Feelings-based responses are often unattractive
Any upsetting emotion is warning us that an emotional program may just have been frustrated. The cause may not be somebody else’s misconduct or an unpleasant event. For us to be habitually happy, nobody has to change except ourselves. If we are upset by anything, we have a problem, and we will continue to experience emotional turmoil until we change the root of the problem, which is the emotional program for happiness in the unconscious. The effort to change it is called the practice of virtue.
If we keep our desires and aversions dried out by not watering them with commentaries or acting them out, they wither like weeds in the desert.
A certain businessman used to commute to work every day on the New York subway. He regularly stopped at a newsstand along the way to buy The New York Times to read on the train. One day a business associate accompanied him. When they came to the newsstand, the businessman said to the attendant, “Will you kindly give me a copy of The New York Times?” The attendant grabbed a copy and threw it at him.
The businessman said, ‘Thank you. Please accept your money.” The attendant grabbed the money and thrust it into the cash register with a loud grunt. The businessman said, “I wish you a very good day.” The attendant glared at him and responded, “I hope you have the worst day of your life!” With that he spat right in his direction. Undisturbed, our friend walked off toward the subway. His companion, who had been getting more and more exasperated finally burst out, “How can you put up with such treatment? I wouldn’t stand for it for one moment. I would walk to the other side of town to catch the train rather than be treated in such an outrageous manner!” His friend replied, “Look, I have to take the subway to work every day. That newsstand is right on my way. Why should I inconvenience myself because of the way this person treats me?”
There is no commandment that says we have to be upset by the way other people treat us. The reason we are upset is because we have an emotional program that says, “If someone is nasty to me, I cannot be happy or feel good about myself.” It is true that there is psychological and sometimes physical pain involved in not being treated as a human being. In such situations, we have every right to be indignant and to take steps to remedy them. But apart from such circumstances, instead of reacting compulsively and retaliating, we could enjoy our freedom as human beings and refuse to be upset.
— Thomas Keating in Invitation to Love
For me, there are three forms of behavior:
1. Feelings based behavior.
2 Thinking based behavior
3. Spirit-led behavior.
When I allow my behavior to be controlled by my feelings, my happiness is based upon others. I have no control over how people respond to me or treat me, so I live a life of chaos and disorder.
Thinking based behavior often brings order to my life and I do experience outcomes more to my liking, but there still is a lack of inner peace.
When I respond to others based upon a desire to be led by the Holy Spirit, she is faithful and shows me how. I often find myself asking the question: “How would Jesus respond in this situation.” Because I believe I know Jesus, I have a pretty good idea of how he would respond. Whenever I have responded based upon how I think Jesus would respond I have never been disappointed in the outcome. And even when the outcome is not what I expected, it often puts a smile on my face because it turns out to be far better than what I had hoped for.
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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