Father Thomas Keating is a founding teacher at Integral Spiritual Center and has been a key figure in the Centering Prayer movement since its humble beginnings in the 1970s. Distilled from profound teachings of the Christian contemplative heritage, reaching from the early Desert Fathers and Mothers to The Cloud of Unknowing, St John of the Cross, and St Teresa of Avila, Centering Prayer has aimed to bring a living spirituality into an age where God is either reduced to the New-Age vicissitudes of emotionality or is simply dead, a la Nietzsche.
Fr. Thomas begins the conversation by commenting that he enjoyed reading Ken’s latest book, Integral Spirituality, and wanted to pick back up on several conversations they started at the most recent Integral Spiritual Center gathering in March (2006). One topic had to do with shadow and meditation, and the other with states and stages.
As Fr. Thomas shares, his experience has shown that deep meditation can do an enormous amount to access and heal various unconscious, false, or egoic inclinations in the human psyche—something that it appears Ken is disputing in chapter six of Integral Spirituality: “The Shadow and the Disowned Self.” Naturally, he is curious to know Ken’s position on this in more depth.
Ken is more than happy to oblige, because his position is not that meditation has nothing to offer in terms of contacting, transmuting, and self-liberating various hidden and often unpleasant aspects of the self. Meditation and contemplation has an enormous amount to offer in this domain, and any truly Integral Approach to spirituality would be sure to include those invaluable insights. But an Integral Spirituality would likewise include the insights of modern Western psychology, many of which cannot be found in any of the Great Traditions, East or West. One of those insights is the mechanism of psychodynamic repression, or the fact that I can deny I—that I can take parts of my self, my I-ness, and push them on the other side of the self-boundary, and therefore deny ownership of these unwanted aspects of self (negative or positive).
But just because I can deny ownership of my 1st-person impulses doesn’t mean they go away. Take, for example, anger. Once I push anger on the other side of the self-boundary, once it is “not I,” that anger can be projected onto you (2nd-person) or he/she/it (3rd-person). What was once 1st-person can appear as 2nd-person or 3rd-person within my own I-stream! I know someone is angry, but since it couldn’t possibly be me, it must be you, or he, or she, or it—and everyone seems to be angry at me, and this makes me depressed.
So if I sit down to meditate, or pray, and I am feeling very depressed, then those practices can indeed help me witness, feel into, let go of, and perhaps even transmute that depression into its corresponding wisdom. But here is what Western psychology can tell us that the Great Traditions can’t (and this is the crucial interpretive element): that depression is an inauthentic emotion. It is a symptom of repressed anger. Anger is the authentic emotion. There is nothing in the traditions themselves that can tell you this because the traditions function on the assumption that the phenomena delivered to awareness are a more-or-less accurate reflection of reality (and it is this unacknowledged monological consciousness, a holdover from the traditions’ premodern roots, that has gotten spiritual studies dismissed by the postmodern world.)
The process of genuine transcendence—both psychologically and spiritually—is the process of making subject into object, until there is only the pure Subject, the pure I-I, but if part of your subject has been disowned—that’s not me!—it can never be made an object, and so you will never truly be free of it. Healthy transcendence turns I into me or mine. Unhealthy transcendence turns I into it. Meditation can do both, but only the former will set you free, because authentic transcendence is transcend-and-include.
Fr. Thomas and Ken go on to discuss the 1-2-3 of God, or the three faces of Spirit. These three faces of Spirit are simply God in 1st-person (the great Witness or I-I), God in 2nd-person (the great Thou or You), and God in 3rd-person (the great Perfection or It). They go on to discuss how each tradition generally focuses on only one or two of these dimensions of Spirit, and the deep healing and richness that comes from embracing all three.
Lastly, Fr. Thomas and Ken discuss the difference between horizontal enlightenment (access to gross, subtle, causal, and nondual states) and vertical enlightenment (growth through developmental stages)—and how this explains, for example, why someone can have a truly profound understanding of spiritual states, and still have a deeply ethnocentric orientation.
Fr. Thomas’s deep humility, practice, and wisdom are a blessing upon any discussion concerning our relationship to Spirit, and this dialogue is a brilliant example of his subtle radiance. We invite you to join us on this sacred journey and exploration....
(To learn more about an Integral Approach to spirituality, check out “What Is Integral Spirituality?” To learn more about an Integral Approach to spiritual practice, check out Integral Life Practice)