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Center for Action and Contemplation
Emotional Sobriety
Emotional Sobriety

Responding Instead of Reacting

Friday, June 24, 2022

Father Richard describes how we learn to navigate our emotions in a healthy way and find ourselves grounded more deeply in the love of God:

I believe we are made for love, that our natural abiding place is love, and that we in fact are love. Our absolute foundation is communion with God and others. This is the “deepest me” to which we must return before we act. From this foundation, we know we must act, and we are able to act from a place of positive, loving energy. Unfortunately, when “triggered” by strong emotions, it is very difficult to come from that deep place of “yes.”

The next time you are offended, consider it a “teachable moment.” Ask yourself what part of you is actually upset. It’s normally the false or smaller self. If we can move back to the big picture of who we are in God, our True Self, we’ll find that what upset us usually doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in objective reality! But we can waste a whole day (or longer) feeding that hurt until it seems to have a life of its own and, in fact, “possesses” us. At that point, it becomes what Eckhart Tolle rightly calls our “pain-body.”

Tolle defines this “accumulated pain” as “a negative energy field that occupies your body and mind.” [1] In this space, we seem to have a kneejerk, self-protective reaction to everything—and everyone—around us. I emphasize the word reaction here because there’s no clear, conscious decision to think or act in this way. It just happens and we are seemingly powerless to stop it. By doing healing work and by practicing meditation, we learn to stop identifying with the pain and instead calmly relate to it in a compassionate way.

For example, in centering prayer, we observe the hurt as it arises in our stream of consciousness, but we don’t jump on the boat and give it energy. Instead, we name it (“resentment toward my spouse”), then we let go of it, and let the boat float down the river. We have the power to say, “That’s not me. I don’t need that today. I have no need to feed this resentment. I know who I am without it.” This is the beginning of emotional sobriety. [2] Many of us think we are converted to Christ, but without the conversion of our emotional reactions, we remain much like everyone else.

If we’ve been eating a regular meal of resentment toward our spouse, our boss, our parents, or “the world,” the boat’s going to come back around in the next minute because it’s accustomed to us filling our plate. But we must be able to ask and to discover, “Who was I before I resented my spouse? And even before that?” This is the primary way we learn to live in our True Self, where we are led by a foundational “yes,” not by the petty push backs of “no.”

[1] Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (Novato, CA: New World Library, 1999), 29.

[2] For more on this, see Richard Rohr, Emotional Sobriety: Rewiring Our Programs for ‘Happiness’ (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2011). Available as CDDVD, and MP3 download.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Healing Our Violence through the Journey of Centering Prayer (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2002), CD.  

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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