Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Modern Spiritual Classic 2

A Small Classic of Modern Spirituality 2

In last post I dealt with lecture one by Thomas Keating. In this post I propose to deal with his second lecture. This lecture is entitled simply: “Contemplation and The Divine Healing.” Here he addresses the question as to who we really are or who we are called to be in our lives. In both lectures he manages a brilliantly rich assimilation of the findings of modern psychology with the spiritual quest.

I loved the following analogy that Thomas Keating uses for the spiritual life and I’ll let you hear his own simple yet profound words: “The divine therapy, like the A.A., is based on the realization that you know where you are (the topic of the first lecture) and that your life is unmanageable. We may be able to lead a relatively normal life, but there is no experience of the true happiness that comes from letting go of the obstacles to the awareness of the divine presence.” (31)

Keating asserts, and he has been a practitioner of meditation for more than 50 years, that a spiritual practice or discipline is necessary to disarm and dismantle our selfish programmes for happiness which we have bought into over the years of our growth and consequent conditioning. Keating also alludes to all our defence mechanisms which we human beings use to protect our “real self” from being exposed to possible ridicule. Freud’s daughter Anna was the first psychiatrist to enumerate the defence mechanisms and she mentioned among others the following: compensation, denial, displacement, intellectualization, rationalization and projection. A discussion of any of these is beyond the scope of this short post. However, it is important to point out that defence mechanisms can be both helpful and unhelpful. Keating, is referring to the unhealthy use of defence mechanisms to avoid the naked truth about ourselves. Let us listen to Keating again: “The deep rest of Centering Prayer loosens up the defence mechanisms that have kept an emotional trauma in early childhood from confronting us. One of the most devastating emotional traumas of early childhood is phys n 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 defence mechanisms.” (p. 34)

Keating obviously would advocate appropriate psychotherapeutic help for such victims of child sexual abuse. Nor does Keating, I hasten to add dismiss defence mechanisms as all bad, for indeed clearly they are not so. Rather they serve to defend and protect the self from harm and shame or perceived harm and shame. As we grow older and as we get to know our real self, as we either attend to seeking professional help and/or engaging in exercises of meditation or contemplation, we open ourselves up to healing, real deep healing and to the very experience of the unconditional love of another human being and, Keating would argue, most especially the unconditional love of God for us in our brokenness.

Above, once again, I have pasted a picture I took of an evergreen tree in Newbridge House last summer.

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