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Emotional Sobriety: Weekly Summary

Sunday
The goal of the Twelve Steps is not simply to stop drinking, but to become a spiritually awakened person who has found some degree of detachment from their own emotional, narcissistic responses. —Richard Rohr

Monday
Presence is a grace offered in each moment. It allows whatever I am feeling to be transmuted into something useful, for myself, for the situation I may be in, and perhaps for some greater good. —Russ Hudson

Tuesday
If we are patient, our feelings will change of their own accord—some quicker than others. Our emotions will begin to deplete; they won’t dominate us, or dictate our behavior. —Valerie Mason-John

Wednesday
The real mark of personal authenticity is not how intensely we can express our feelings but how honestly we can look at where they’re coming from and spot the elements of clinging, manipulation, and personal agendas that make up so much of what we experience as our emotional life today. —Cynthia Bourgeault

Thursday
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. —James Finley

Friday
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. —Richard Rohr

Detoxing Our Hearts

Buddhist author Valerie Mason-John encourages us to remain emotionally sober by practicing a detox of the heart, allowing ourselves to experience waves of emotion and let them go:

Our hearts could be described as huge muscles that open and close, shrivel and expand, soften and harden, love and hate. We have to work diligently to keep our hearts open, just as we have to work to keep other muscles in the body strong. Purifying our hearts is an ongoing process, like physical exercise. . . .

If we are to detox our hearts, build up our heart muscles, and become happier, we must cultivate mindfulness in everything we do. . . . With the presence of awareness we can see there is no need to hold on to or push away our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. They will come and go of their own accord. If we push them away or cling to them they will stay in our hearts and accumulate. Similarly, if we allow our thoughts to be like clouds in the sky, they will pass. Even the dark, heavy clouds eventually pass.  

How is your heart feeling today? Awareness begins in the heart. This turning inward can be a revolutionary act. We might ask ourselves how we feel when we wake up in the morning. . . . Befriend your feelings and see them as a warning to take care of yourself throughout the day. Try not to eradicate or block the experience. Only acknowledge them, then let go. Let the muscles of your heart soften, let your tears dilute your toxins, let the heart stay open.

If you remember, ask yourself in the middle of the day how your heart is. This will help to keep it open, and you may find that what you were feeling in the morning is quite different from what you are feeling at midday. This is impermanence: the universal law of change.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Valerie Mason-John, Detox Your Heart: Meditations for Healing Emotional Trauma, rev. ed.(Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2017), 45.

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.

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.

Responding Instead of Reacting

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.”

References:
[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.

 

An Enormous Freedom

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.

References:
[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.

 

Freedom from Our Passions

Blessed are the pure of heart; for they shall see God. —Matthew 5:8

Episcopal priest and CAC teacher emerita Cynthia Bourgeault writes of the difference between our modern understanding of emotions and the teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers:

In the psychological climate of our own times, our emotions are almost always considered to be virtually identical with our personal authenticity, and the more freely they flow, the more we are seen to be honest and “in touch.” A person who gravitates to a mental mode of operation is criticized for being “in his head”; when feeling dominates, we proclaim with approval that such a person is “in his heart.”

In the Wisdom tradition, this would be a serious misuse of the term heart. Far from revealing the heart, Wisdom teaches that the emotions are in fact the primary culprits that obscure and confuse it. The real mark of personal authenticity is not how intensely we can express our feelings but how honestly we can look at where they’re coming from and spot the elements of clinging, manipulation, and personal agendas that make up so much of what we experience as our emotional life today. . . .

In the teachings of the Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers, these intense feelings arising out of personal issues were known as the “passions,” and most of the Desert spiritual training had to do with learning to spot these land mines and get free of them before they did serious psychic damage. In contrast to our contemporary usage, which tends to see passion as a good thing, indicating that one is fully alive and engaged, the Desert tradition saw passion as a diminishment of being. It meant falling into passivity, into a state of being acted upon (which is what the Latin passio actually means), rather than clear and conscious engagement. Instead of enlivening the heart, according to one Desert Father, the real damage inflicted by the passions is that “they divide our heart into two.” . . .

The heart, in the ancient sacred traditions, has a very specific and perhaps surprising meaning. It is not the seat of our personal affective life—or even, ultimately, of our personal identity—but an organ for the perception of divine purpose and beauty. . . .

Finding the way to where our true heart lies is the great journey of spiritual life. . . . [1]

Bourgeault describes contemplation and letting go as the pathway back to the heart’s wholeness:

The core practice for cleansing the heart, for restoring the heart to its organ of spiritual seeing, becomes supremely, in Christianity, the path of kenosis, of letting go. The seeing will come, and it’s a part we still have to work on in Christianity, but the real heart of emotion is the willingness to let go, to sacrifice . . . your personal drama, the letting go at that level, so that you can begin to see. [2]

References:
[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 32–34.

