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