret, but there is an awareness that the expectations and wishes of the world often cannot be met. 

"Q: What would you specify as 'your' function?

"A: To be that which I am to the world and explain it as clearly as possible in order to facilitate spiritual awareness and thus contribute to the relief of the suffering of mankind. The energy field with which that function is accompanied does by itself silently contribute to the well-being of human life and diminish human suffering, which itself is a satisfaction and a completion.

"Q: What prayers are useful?

"Ask to be the servant of the Lord, a vehicle of divine love, a channel of God's will. Ask for direction and divine assistance and surrender all personal will through devotion. Dedicate one's life to the service of God. Choose love and peace above all other options. Commit to the goal of unconditional love and compassion for all life in all its expressions and surrender all judgment to God."
-- David Hawkins, The Eye of The Eye 

(These quotes were selected by the retreat directors for Session 46.)

June 4, 2018

This is a copy and paste from the introduction by the retreat leaders to Father Keating's video on The Four Consents developed by theologian John Dunne.

Session 43: The Four Consents
 "I came that they may have life, 
and have it abundantly." 
-- John 10:10

Drawing from the work of the theologian, John S. Dunne, Fr. Thomas provides us with another view of the spiritual journey called "The Four Consents." We know from our Centering Prayer guidelines that consent plays a central role in our practice and in our life. We return again and again to the sacred word, which is simply the return to consent. As we become habituated to the return in our practice, it becomes more automatic to return to our consent in daily life. Today's teaching on The Four Consents begins to unpack what God is asking us to consent to in each stage of life, from infancy to old age and ultimately, death. 

The first is to consent to the basic goodness of our being, the unique gift of our life, which is loveable before we doanything. The second is to consent to the full development of our being with all of our talents and creative energy. The third is to consent to the diminution of self that occurs through illness, old age, and death -- the letting go of everything we love in this world, whether persons, places, or things. The fourth is the consent to be transformed which requires us to consent to the death of the false self. 

Because of our life circumstances, which we now understand so well from the teachings on the human condition, we hesitate to consent emotionally as we go through life. Our biological instincts get us through the hesitation so that we can go on living, but we may become ambivalent towards life and hesitate to give full consent to the goodness of all of our human potentialities. When we consent to God's presence and action within our Centering Prayer practice, God's action invites consent where we were unable to in childhood and growing up. 

"To consent to God's world, to one's own goodness, to the goodness of others, and also to consent to the inevitable diminishing of one's physical powers and the letting go of what we love in this world is the way God brings us gently to the final surrender in which we are willing to let the false-self die and the true self emerge."
-- Thomas Keating, from today's video

"The true self might be described as our participation in the divine life manifesting in our uniqueness."
-- Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love

Resources for Further Study: You may wish to read Chapter 8, "The Four Consents" from Invitation to Love and Chapter 12 from Open Mind, Open Heart (20th anniversary editions), Chapters 7 and 13 in older editions.

May 28, 2018

Session 39

As summarized by the Retreat Directors of The Spiritual Journey, they note that Father Keating illustrates that as the human family enters into rational consciousness, there are three essential relationships that every human being is capable of experiencing. The first is with God, an encounter with the Ultimate Reality which is the depth of our own being -- the unmediated interpenetration of spirits. 

The second essential relationship is the respect and service of other persons, where we are called to love one another as Jesus loved us. The third is stewardship for the earth with all its inhabitants and the cosmos. This seems so logical until we realize that we are experiencing turmoil in our lives and in the world because the emotional programs are ruling over our reason, intellect, and will -- our higher faculties. When Fr. Thomas talks about the emotional programs co-opting our higher faculties, this is what he means. We have the ability to make rational judgments, but instead we make emotional judgments. He says we are being pushed around by our emotions. 

The Christian journey can restore the faculties to their proper place, first through the example of Jesus who is a model of the spiritual journey. We begin to feel the love of God infused into our being and, in gratitude, we consent to God's presence. Resting in God allows the intuitive faculties to function at the deepest level, bringing us to relating to God beyond thoughts, feelings, and particular acts. With the emotions at rest we no longer resist the movement of the Spirit. We begin to experience God in everything and everyone, in all of creation, which is another way of saying we are now living the contemplative dimension of the Gospel. As the human family enters into rational consciousness, there are three essential relationships that every human being is capable of experiencing. The first is with God, an encounter with the Ultimate Reality which is the depth of our own being -- the unmediated interpenetration of spirits. 

