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TK: Step One is a very basic statement. It really is the basic psychological step that has to be taken for any serious spiritual progress. Among the world religions, one is visually inspired by some religious figure, some particular belief in God, or some aspect of religious practice. Although God is not mentioned in the first step, the term occurs further on in the steps. Those who try to initiate a serious spiritual program are going to experience their inability to overcome their old habits or compulsions no matter how much they want to.
This first step highlights the fact that all human beings are deeply wounded. From earliest childhood we start out on the past to self-consciousness without any idea of what happiness actually is, apart from the gratification of our instinctual needs for survival and security, affection and esteem and approval, and power and control. These attitudes are essential to survive early childhood. If the child didn't have the motive for living that these instinctual needs provide, he or she would just roll over and die. But human nature being what it is, and the world being a hazardous place, we can't count on the fulfillment of our instinctual needs, and some children are terribly deprived in one or all of these three areas. Everyone, of course, is deprived to some degree because no parents are perfect, and, even if they are, they can't control the environment, teachers, and important others that enter the child's life. So this poor little creature may feel isolated in a potentially hostile world. It needs lots of love including concrete holding, touching, embracing, kissing, and cooing in order to have a stable emotional life to deal with the ups and downs of everyday life, and to establish a meaningful relationship with God.
So we approach this adventure coming from no self-consciousness to increasing awareness of sense objects, of other people and ourselves. The socialization period from about four to eight greatly complexifies our growing attachment to the gratification of our emotional programs that have become energy centers around which our thoughts, feelings, and desires circulate like planets around the sun. The point I am trying to make is that growing self-consciousness is an addictive process and, as a result, one is on a journey that can't possibly work. In addition to trying to find gratification in those three emotional needs, is added an over-identification with the group one belongs to, whether family, ethnicity, race, community, village, tribe, country, or even religion. The developing global village is going to create a whole new set of relational problems.
This is one video in a series of 31 hour-long talks by Thomas Keating that make up his foundational video teachings, “The Spiritual Journey with Fr. Thomas Keating.” All of these talks are now available on YouTube and are listed here at the end.
Fr. Thomas was an internationally renowned theologian, speaker, and author of dozens of books including “Open Mind, Open Heart.”
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TK: To be powerless means to be absolutely helpless. In other words, you can't do anything under your own steam, will power, or any amount of strategy. You're hooked, overwhelmed, wiped out. This, oddly enough, is the best disposition for the beginning of a spiritual journey. Why is that? Because the deeper one's awareness of one's powerlessness and the more desperate, the more willing one is to reach out for help. This help is offered in the next two steps. You turn yourself over to a Higher Power who you believe can heal you and work with you in the long journey of dismantling the emotional programs for happiness. They are the root causes of all our problems. We try to squeeze gratification or satisfaction out of the symbols of those three emotional programs in the culture to which we belong. Every advertisement addresses one of those three programs, because that's what people are interested in and that's what they'll buy into. Once in a while, there is a reference in an ad designed to appeal to one's over-identification with one's group. In any case, these are the two pillars of the false self, the self that we think we are and that wants to find happiness in the emotional programs that can't possibly work.
"... that our lives had become unmanageable."
This is the logical conclusion of being powerless over some kind of human activity into which we keep falling because we are powerless to resist. The movement of freedom is to let go not only of the harmful substance but of the kind of behavior that we are powerless to control and which may be damaging to other people or ourselves. As that weakness spreads and involves the whole of our life, it messes up our relationship with God, with other people, ourselves, and the environment. Everything is subjected to our desperate attempt to find happiness through these emotional programs and so the vicious cycle begins. The negative energies that we've repressed and their consequent pain call for some kind of compensation or relief. We then return to that kind of conduct in the past that brought us temporary relief or forgetfulness of the problem. Then we have to find relief from the pain of our addiction and we ...
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get more discouraged. This cycle reinforces our need to get away from the pain because the pain keeps increasing as we recycle the pattern. Hence it's obvious to see why in AA the community is so important; we are powerless over ourselves. Since we don't have immediate awareness of the Higher Power and how it works, we need to be constantly reminded of our commitment to freedom and liberation. The old patterns are so seductive that as they go off, they set off the association of ideas and the desire to give in to our addiction with an enormous force that we can't handle. The renewal of defeat often leads to despair. At the same time, its a source of hope for those who have a spiritual view of the process. Because it reminds us that we have to renew once again our total dependence on the Higher Power. This is not just a notional acknowledgment of our need. We feel it from the very depths of our being. Something in us causes our whole being to cry out, "Help!" That's when the steps begin to work. And that, I might add, is when the spiritual journey begins to work. A lot of activities that people in that category regard as spiritual are not communicating to them experientially their profound dependence on the grace of God to go anywhere with their spiritual practices or observances. That's why religious practice can be so ineffective. The real spiritual journey depends on our acknowledgment of the unmanageability of our lives. The love of God or the Higher Power is what heals us. Nobody becomes a full human being without love. It brings to life people who are most damaged. The steps are really an engagement in an ever-deepening relationship with God. Divine love picks us up when we sincerely believe nobody else will. We then begin to experience freedom, peace, calm, equanimity, and liberation from cravings for what we have come to know are damaging---cravings that cannot bring happiness, but at best only momentary relief that makes the real problem worse.
With thanks to Richard Rohr
Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC)
(c) 2019, 12-Step Spirituality. Used with permission.
Marion C. Tansey
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