[2] An Introductory Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault: Course Transcript and Companion Guide (Wisdom Way of Knowing: 2017), 124. Now available through the online course Introductory Wisdom School (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 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:

Most of my life has been filled with fear — fear of the unknown, of pain, and losing. At times fear subsided a bit, but with one emotional upset, I could be sent into a downward spiral of desperation and foreboding. In my search for some type of relief, I stumbled upon Centering Prayer. This started my road to freedom from fear. I went from a love of self and my “things” to a love for God and others— a love that surpasses my human understanding. Peace is not dependent on what is around me but firmly planted in stillness within.
—Gigi N.

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.

 

A Mind-Heart Connection

Buddhist author and speaker Valerie Mason-John found meditation to be integral to her recovery from addiction. She writes:

People say we can’t help how we feel. It’s true we can’t help unpleasant, pleasant, or neutral feelings arising when one or more of the six senses have made contact with an object. We multiply the intensity of feeling every time we move away from something pleasant or unpleasant; we create a vicious cycle of craving and aversion.

Often when people say we can’t help how we feel, they are talking about their emotions. We can help how we experience our emotions. They are created by our unconscious and conscious thinking and conditioning. When we emote our thoughts we are habitually responding and reacting out of our emotions. We are forcibly changing our emotions all the time, by reaching out for external stimuli, or by blaming others when we feel vulnerable or upset. Before we know it, we are angry, resentful, self-righteous, and begin to inhabit a storehouse of toxic thoughts, which suppress our uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability.

By observing our thoughts and emotions, we can witness how they build on each other through our attachment to repetitive inner stories. Such witnessing begins the process of healthy nonattachment:

If we are patient, our feelings will change of their own accord—some quicker than others. Our emotions will begin to deplete; they won’t dominate us, or dictate our behavior. Eventually toxic emotions will disappear and nontoxic thinking will start to arise in our hearts, and one day there will be just thoughts without a thinker. There will be sounds without a hearer, tastes without a taster, smells without a smeller, sights without a seer, and touch without a toucher. What I mean by all of this is that things will arise and we will not identify with them as me, mine, or I. There will be no judgments, interpretations, or stories about what we have just perceived. We will see the bigger picture, and not be caught by the clash of the senses, not react to whatever we have made contact with. We will feel the unpleasantness, pleasantness, neutralness, or even the mixture of all three feelings, and will turn toward it without an agitated mind. The heart and mind will accept all of it without protesting. When we protest, toxic emotions begin to emerge. . . .

Our hearts well up with toxins because we push away our painful feelings. Many of us will do our utmost to push them down. We won’t allow ourselves to stop. Our busy lives don’t seem to give us time to feel our feelings. When we turn toward our experience, we will often find feeling tones or sensations in the body. We turn away from the experience in the body with thoughts and thinking. If we have the courage to face the feeling tone, we will discover there is nothing there, no I or me, just a flow of sensations that may be painful, pleasurable, or neutral.

Reference:
Valerie Mason-John, Detox Your Heart: Meditations for Healing Emotional Trauma, rev. ed. (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2017), 26–27.

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:

Most of my life has been filled with fear — fear of the unknown, of pain, and losing. At times fear subsided a bit, but with one emotional upset, I could be sent into a downward spiral of desperation and foreboding. In my search for some type of relief, I stumbled upon Centering Prayer. This started my road to freedom from fear. I went from a love of self and my “things” to a love for God and others— a love that surpasses my human understanding. Peace is not dependent on what is around me but firmly planted in stillness within.
—Gigi N.

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.

 

A Riverbed of Mercy

For Father Richard, emotional sobriety is found when we experience life from our True Self:

There is something in us that is not touched by coming and going, by up and down, by for or against, by totally right or totally wrong. This part of us is patient with both goodness and evil, exactly as God is; it does not rush to judgment or demand closure now. Rather, it stands vigilant and patient in the tragic gap that almost every moment offers.

God-in-us is a riverbed of mercy that underlies all the flotsam and jetsam that flows over it and soon passes away. Vast, silent, restful, and resourceful, it receives and also releases all these comings and goings. It is awareness itself (as opposed to judgment), and awareness is not the same as “thinking.” It refuses to be pulled into emotional and mental tugs-of-war that form most of human life. To look out from this untouchable silence is what we mean by contemplation.