Father Keating illustrates what happens in THE UNION OF OUR TRUE SELF (taken from the video The Spiritual Journey Part 3) :

What happens once this transforming union has been established and one moves into that stage of translating all of one’s actions and relationships and into this level of consciousness which is the consciousness of being united with God, with Christ, day and night all the time, whenever one might want to refer to it or think about it? The Ground Unconscious means that one moves into an experience of unity with the Ultimate Reality. The transforming union is the death of the false self, but, at the same time, it is a union of our true self. And one is aware of and in union of a self even if one doesn’t have much interest in it. The “I” of the false self system has died or has relinquished its predominant position and the divine life with its inspirations is predominating and is pointing out what is to be done all the time. And since the emotions are now at rest, they offer no opposition to this movement of the Spirit. At this level it seems that the transforming union can evolve into an even greater unity or experience of oneness with the Ultimate Reality which has now become the Ultimate Presence. And in no way can a concept come anywhere near describing that experience, the experience of unity. Well, if that is attained, then the awareness that God is coming to us and is present at every level of our being and has always been there and can come to us through any experiences of the senses, the imagination, the memory, the intellect. In other words, the whole of the natural organism is suffused with this light, life and love in such a way that it begins to resonate throughout our internal senses and even our bodies with the sensitivity to the Divine Reality presenting itself in an infinite number of ways and now no longer mysterious, hidden or opaque, but open to the x-ray eyes of faith and welcoming us into the world of freedom, which is not freedom to do what we want, but freedom to do what God wants without thinking about it.

Session 40

Father Keating explains in God Is Love: The Heart of All Creation in different words the same point he makes above.  That as we continue on the spiritual journey, God changes us and we are able to understand at a new level God’s will for us and to respond to that.

Taken from God is Love: The Heart of All Creation

 On the night of Christ’s Resurrection, he visits the disciples upstairs in the room. He first says, “Peace be to you.” And he shows them his wounds. Then he said it again, “Peace be to you.” Peace is like a divine kiss. It establishes a certain disposition of enjoyment or contentment or readiness for the relationship, whatever it is. And then he breathes on them. This is a very significant symbol because he clarifies it in case there’s any doubt: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” So, the kisses become even more passionate, you might say, in the spiritual sense and the giving of the Spirit is the interpenetration of spirits. The oneness of the continuing experience of loving with fidelity and trust and love begins to move into a unity consciousness in which the presence of God and us are not distinct anymore. This isn’t usually a permanent state in this world because of the other things you have to do to survive. But this presupposes that after the transforming union, a new level of Christian life opens up that is meant to go further from a union, as wonderful as that is, with God to a unity in which God takes over the faculties more and more. And as in Jesus, [God] manifests himself in everything we do by suggesting what the right response to every situation is from the perspective of divine love. All self-interest is transformed into abandonment to the divine will and the openness to manifesting it. This is heaven on earth, that’s for sure. But it’s extremely down to earth and it doesn’t need extraordinary consolations, or still less, visions or things. It’s just leading ordinary life from this extraordinary perspective of allowing God to manifest in us rather than ego or false self or anything else.

Resources for Further Study: You may wish to read Chapters 15 and 17 in Invitation to Love (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 14 and 16 in older editions.

You also may wish to read Chapters 4 and 5 in Intimacy with God (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 8 and 9 in older editions.

May 21, 2018

This week (Session 37 and 38) Father Keating explains another psychological model titled The Philosophical Model.  The seminar leaders summarized the Philosophical Model presented by Father Keating as follows:

The Philosophical Model presented by Fr. Thomas in Monday's video is admittedly dense. Many of us may find it hard to understand and even harder to apply. The teaching might be summarized this way: This model describes the evolution and obstacles to unity consciousness, which most of us haven't experienced as yet and don't understand. Culturally, we worship reason even while our emotional programs unconsciously rule us.

The emotional programs which “rule us unconsciously” are given space to heal during the centering prayer period.  The seminar leaders note as follows:

In addition to the active intellect which gives us the ability to reason, we have a passive or intuitive intellect which perceives truth directly without the mediation of reason. This is the seat of our will to God, or our desire to seek that which can only be filled by God. The consistent practice of Centering Prayer helps us to "close the door" (Matthew 6:6) on all of our faculties except our intuitive level through the passive intellect, which has the potential to lead us to divine union, the awareness of the oneness of the human family and the oneness with all reality. 

They then expound:  What a joy, then, to discover that the core of reality, our perspectives and inmost capacities, that place of union and unity, already exists in every one of us! 

Using Thomas Merton’s writing from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, the seminar leaders illustrate what is possible for us and for each member of the human family.

"At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak his name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming tighter in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely. ... I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere." 
-- Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander  

Further study for this week is from Chapter 12, "From the Inside Out" from Intimacy with God (2017 edition), Chapter 14, "Towards Intimacy with God" (older editions).  

