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 3. The Afflictive Emotions

The afflictive emotions are chiefly anger, fear, and discouragement as well as grief, pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, and apathy.

Strangely, these emotions can be our best allies, because in experiencing them we can find out what our emotional programs for happiness really are. "If we have an emotional investment in the instinctual needs for survival/security, affection/esteem, or power/control, the events that frustrate these desires will inevitably set off one or another of the afflictive emotions." Because it is so deeply instilled, this feeling reaction is spontaneous and usually instantaneous.

We may sincerely try to work toward accepting and practicing the gospel values contradicted by our emotional programs. For example, a man resolves to be more patient with a person at work he finds disagreeable. But then one thing after another in her behavior drives him to distraction. He resists as long as he can but finally blows up. The effects of this outburst may last for hours, days, or weeks, vigorously reinforcing his emotional program once again. At these times we experience emotional turmoil because of our unconscious value system, or false self. When we dwell on our hurts and give expression to them, we are "reborn into the endless cycle of desire, gratification, frustration, and the ensuing need to compensate." [This reminds me of the troop of demons who returned after one was cast out (HD).]

As St. Paul recognized, the desire to change ourselves does not lead directly to new value systems and the end of the false self. While conscious resolution is an important element, "only the passive purifications of contemplative prayer can effect this profound healing."

We experience the afflictive emotions in different ways. We become angry when we cannot have that which we want which is difficult to obtain or avoid. In apathy we escape the flow of life to hug our real or imaginary wounds. Lust is the overwhelming desire for satisfaction of our unreasonable demands. Pride may be experienced either as self-rejection or self-inflation.

"Any upsetting emotion is warning us that an emotional program may have just been frustrated." But "for us to be habitually happy, nobody has to change except ourselves." Often this will involve a change in attitude in assessing the situations we face; and in this we can learn new habits in the way we respond to the events of our lives. This is the practice of virtue. "Instead of reacting compulsively and retaliating, we could enjoy our freedom as human beings and refuse to be upset." In so doing we will be able to see and respond to other people’s needs more clearly and generously.