St. Teresa of Ávila (1515–1682) writes, “Always visualize [the] soul as vast, spacious, and plentiful . . . The sun at the center of this place radiates to every part. . . . God has given [it] such dignity.” [1] This is your soul. This is God-in-you. This is your True Self.  

A person who lives freely from the True Self is present to life and the full range of emotions. Father Richard’s good friend, Enneagram teacher Russ Hudson, writes of the importance of presence:

For me, presence is a grace offered in each moment. It allows whatever I am feeling to be transmuted into something useful, for myself, for the situation I may be in, and perhaps for some greater good. . . .

Most of my spiritual journey has been about learning how to be present and, from that grounding in presence, learning how to allow love to be what moves me. . . . Presence seems to be something received, that comes to us through a kind of willingness more than through some forceful effort. We come to understand that our will does not operate quite as we might imagine. There is an element of grace, of something miraculous arising in us which gives us the capacity to be awake to our experience.

This is hard enough when conditions are favorable—when we are relaxed and not particularly stressed about anything. However, when powerful emotions arise, it is generally much more difficult to find a ground in us that can be compassionately awake with what we are feeling. . . .

In this sense, we naturally come to understand the importance of practices—contemplation, meditation, and prayer—as methods to cultivate in ourselves a capacity to be with larger emotions and bigger triggers in our lives. As I often tell my students, “Practice when it is easy and it will be there for you when it is hard.” [2]

References:
[1] Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, First Dwelling, chap. 2, trans. Mirabai Starr (New York: Riverhead Books, 2004), 45.

[2] Russ Hudson, “The Role of Anger in Spiritual Work,” Oneing 6, no.1, Anger (Spring 2018): 70, 71. Available in print or PDF download.

Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 23.

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 reached an emotional bottom when I separated from my first husband. I felt torn apart and hollow. By God’s grace, I found a community to share the depths of my despair. With their love and support, I not only regained my life but also learned how God’s love flows through his people. I have felt love in my life, given and received, since that time.
—Susan P.

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.

 

Emotional Maturity

Father Richard introduces this week’s meditations on emotional sobriety:

Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson (1895–1971) viewed emotional sobriety as where the Twelve Steps should finally lead. The goal is not simply to stop drinking, but to become a spiritually awakened person who has found some degree of detachment from their own emotional, narcissistic responses. How is it that all of us get so easily hooked, so easily snagged by often temporary or even irrational things?

Let me try to describe the process. The word “emotion” (from Latin emovere) means a movement. It’s a body-based reaction in the moment that snags me immediately and urgently and feels like “me.” Some people say we should call emotions “narcissistic reactions,” and we have to recognize that they largely are! Since the body carries all our shame, our childhood conditioning and memories, our guilt, and our previous hurts, the addictive patterns of our emotions can be very hard to “unhook.” Emotions feel like truth—but they’re not necessarily.

That doesn’t mean emotions should be ignored. They must be felt; their honest message must be heard. Only then can we release ourselves from their fascination over us. They are necessary weathervanes to help us read situations quickly and perhaps in depth. But they are also learned and practiced neural responses, often ego-based, which have little to do with truth and much more to do with the story lines we have learned and created. The ego loves to hold on to such emotions to justify itself, defend itself, and assert its power. There is nothing like an angry person to control an entire conversation!

Much of the work of emotional maturity is learning to distinguish between emotions that offer a helpful message about ourselves or the moment, and emotions that are merely narcissistic reactions to the moment. I dare to say that, until we have found our spiritual center and ground, most of our emotional responses are usually too self-referential to be helpful or truthful. They read the moment as if the “I,” with its immediate needs and hurts, is the reference point for objective truth. It isn’t. The small, defensive “I” cannot hold that space. Reality/God/Creation holds that space. Persistent use of the small self as an objective reference point will only create deeper problems in the long run; it will not solve them.

If an emotion does not help us read a situation better and more truthfully, we must let it go—for our own well-being. Most of us are naturally good at attachment, but we have very little training in detachment or letting go. We must take the risk of legitimate attachment (fully feeling the emotion), learn its important message, and then have the presence and purpose to detach from that fascinating emotion after it has done its work. This is the gift and power of an emotionally mature person.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Emotional Sobriety: Rewiring Our Programs for ‘Happiness’ (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2011). Available in CD, DVD, and MP3 download; and

“Introduction,” Oneing 6, no. 1, Anger (Spring 2018): 14–15. Available in print or PDF download.

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 reached an emotional bottom when I separated from my first husband. I felt torn apart and hollow. By God’s grace, I found a community to share the depths of my despair. With their love and support, I not only regained my life but also learned how God’s love flows through his people. I have felt love in my life, given and received, since that time.
—Susan P.

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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