May 6, 2018

Session 33

We know that all things work for good
for those who love God,
who are called according to his purpose.
-- Romans 8: 28

Father Keating relates a story in which he is frustrated with his prayer life and then envious of what another monk's prayer life seems to be in the monastery.  Father Keating finally talks to his abbot about it, “He himself was a man of prayer with great devotion to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, which is usually reserved in the monastic church. And so, he also was very much aware of the purification that begins when you enter a life of strict silence and prayer in which, you know, one’s unconscious motivation begins to emerge into consciousness; if you give it a chance. Well, it not only emerges into consciousness, the dark side of our personality begins to emerge existentially into your feelings. And so, as I was sitting there, feeling this horrible feeling and wishing it would go away, and praying for it to go away, and it just kept getting worse, or it would go away a little while and then come back worse than before.”

Father Keating is envious of another monk who seems to be praying more than he is and enjoying his prayer life more.  He claims “He hadn’t done anything wrong. He wasn’t doing anything. He was just minding his own business. It was my problem. You see, God used this other person to reflect back to me what my problem was. The person who gives you the most trouble in this world is the greatest gift that you have from God, if you can continue the spiritual journey. Because there are some dark places in our personality that even prayer or contemplative prayer doesn’t light up. God works on us both from within or from without . . .  Everything works together for good for somebody who’s on the spiritual journey, no matter what you think or feel. You’ve got to believe it.”

Father Keating knows it is not easy and at times, very difficult, but continuing on the spiritual journey is always the answer because God is always there for us, no matter what.  God gives us “infinite mercy” and Keating asks, “But, my God, what else do you want? If you have that, you don’t need anything else. And when that dawns on you, then the spiritual journey is not going to be put off by any trial whatsoever. Trust emerges with such force in that confrontation -- and it’s trust that leads to perfect love, nothing else, certainly not fear.”

Session 34

"Transformed in Christ, these blessed souls will live the life of God and not their own life -- although, indeed, it will be their own life because God's life will be theirs ... through a union of love. This is a great blessing. ... As he said in the Song of Songs: 'Put me as a seal upon your heart' (Song of Songs 8: 6). ... The heart signifies the soul in which God dwells in this life as a seal." 
-- John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle

Father Keating notes, "The true self is who we really are, that is as a manifestation of God, and is more or less unknown to us, or buried in the unconscious because of the development of our false self and our preoccupations with furthering that development that coincides with the development of the ego and our self-consciousness and reflective capacities. So, the true self is beyond reflection concepts. But beyond the true self, is the ultimate self or the deepest self, which is God, or in the Christian terminology, which is Christ in us. As Paul puts it, “I live now not I, but Christ lives in me”.   Keating provides several more examples of this, from Saint Catherine of Genoa and St. John of the Cross. 

Father Keating notes that we are aided by God through Centering Prayer to begin to give up and let go of our False Self and we eventually can carry this awareness with us throughout our day.  He says “ And, indeed, as time goes on, the Divine Therapist extends the walls of our office, so to speak, our inner room, to the whole of life so that everything becomes a process of purification, of healing and of releasing the empowerment in the unconscious, and in facing more and more the dark side of our personality in the form of self-centeredness, that tends to focus ultimately on over-identification with our roles, our thoughts, feelings, bodies and ultimately, identity. Hence, Jesus says, to be my disciple you must deny your inmost self.”

Keating notes that others help us in this journey.  Those who rub us the wrong way are messengers for us.  He says “Our enemies or those who rub us the wrong way or something like that are telling us something about ourselves. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them.”

He continues “It’s not others who we should look upon as the problem, but as an invitation to look into our own motivation. What is it that’s making this person or this situation so aggravating? And this is to work comprehensively on the therapy that we’re receiving in the inner room.”

Father Keating concludes with “But that to be really real, I have to allow that identity (False Self) to be changed, or left at the disposal of the Divine Will. So that my will, my spiritual will, my choice can be always and totally in union with God’s will, and this is the ultimate effect of transformation. As John of the Cross understands it, transformation is the transformation of our intellect and will into the divine intellect and will. An extraordinary statement that suggests that there’s no movement in us except under the influence of the Holy Spirit and that our actions are more and more emerging from that place of surrender, silence and receptivity that is the full development of the contemplative process moving through various stages, some of which are temporary, to the permanent stage of transforming union that corresponds to true self.”

Suggested Readings are in Open Mind Open Heart, Chapter 7, “Unloading of the Unconscious”

April 15, 2018

This week is about the False Self System which we can become aware of by watching our emotional responses in our daily activities.  When we feel upset, either through anger, grief, apathy, pride, or lust, we follow these emotional responses with "commentaries" about ourselves, which often result in feeling more upset. Here is a brief synopsis of some of Father Keating's thoughts on the False Self System and our afflictive emotions.  This is taken directly from Father Keating's talk for this week with a few additions and clarifications in bold: 

