A good practice for daily life is the deliberate dismantling of our chief emotional program for happiness. By noticing the emotion that most often disturbs us and the particular event or memory that triggered the emotional upset, we can usually identify the program that is its source. If we then deliberately let go of the desire to avoid something or to have something, we have made a choice that undermines the habitual emotional reaction. This practice is not just a matter of lopping off dead branches, but also aims at changing the roots of the tree, which in this metaphor are our basic motivations. If we are bearing a grudge, we will continue to become angry at every provocation until we change the value system in the unconscious that is the source of the frustration which our anger is faithfully recording. All the resolution in the world not to get angry will not change anything until we deliberately address the source of the problem. . . .
To summarize the practice once again: when you notice a particular upsetting emotion recurring frequently in daily life, name it without analyzing or reflecting on it. Then identify the event that triggered the emotion. In this way you can sleuth back to the emotional program that has been frustrated. Sometimes more than one program is involved at the same time. Then, say, “I give up my desire to control . . I give up my desire for approval and affection . . . I let go of my desire for security . . . “
Obviously this practice is not going to dismantle the false self all at once, but by consistently letting go of our principal program for happiness, we begin to see how often it goes off and how much it influences our reactions, judgments, and behavior; as a result, we become more deeply motivated to let go of the emotion as soon as it arises.
— Thomas Keating in Invitation to Love
It seems to me the first step in this process is to identify our triggers; those things which cause us to react without thinking. It is the “stimulus” of a stimulus/response behavior. I recall an episode in my life that models this behavior. Trish and I were on our second date. She was having trouble with her car and as we were driving down the road she kept on asking me questions about what was wrong. The more questions she asked me, the shorter, more abrupt my answers became.
Finally, she said “Am I upsetting you with these questions?” I pulled the car over and stopped. I looked at her and said, “I guess I’m angry you’re asking me these questions.” “Why?” she said. “Well, if I’m going to be honest, I don’t want you to know I don’t know ‘squat’ about auto mechanics. I want you to like me and I think that if you think I’m stupid about auto mechanics you might think less of me.” She said, “Ed! I love your transparency. That is far more important to me than whether you know how to fix my car. Besides, I have a mechanic already.”
Well, that was the beginning of our eternal romance. Had I not looked inside at what was going on, we may not be together today. LOOK inside. See what’s going on with you INSIDE when you are acting negatively. A prayer I have learned to say, more often than I’d like to admit, is this: “LORD, why am I so angry?” And God is faithful. The Holy Spirit answers that prayer immediately. And then I can begin to change from the inside-out.
Love in Christ,
The writings of Fr. Thomas Keating are taken from Spirituality and Practice. The reflections are my own.
M.Rev. Ed Jansen is the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Benedict and Rev. Dr. Trish Gaffney is its Vicar General
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