I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want,
but I do the very thing I hate.
– Romans 7:15
In Part 2 of this program, the sessions reviewed models of the human condition, setting the stage for what the spiritual journey is calling us to; in other words, what we can do about it. We only need to look at what Paul says in Romans 7:15 to know that if we don’t understand our own actions, we can’t do anything to change them. Perhaps one of the most difficult lessons that Fr. Thomas proposes is contained in the following quote from this session’s video:
“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.’ … Virtue simply is the introduction of reason, balance, moderation into our emotional life.”
When you listen to this portion of the video, pay close attention to the passion behind Fr. Thomas’ words. His words are directed to you out of love.
A point of clarification here: There is nothing wrong with our emotions. Emotions are a normal, natural part of being human. Our emotions provide us with significant information in order to be in relationship with our world and life and navigate circumstances. When someone we love dies, we grieve. When someone intentionally hurts us, we feel righteous anger. If a car pulls out in front of us, we feel fear. It’s when the emotions arise out of the frustration of the energy centers – that is, out of our programs for happiness – that we need to be vigilant. You may find it helpful to take a friendly attitude towards these afflictive emotions because they are clues that one of the energy centers is frustrated.
“There is an analogy between growing up spiritually and the growing up that takes place in the normal course of human life. In approaching adolescence and adulthood, everyone seems to have to pass through a crisis … God has great sympathy for those who are going through this crisis in their spiritual life. They do not know what is happening to them and tend to concentrate on the disintegration of what they love, rather than on the real spiritual growth of which they are becoming capable … If we look on the bright side and are firmly convinced that it is normal to have to forge new relationships, our crisis of faith will appear as a great invitation to go deeper into the heart of Christ. The very transition makes it impossible for the former people we counted on to help us. Part of growing up is to become independent – not of everybody, but of those on whom we are too dependent – so that we may depend completely on the Holy Spirit. That is what spiritual maturity is.”
– Thomas Keating, Crisis of Faith, Crisis of Love
- View the video the video excerpt “Frustrations Caused by the Emotional Programs.” It is about 16 minutes in length.
- Reflect: This teaching on the human condition often stirs things up in us that we would rather leave buried, and we may experience a crisis of faith. Reflect on the excerpt from Crisis of Faith, Crisis of Love in the Meditation section. Notice if you are continuing to cling to relationships, afflictive emotions, and commentaries as they begin to “disintegrate” – which they naturally will when we shine a light on them. Or are you recognizing elements of “real spiritual growth of which you are becoming capable?” Or perhaps elements of both?
Resources for Further Study:
You may wish to read Chapter 3, “The Afflictive Emotions” in Invitation to Love (all editions).