NOBODY HAS TO CHANGE, EXCEPT OURSELVES Grief (or anger, or apathy or pride or lust) is a very frequent experience when our emotional centers are frustrated. And it tells us infallibly: “Brother, or sister, you’ve got a problem.” Any upsetting emotion tells you that you’re in trouble. It’s not somebody else’s problem. It’s not the events of life. It’s your problem and you, as a mature human being aiming at full Mental Egoic consciousness, which is that of a human being, have got to take yourself in hand, take responsibility for those emotions, and change them, and stop blaming other people or events for how you feel. Nobody has to change for us to change except ourselves. And if other people have problems, that’s their problem. But if you’re upset, you’ve got a problem and you’ll always have it until you change it, and you can change it. And the effort to change it is what in our Christian tradition is called the practice of virtue. It’s as simple as that. Virtue simply is the introduction of reason, balance, moderation into our emotional life, which up till then has been irrational, subhuman, and childish, or infantile, if you prefer. 

Our false self system takes over when we feel strong emotions but Not God. He’s trying to save us from this nonsense. But pride always suggest that we’re not doing enough, not measuring up to our great potential, not converting the world, if that’s what we’re after, not being the president of this multinational, if that’s what it is, not being the abbot of this monastery; if that’s what it is. The false self is the most deceitful of all creatures. It easily adjusts itself to any state of life whatsoever. And so, it graciously changes its clothes, its address, the furniture ... anything else ... as long as you don’t ask it to change itself. But, I’m sorry to say, it does not drop dead upon request.

When the False Self System  hears that we have heard the great call of the Gospel to change, and we resolve, now, to adopt the principles of the Gospel, and we’re not going to give into these security trips, these ego trips, these power trips, the emotional centers just say, “Ha. Ha Ha. Just try it, brother!” Then, then you’re in the spiritual combat, because what you want to do, you can’t do. And so, you experience with Paul who describes it magnificently: “What I want to do, what my mind approves, I don’t do. What I hate doing, what I don’t want to do with my will and good judgment, I find myself doing.” That’s the exact description of what happens when you start taking yourself in hand, confronting the fixated, emotional patterns of a lifetime and trying to change them. It’s a job, but it can be done. It’s not done by pursuing extremes, but by the patient effort to dismantle the emotional centers, one by one. Fortunately, if you can determine what the biggest one is in your personal history and work at that, all the others diminish because they’re all interrelated.

Stay tuned for more next week.  



March 25, 2018

Father Keating continues to discuss the Evolutionary and Existential psychological models he has explained in the last sessions.  He further develops how the Evolutionary model relates to our spiritual journey in that although the Evolutionary model (Uroboric, Typhonic, Mythic Membership and Mental Egoic) illustrates the stages of human development, humans realize through personal experience that it is not as straight forward as perceived in the model.   Instead, there is a sense of something missing, a sense of just not quite ever feeling at "home".   

He says "The reason why we feel incomplete, afraid, terror stricken, in need of immortality symbols of property and possessions to shore up our fragile self-identity, is precisely because we feel that something is missing in our lives that we have no way of obtaining.  And that which we are lacking is the sense of oneness with the Ultimate Mystery of the universe, with reality, with God."

The Garden of Eden, or intimacy with God, is not a place, separate from us, but deep within us; it is a "state of soul, a state of mind, a state of consciousness."  The human predicament occurs because we all, from babyhood to puberty, do not realize we are one with the universe and instead perceive ourselves as "an individual psyche in the face of a potentially hostile universe."

Our need for security is huge.  Experiences occur in our early years that result in uncertainty about our assurance of safety and security.  We develop coping mechanisms to preserve a feeling of security which eventually results in inhibiting our emotional and spiritual growth. Using Ken Keyes' language, we create "energy centers" to protect ourselves and these centers develop "into a whole constellation of attitudes, motivations, responses and commentaries on life."  The security center is the first and Father Keating uses the motto "more and better" to show what we do to protect it.

"Esteem, honor, vanity" is the next energy center and if wounded, we experience "emotional frustration" and respond with our own particular "commentary" which helps to increase and support the emotional frustration we experience  Keating compares it to a wheel gathering momentum resulting in an "emotional binge."   He notes "One experiences oneself as kind of stirring the pot of human misery, even though you know it's killing you, you just can't stop"

The third energy center is for "power and control" and we use our reasoning ability to support our desire to control other people and events. Group think is a natural tendency of the human animal and when stuck in "energy centers" we may go along with our "groups" rather than listening to what is honest and what "serves the common good."  Authority needs to be used in the "service of the people it leads . . . and their personal growth and to bring them . . . out of this swamp of dependency on self-centered motivation into the freedom and responsibility and accountability of full personhood and full acceptance of one's place in the mystical Body of Christ, as a living cell responsible for all the other cells, proportionate to the gifts and charisms that God distributes throughout the body of Christ."

Keating shares "The false self system is thoroughly in place when we arrive at the age of reason and so is our group identification."  By now we have ideas of what will make us happy and these ideas are based on the desires of the false self system.  

