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Contemplation and the Divine Therapy - 2 - The Human Condition

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Contemplation and the Divine Therapy - 2 - The Human Condition

This sort of spiritual discipline is a therapy for the tyranny of the false self, not only for our emotional programs for happiness, but also for our overidentification with family, nation, religion, or group. Of course, we owe a measure of gratitude to our nation, religion, and family. But it is interesting that Jesus said that unless we hate our parents, we can't be his disciples. by this he didn't mean that we should not love and respect them and care for them in their old age, as commanded by the Fourth Commandment of the Torah, but that we should not have a naive loyalty to a particular group (even one's family) that disregards injustices that need to be corrected. Sometimes, for the sake of peace or in order to be loved, one sweeps serious problems under the rug instead of dealing with them in honesty and truth.

Once a regular practice of Centering Prayer has been established , we move normally in each period of prayer toward a place of rest where our faculties are relatively calm and quiet. Thoughts are coming downstream, but as we learn to disregard them, we begin to enjoy a sense of divine presence. Beyond our thinking and emotional experience is the deeper reality of the spiritual level of our being, it is another way of knowing reality that is unlike ordinary psychological awareness. As a result, not only is the mind quite and at rest from the ordinary concerns of daily life, but the body also begins to rest, a rest that is deeper than sleep.

Repressed material in the unconscious is vigorously defended by our various inclinations and biases, especially by our emotional investment in particular programs for happiness rooted in the unconscious. The deep rest of Centering Prayer loosens up the defense mechanisms that have kept an emotional trauma in early childhood from confronting us. One of the most devastating emotional traumas of early childhood is physical or sexual abuse. The damage done to the delicate emotional lives of children is so painful that it is repressed into the unconscious, where it may remain unknown by the victim unless deep psychotherapy or contemplative prayer loosens up the defense mechanisms.


Centering Prayer is not an end in itself, but its deep rest loosens up the emotional weeds of a lifetime. When our defenses go down, up comes the dark side of the personality, the dynamics of the unconscious, and the immense emotional investment we have placed in false programs for happiness, along with the realization of how immersed we are in our particular cultural conditioning. Everybody is culturally conditioned to some degree. Even the greatest saints only reach a certain degree of freedom from cultural overidentification.

That overidentification is challenged in Centering Prayer, We spend the first part of our lives finding a role-becoming a mother or father, a professor, a doctor, a minister, a soldier, a business person, an artisan, or whatever. The paradox is that we can never fully fulfill our role until we are ready to let it go. Whoever we think we are, we are not. We have to find that out, and the best way to do so, or at least the most painless way, is through the process that we call the spiritual journey.

This requires facing the dark side of our personality and the emotional investment we have made in false programs for happiness and in our particular cultural conditioning. Rest in Centering Prayer provides us with profound healing. To be really healed requires that we allow our dark side to come to full consciousness and then to let it go and give it to God. The divine therapy is an agreement that we make with God. We recognize that our own ideas of happiness are not going to work, and we turn our lives over completely to God.

What happens during this process is a certain unloading of primitive emotions or a bombardment of thoughts that we never expected to have on the spiritual journey. To evacuate that material, all we have to do, under normal circumstances, is to wave good-bye as it passes through our awareness. Then, when we return to our original intention-usually through some symbol of turning inwardly to God, such as saying a sacred word or following the breath as a sacred experience-this process starts over again. We move toward rest. The rest, when deep, releases repressed material from the unconscious. We experience a kind of psychic nausea and then a sense of freedom from have gotten rid of a wad of undigested psychological data from early childhood.


To submit to the divine therapy is something we owe to ourselves and the rest of humanity. If we don't allow the Spirit of God to address the deep levels of our attachments to ourselves and to our programs for happiness, we will pour into the world the negative elements of our self-centeredness, adding to the conflict and social disasters that come from overidentifying with the biases and prejudices of our particular culture and upbringing . This is becoming more important as we move into a global culture and into the increasing pluralism of religious beliefs.

What are we going to do when we are surrounded with people whose belief systems are quite different from our own? Where will our support come from? Instead of finding support that will back up our own belief system, we might look more profitably for the self-differentiation that enables us to be fully ourselves, with the acceptance of our limitations. As we become more aware of the dynamics of our unconscious, we can receive people and events as they are, rather than filtered through what we would like them to be, except them to be, or demand them to be. This requires letting g of the attachments, aversions, "shoulds,"and demands on others and on life that reflect the mentality of a child rather than that of a grownup. The latter, under normal conditions, is responsible for his or her choices.

This is a big project, but it is not yet spiritual maturity, It is just human growth into full responsible, self-reflective consciousness. It is the first step that the Gospel invites us to take in the process of repentance. Daily life, if one is alert to the dynamics of the unconscious, brings us too new levels of realization not only about where we are but who we are. 

Reference: The Human Condition : Thomas Keating

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