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 4. The Human Condition

The human condition is another name for original sin, the universal illness of human nature recognized by the great religions and also by modern psychology in the workings of the unconscious, dysfunctional families, and co-dependency. The science and practice of psychology greatly reinforce all that we previously understood about the dynamics of human motivation and hence are essential for moral judgments.

Developmental psychology demonstrates that our emotional life ceases to grow and becomes fixated at an immature level when our personhood and identity are not reaffirmed. These immaturities are the emotional programs for happiness; our interpretation of experience builds on them and our culture also reinforces them, so they become centers of gravity.

The developmental model is contained within the evolutionary model of psychology, which sees individual experience as recapitulating the experience of the human family. Some five million years ago early humans developed reptilian conscious. This consciousness, with no separate sense of self and nature, is concerned with survival and the fulfillment of instinctual needs. The infant to age one experiences reptilian consciousness.

The next stage is typhonic consciousness, symbolized as part human, part animal, which appeared some 200,000 years ago. Here there is some sense of the separation of body-self from the rest of nature. This stage is characterized by the worship of earth mother as nurturer and protectress. The child from two to four manifests typhonic consciousness. A young child cannot distinguish imagination from reality and is subject to the terrors of the dark.

The move to mythic membership consciousness occurred 12,000 years ago with the rise of agriculture, reflection, art, ritual, and politics. At the mythic membership level, identification with the community provided the sense of belonging, protection from enemies, and the prolongation of one's life through offspring. The socialization process of the child between four and eight comprises mythic membership consciousness. This is the level at which most societies and individuals operate, even as adults.

About 3000 B.C.E., with the emergence of reason, mental egoic consciousness appeared. We might think of this stage as the height of human consciousness and potential. But there is a catch. Even if mental egoic consciousness were uniformly accessed by the majority of humankind it would not be pure progress, for the developing levels of consciousness brought a growing sense of alienation from God, oneself, others, and the cosmos. This is the human condition. In spite of progress we are subject to the claims of the primitive stages of consciousness, the false self: security (reptilian), affection/esteem and power/control (typhonic). As a result, even as adults our consciousness is in many respects infantile.

There is always a crisis whenever, as individuals or as humankind, we move forward in human growth. We must let go of what has been nourishing us and move into more mature relationships. We have the capacity to go forward but also to fall back. Our calling is to free ourselves of instinctual emotional fixations in order to grow to full reflective self-consciousness and recover paradise in an immensely superior form in the transforming union.