The amazing thing that happens is God takes human form, through Jesus, and experiences all of what we experience as humans.  Jesus is led into the desert by the Holy Spirit for prayer and solitude and "to experience the human condition in its raw nakedness."  Jesus' temptations are 1). Make these stones into bread.  In other words, "put your security in your power rather than in God." and 2). throw yourself off the temple and you'll be worshiped, but Jesus rejects this and again, refuses to "rely on himself rather than on God."  Finally 3). Jesus dismisses Satan when he offers him the whole world if he will worship him.

Jesus gives us a new model to follow when we are in our "interior desert" and we will know the reward that comes from resisting temptations.  "So anybody who is resisting or trying to dismantle the false self system, manifested in these emotional programs for happiness, is in the desert, and is in union with Christ; or, rather, Christ is in union with them, in virtue of the solidarity of the human family and his taking it totally to himself in his Incarnation."  (**This is really cool to remember when one is struggling to change aspects of the false self system and it seems like others don't really want you to change.  You are one in Christ!)

What is the answer for our desire for happiness?  The Beatitudes simply mean "Oh, how happy you would be if . . ." and Jesus outlines what is true happiness.  To be "poor in spirit" is to "forget about security, to be free of it, to put your trust in God."  "Blessed are those who mourn" is to accept our losses and let new life emerge for us.  "Blessed are the meek" is to let go of the desire for power over people, places and things and "Blessed are the peacemakers" and those who "hunger and thirst for justice" is the Mental Egoic level of consciousness, which shows that one has freed oneself enough to reach this level of emotional well being. 

The Retreat Directors suggest that the retreatants spend some time with the Beatitudes.  They also suggest "reading Chapters 18 and 19 in Invitation to Love (20th Anniversary Edition), Chapters 17 and 18 in earlier editions" for further study.  


March 12, 2018

Session 17 continues with Father Keating’s further explanations of the psychological models that illustrate how human kind has developed through millennia and is replicated in each individual as s/he grows from a baby to a child to an adolescent to an adult.  He notes that unfortunately humans have been unable to make “use of the creative power of the brain, which is biologically available, and which automatically evolves with time,” and instead “this enormous energy, this new energy, is used to reinforce the fixations, the attitudes, and the physicality that is proper to these lower brains [Mythic, Typhonic, Uroboric].”  Therefore, we get “stuck” for lack of a better word, because we use all of our energy reinforcing what doesn’t really help us to grow spiritually. 

Keating regrets that we use our lower energies rather than the energy we are capable of using at the Mental Egoic level of development.  Instead of building bridges together, he uses as an example, we search for ways to be more powerful than others and compete rather than cooperate.  Keating believes that as one comes to understand one’s psychological make-up, one can begin to change and grow.

Father Keating explains that the infant is at the stage of Uroboric, and “It is so fragile when it emerges from the womb, that it needs instantly the care that will reassure it that its new world is somewhat continuous with the one it enjoyed in the womb.”  When these needs are not met, the infant is distressed and this results in a “dull, pervasive sense of anger.”   Keating goes on to give an illustration of this with a novice at the seminary who had a skin condition as an infant; his mother said they were told by the doctors to not pick him up. “This is one of the amazing things about the human condition: that the damage done may be nobody’s fault—just the vicissitudes of being a human being.”  

The Uroboric level then is one of the need for security and survival.  As a child grows, the Typhonic level is the development of emotional responses that are appropriate to the situation and then, at the age of 4 to 7, the development of Mythic Membership, or “it is interiorizing the values of parents, peers or the culture, insofar as it filters down, without question. Normally it unquestioningly accepts the information that it’s given and the values and the parents acting as models. the feeling of belonging to the group.”

Every three to four years, there is a biological growth spurt in a human being. Keating notes “From about one to puberty, the biological foundation or ground structure for life as a fully human being is completely established. At least, that’s the blueprint. Other people can interfere with that biological process. And this, along with negative experiences of life, is what produces defense mechanisms coping with difficult situations or emotions in a way that’s inadequate, or in a way that leaves behind stress or tension which makes it more difficult for the brain to unfold towards higher values and twists its energy around so that it uses its increasing brain power and energy, the new brain energy, to reinforce its programs for self-defense, or the programs for happiness that are beginning to develop in compensatory relationship to its grievances with life.”

At the age of fifteen, the human is ready for spiritual growth.  Keating repeats, “The first part of life is to enter into through particular experiences, to develop that self-identity as thoroughly distinct from all the other identities. Then comes the opportunity to translate that experience back into the higher values of the spiritual potentiality of the human being with the new brain, the left hemisphere being the basis for it.”

