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Thomas Keating & The Three Biological Needs
Q: Thomas Keating identifies three essential biological needs for human beings: (1) Security & Survival, (2) Power & Control, and (3) Affection & Esteem. Can you please tell me if these biological needs are Fr. Keating's own creation or did he borrow them from another source? If another source, where? If original, what led Fr. Keating to this insight? God bless you all at Contemplative Outreach.
A: Thank you for this basic question. I had to step back and take another look, as I have gotten so accustomed to talking about these three essential needs.
Thomas Keating is a gifted integrator. Through his 94 years of life he has received wisdom primarily from his own lived experience; his faith; study of the Scriptures; the reading of the Fathers of the Church; the profound influence of Christian monastic tradition; his vast reading of science, psychology, evolutionary insights; his dialogue with leaders of the world religions; and the influence of the members of Contemplative Outreach over the years who have provided him with receptive and challenging platform for articulating and refining his thoughts.
With your question in mind, I was recently talking with Thomas about other things and casually asked him what was his source for this teaching. After he stopped laughing, his said it has been so long ago it is hard to remember. In a sense, it was all the above. And then, as it is with many of us when called to remember, the bits and pieces slowing began coming together. Here is my reflection from the conversation:
The biological needs that Thomas often mentions flow from various sources, in particular: Ken Keyes Jr, Handbook to Higher Consciousness; dialogue with Ken Wilber; and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For a good summary of the teaching, see Keating’s book, The Human Condition.
But these sources are just the tip of the iceberg. The foundation of his observations are fundamentally found in his lived experience and the richness of the monastic tradition, but especially the Scriptures. In particular the Temptation of Jesus in the Desert and the Beatitudes. I call your attention to his book, The Mystery of Christ, in the chapter on the Temptation, and his book, Invitation to Love, the chapter on the first four Beatitudes.
These biological needs are good and essential in our growth as human being. But when they dominate our lives, then they possess us and become our gods. Thus the need to enter into the contemplative journey.
What do you think? I look forward to hearing from you. – Fr. Carl