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Center for Action and Contemplation
Emotional Sobriety
Emotional Sobriety

An Enormous Freedom

Thursday, June 23, 2022

In a dialogue about spirituality and the Twelve Steps, Father Thomas Keating (1923–2018) identifies the role of emotional sobriety in recovery:

Emotional sobriety is the same as detachment from our own ideas of happiness and also from our overdependency on the group to which we feel we belong, along with our cultural conditioning, education, personality traits, and emotional patterns.

In other words, all of these interior tendencies and outside influences added up to a false self based on our traumatic experiences from early life that we were trying to run away from . . . rather than face. Now, through the Twelve Steps, you face them all, and as a result they have been relativized. . . .

An enormous freedom has begun to be experienced, expressed in the ability to serve others. . . . We cannot do this without an ever deepening awareness of the motivation that lurks in our unconscious, since the unconscious energy is stored in the body and secretly influences our behavior and decisions. We have to find out what this is in order to be able to let it go. . . .

As we become aware of the shadow side of our personality and how much energy we put into programs for security, power and affection, esteem and approval, we realize that we cannot manage our own lives. In other words, the first step has become an experience even deeper than the original one. Only now it is not a desperate state of mind, but self-knowledge that has grown to include parts of our personality that we didn’t know because often we had projected the shadow side of our personality onto someone else. Now we are confronted with who we actually are with all our brokenness and our weakness.

CAC teacher James Finley poetically describes the encounter with God that supports our healing from addiction:

Can I join God in knowing who God knows me to be? Can I join God in seeing who God sees me to be . . . ? This is salvation.

In order to do this, I have to let go of my own present way of seeing things, and I discover I can’t. We’re afraid to lose the control that we think that we have over the life that we think that we’re living, and we’re addicted to what binds us. “Out of the depths I cry unto thee, O Lord!” [Psalm 130:1] This is the cry for salvation. . . . Is this possible, that I could place my life over into your hands?

Then the mystery of the cross is this mystery of being liberated from this deep addiction to the illusion of an ultimately isolated self that has to make it on its own. To realize I’m in the presence of the love that loves us and takes us to itself. Through that inner process of discipleship, or whatever we want to call it, we can come to . . . true sobriety, the peace of God that surpasses understanding.

[1] Thomas Keating, Divine Therapy and Addiction: Centering Prayer and the Twelve Steps (New York: Lantern Books, 2009), 157–158.

[2] James Finley, “Mystical Sobriety,” Living School Alumni Quarterly, issue 3 (Fall 2019).

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 8 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Untitled (detail), 2022, New Mexico, used with permission. Arthur Allen, Untitled 6 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: As we learn the art of detachment, we see the simplicity and truth of each passing moment: anger, resentment, excitement, a tree, bark, marbles in the dirt.

Story from Our Community:

I am a retired United Methodist pastor. After 10 years I left full-time parish work, went through a divorce, and transitioned from male to female. But the transformation that mattered most was coming to see myself as God sees me. I am grateful for the gifts I have received—empathy, insight, humor, music and art, social justice, and freedom of heart. My oldest son got into trouble and sought my help after being estranged from me. It was a revelatory event for me. I have now come to see how damaging incarceration is and have worked for the last six years on restorative justice.
—Sarah F.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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