Session 18  The retreat directors in Session 18 ask the retreatants to comment on their thoughts after reading the psychological models as developed in lecture format by Father Keating.  They use the following quotes to help the retreatants use the information provided by Father Keating to apply what they have read to their own spiritual journey. 

“"The struggle between the old and the new self is a constant theme in the New Testament. The false self easily adjusts to the circumstances of the spiritual journey as long as it does not have to change itself. Thus, it manifests its radical self-centeredness in various expressions of human activity: in material pursuits such as wealth and power; in emotional satisfactions such as relationships; in intellectual goals ... in social goals such as status and prestige; in religious aspirations such as fasting and acts of piety; and even in spiritual commitments such as prayer, the practice of virtue and every form of ministry.

"The Gospel calls us forth to full responsibility for our emotional life. We tend to blame other people or situations for the turmoil we experience. In actual fact, upsetting emotions prove beyond any doubt that the problem is in us. If we do not assume responsibility for our emotional programs on the unconscious level and take measures to change them, we will be influenced by them to the end of our lives. As long as these programs are in place, we cannot hear other people and their cries for help; their problems must first be filtered through our own emotional needs, reactions and prepackaged values. No amount of theological, scriptural or liturgical study can heal the false-self system, because as long as our emotional programs for happiness are firmly in place, such studies are easily co-opted by them. ...

"Jesus appears in the desert as the representative of the human race. He bears within himself the experience of the human predicament in its raw intensity. Hence, he is vulnerable to the temptations [and yet shows us how to confront them]."
-- Thomas Keating, The Mystery of Christ

This is the time of fulfillment. 
The Kingdom of God is at hand. 
Repent, and believe in the Gospel.
-- Mark 1: 15

Emerging from the forty days of confrontation, Jesus' first words were about repentance

A Meditation

"Christ began his teaching not with any literal commandments but with a psychological idea -- the idea of metanoia which means change of mind. ... This word, metanoia, awkwardly translated as repentance, means a new way of thinking about the meaning of one's own life. ... That is its starting point: to feel the mystery of one's own existence, of how one thinks and feels and moves, and to feel the mystery of consciousness, and to feel the mystery of the minute organization of matter. All this can begin to effect metanoia in a [person]. The contrary is to feel that everything is attributable to oneself. The one feeling opens the mind to its higher range of possibilities. The other feeling closes the mind and turns us downwards through the senses."
-- Maurice Nicoll, The Mark 

"The heart of the Christian ascesis -- and the work of Lent -- is to face the unconscious values that underlie the emotional programs for happiness and to change them. Hence the need of a discipline of contemplative prayer and action."
-- Thomas Keating, The Mystery of Christ




March 4, 2018

Session Fifteen of the Spiritual Journey retreat focuses on the question, “Where are you?” as Father Keating continues to look at psychological models to help us understand our unconscious motivations to enable us to free ourselves from them. 

Keating returns to the model of Mythic Membership and notes that in this evolutionary stage, people connect most with the groups to which they belong; this can be family groups, national, ethnic or religious groups for example.  As long as people use these groups to determine their values and perceptions, they are unable to free themselves from personal responsibility which is a “characteristic of the Mental Egoic stage.”  Keating states that the Mental Egoic stage is the evolutionary model that we are called to in our current time, yet the earlier stages continue to break through in us depending upon what is happening in our lives.  When stressed, in crisis or when the unexpected occurs, these are gifts to help us notice our response and what evolutionary stage we respond out of.

The Gospel calls us to inner freedom, an inner freedom represented in the Mental Egoic stage of evolution because “Freedom is the name of the game in the Gospel—inner freedom, not permissiveness or license, but the freedom that can take responsibility for our emotions, our actions, our decisions, and our response to Christ.”

Keating goes on to explain that as adults, we can continue to grow until reaching the Mental Egoic stage, in which we take personal responsibility for our thoughts, actions, beliefs etc. and using this, we become better attuned to the sufferings of others and how we can be of help.  As we continue to grow in the spiritual journey, we get closer to the Intuitive stage in which we realize we are all in unity with others and begin to act through these beliefs, “It’s solidarity with other people, especially those in their need, that is the beginning of the movement into the Intuitive level which perceives the deeper synthesis that is present in superficial structures; and can synthesize and draw insights beyond the usual level of rational thinking and doing.”

Keating reiterates that Centering Prayer can lead us into contemplative life “which . . . offers us the possibility of perhaps inconceivable and unimaginable freedom and growth, union and unity with the Ultimate Reality or the Ultimate Mystery, whom in the Christian tradition we call God.”

Session Sixteen of the Spiritual Journey retreat focuses on the question “Who are you?”  and Father Keating relates the treatises of Tielhard de Chardin who wrote that the human race is ready to move to its next level of evolution beyond the biological of “grow and multiply.”  This makes the “new thrust or focus of evolution on the human being and its capacity for wholeness . . .”

