Invitation to Love

Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love: The Way of Christian Contemplation. New York: Continuum, 1995. 151 pages
A Synopis

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Chapter 1. The Emotional Programs for Happiness

To follow Christ and share the divine life to the maximum we must first confront our motivations and unconscious emotional programs and responses. These constitute our false self and developed when we were very small, before we had a sense of self.

A human child is very helpless when it comes into the world. At first we were happy if our instinctual needs were promptly met. The most crucial of our needs were survival and security. If as infants we experienced bonding with our mother we felt the bonding force of the universe, love. Later children need pleasure, affection, and esteem as they differentiate themselves from the rest of the world. They also begin to want their own way, that is, to have power and control.

Many factors may prevent these needs from being fulfilled. The causes may be dramatic - living through war, epidemics, or starvation, or with handicaps - or more ordinary, stemming from less than functional families, poverty, or cultures of violence. The emotional damage can be quite significant, but all of us, even those in the best of circumstances, "have experienced that fragility of early childhood and hence bring with us some wounds as a result."

We have no way of remembering the circumstances that created these wounds but we do retain the feelings associated with them. "The emotions faithfully identify the value system that developed in early childhood to cope with unbearable situations. These emotional programs for happiness start out as needs, grow into demands, and can finally become "shoulds.'" As we grow up in other ways, our emotional lives can remain infantile.

During the socialization period of early childhood the situation becomes more complex as we identify and draw our self-worth from what others think of us. As we continue through childhood and teenage years, we have to repress our hunger for happiness. But "since the emotional programs from early childhood are already in place, our search for happiness in adult life tends to be programmed by childish expectations that cannot possibly be realized."

This is the human condition. The solution is to repent, to change how we look for happiness, to purify ourselves of the false self. This will not be easy, though it may seem so at the start of the spiritual journey. The false self will not give up its emotional programs for happiness easily. It manifests itself on every level of our conduct in our ordinary thoughts, reactions, and feelings. When we realize, as Paul did, that we are divided within ourselves, we are at the real beginning of our spiritual journey.

Jesus' confrontation with the devil in the desert symbolizes the struggle with the false self. It is useless to be attached to our emotional programs for happiness because in spite of our unconscious conviction they will never work in adult life. So, "the heart of the Christian ascesis is the struggle with our unconscious motivations." The satisfactions of the false self are always brief and passing. To grow into full human personhood we need to abandon "the self-centered projects, programs, demands - rationalized, justified, and even glorified - of security, pleasure, esteem, and power."