Father Keating notes, “That puts a great human focus on the main issue or obstacle to moving on in evolution to this focus on higher states of consciousness and the capacity to see God in everything, to respond to every situation according to God’s will rather than our inclinations or our particular cultural inclinations.”

The next part of this session is too difficult for me to summarize so I am just going to copy it for you.  Here it is:

“We really see ourselves then as a macrocosm in which all the major expressions of God’s creation are somehow united in a single consciousness which itself then is capable of enormous growth beyond anything that we can imagine. And so, as Jesus prayed, “that they maybe one even as we are one” suggests a oneness and unity that is almost infinite or can’t be beat, to put it that way. The question: What is a human being? Or, more specifically “Who are you?” begins to emerge into prominent light and each one of these realities requires our consent to open to the next possibility. Here’s one example of how theology is enriched by science. If we now know that the human species has a oneness that transcends all differences and that we really are everybody else as well as ourselves and that when we greet someone we’re really greeting ourselves on one level. Besides that; everybody has the divine presence in them and is saturated with God. We know as Teilhard says every sub-atomic particle is Christ and we’re trillions of them. Our very bodies are just saturated with Christ all the time and manifesting in all the organs in more specific ways. All reality can be subjected to quantum physics, and so on. Is God manifesting or close to us or relating to us in everything that happens and in everything that we meet? And to live in that world is a very different situation from one of competition and of goals that are really based on infantile programs for happiness such as the three first energy levels of security, power/control and affection and esteem.”

Keating concludes noting that God is trying to take us to a new place, one in which we relate to God on a whole new level.  God is asking us to accept ourselves as love and to be one with God.

Resources for this week: You may wish to read the Introduction and Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 in Invitation to Love (20th Anniversary Edition) and the Introduction through Chapter 6, in older editions. 

Amazing!!  -Anne

February 25, 2018

February 25, 2018

Session Thirteen is the next segment of the Retreat offered through Contemplative Outreach in conjunction with Spirituality & Practice.   The Retreat now begins to take us deeper into the spiritual journey by helping us to understand, through psychology, how our “emotional programs for happiness” lead us into emotional turmoil.  Father Keating has done “seminal” work using several models of psychology to help us understand the human condition and how it affects us and how we can use this knowledge to help ourselves on our spiritual journey and help others as well.  From the retreat, “Fr. Thomas' intention is to help us understand why we need healing and what needs to be healed; in other words, what is being transformed. In Invitation to Love he says the primary goal of this teaching is "practical: to provide a solid conceptual background for the practice of contemplative prayer and the spiritual journey for our time. “

In Romans 7:15, St. Paul notes, “What I do, I do not understand. 
For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.

We have all had this experience in which we said something we wished we had not, or took actions we regretted later and often we ask ourselves, “Why did I do that?”  Father Thomas helps us to understand ourselves in this next segment of the retreat by sharing several models of Consciousness development.  He explains in Mystery of Christ, “  "The Gospel calls us forth to full responsibility for our emotional life. We tend to blame other people or situations for the turmoil we experience. In actual fact, upsetting emotions prove beyond any doubt that the problem is in us. If we do not assume responsibility for our emotional programs on the unconscious level and take measures to change them, we will be influenced by them to the end of our lives."

Here is an outline of the Evolutionary Model that Father Keating explains in the 30 minute video for this Session.

1. Uroboric: Immersed in nature, food, water, shelter and prompt fulfillment of needs, no separate self consciousness  

2. Typhonic: Magical, emotional, hunting culture (clan), formation of body-self. 

3. Mythical membership: Verbal, socialization, farming culture, city-state, nation/race

4. Mental-Egoic: Rational personhood, full reflective self-consciousness, cooperation, industrial technological society

5. Intutitive: Sense of oneness with the cosmos,  of belonging to the human family, inclination to serve rather than to compete

Keating explains that archeologists, anthropologists, historians and other scientists have contributed to this understanding of human development and it begins 4 to 5 million years ago.  The first stage is the longest stage, lasting about 5 million years, and it is called Uroboric, which means reptilian.  The human at this stage of consciousness is concerned with food, shelter and the prompt fulfilling of needs.  There is not separate consciousness from other humans or animals; at this stage, the human is immersed in nature and doesn’t see herself as a separate entity.

The next stage of consciousness is labeled Typhonic, which means half human, half animal and still, the human is most concerned with the fulfillment of instinctual needs.  There is a glimmer of a separate self during this stage, “And a Typhonic consciousness emerged, which is the emergence of a body self from nature. This is the first really significant distinction of self-identity.” There are two significant aspects of the Typhonic stage, “one is the inability to distinguish imagination from reality, the difficulty to distinguish the part from the whole.”  This stage lasts about 200,000 years and Father Keating notes how long it takes for consciousness to develop. 

Around 50,000 BCE, language was developed and things begin to change more rapidly.  This stage is called Mythic Membership and the most notable aspect of this stage is the importance of the group to humans.  The beginnings of the typical hierarchy we still see reflected today in governments and organizations begins in this level of consciousness.  Here is a brief summary from Keating, “The Mythic Membership level of consciousness is identified by anthropologists as emerging somewhere from twelve to ten thousand BCE. This is the development of the city state, a period of socialization. And the great factor that seemed to bring that about was the discovery of farming. And farming over against hunting means you now have a surplus and can plan the future and some people can have the leisure to give their attention to religious ritual and exercises, to money matters, to planning for the future, to storing up resources, and enjoying the possibility of a future. All of these revolutionary developments in consciousness brought about a gradual stratification of society, with kings and nobles and patrons and clients and slaves, and, not the least, soldiers.”

The final evolutionary stage in this model is labeled the Mental Egoic.   In this stage, rational or logical thought begins to appear and is valued over the previous stages of thought.  Therefore, although this is positive in many ways, the mind begins to be valued over the body and what we now perceive as “masculine thought” is given more value than what is perceived as “feminine” which is more body/nurturing aspects.

Keating concludes his explanation of the evolutionary model by noting “There is a further stage of consciousness—the Intuitive—which is a beginning to access the spiritual level of our being and it may be expressed by psychic gifts; but more importantly, it’s expressed by insights into the sense of belonging and unity with God and with the universe. In the view of this Evolutionary Model then, it proceeds beyond the stage in which is the common level of consciousness now into possibilities of growing even further.”

Finally, Keating explains that Ken Wilbur has looked at all of these evolutionary stages and researched how each human being goes through these stages in a lifetime, or is given the opportunity to go through these stages.  He notes “And that insight might be put this way: that each of us from the time of conception until about fifteen or sixteen passes through each level of consciousness that the human family as a whole has been through or still lingers in, because not everybody has climbed these stages.”

Humans can move back and forth between stages, depending upon what is happening in their lives and they can get stuck at a certain stage also.  Keating concludes “There is in us, then, both the values and the dis-values of each one of these levels. Ideally, the process would involve integrating all that was good at the previous level of consciousness into the new level which usually provides a higher synthesis and a greater range of awareness and growth. At the same time if there’s a fixation emotionally at one of these early levels, then the fixation is not integrated and then accompanies you through the rest of life. As one’s intelligence, perhaps spiritual life, physical nature grows, there remains the unintegrated value system from one of the previous levels of consciousness that is obviously not only inappropriate, but introduces a kind of civil war or pathology that is translated into the afflictive emotions of anxiety, turmoil, uncontrollable anger, lust, and the other afflictive emotions that we’ll be discussing later when we look at the Existential Model.”

Resources for further study refer the retreatant to read the Introduction and Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 in Invitation to Love (20th Anniversary Edition). 

Whew!  -Anne

February 19, 2018

I am actually going to cheat a bit and just copy and paste the Introduction to this week's retreat postings as we are having a PAUSE.  The first part of the course is completed, with an introduction to Centering Prayer, people trying it and then writing about their experiences in the Discussion Board.  I have been quite interested in how people's experiences in the retreat are so similar to what people share during the Introductory Workshops.  It is a similar path it seems and all we have to do is take the first step to begin it.  Not too much to ask.  

From the Retreat: Today, as we prepare to close the first part of our course, we pause and reflect, we breathe in and out: What have we heard? What has spoken to our heart? What do we wish to carry forward?

A Meditation

"For the yearning for truth burns in the human soul and finds satisfaction whenever truth is finally met. This yearning is a flame that cannot be extinguished. ... The human soul hungers to know who God is, just as a child wants to know his own father and mother.

"... By its very nature, the contemplative life ... inflames the soul's thirst for truth. Indeed, there is no contemplative grace bestowed unless a soul plunges deeply into a craving for truth. Over the course of time, the contemplative becomes a soul consumed by a desire for truth. Every falsity and artificial mask, every compromise that leans aways from truth, every contrived and convenient interpretation that strays from truth, is inimical to contemplative life.

"This is not all surprising, nor does it require strenuous effort. The turning each day to what is real and true becomes a natural impulse for the contemplative precisely because God is ultimate reality and truth. The degree to which our soul lives in truth, in even the simplest of daily tasks and endeavors, conquering pretension and egoism, confronting the truth of our absolute dependency on God is simply an indirect preparation and readiness for all deeper relations with God."
-- Donald Haggerty, The Contemplative Hunger


"The purpose, then, of silence, is to give an opportunity for the longing for God to break through the crust of the false self and our defense mechanisms so that we can be motivated by that hunger and that love to pursue the transformative process untiringly."
-- Thomas Keating, "The Pursuit of Happiness" video segment from Session 2