Sunday, July 24, 2011

What if I live in a zoo of bears?

July 24, 2011

Good afternoon, friends,

As several of you commented this week, there are indeed times when people prefer to be frightened by the bear under the bed rather than face the reality of their inner worlds. Sometimes, however, we are unreasonably anxious about that inner world simply because we know so little about it. We are afraid of the stranger within.

One helpful way of thinking about that inner world comes through the work of writers who have lived a significant part of their lives in the contemplative community. These writers (Thomas Keating, for example) view our inner self as motivated by three “energy” centers that drive our efforts to insure security and survival, affection and esteem, and power and control. These energies lie for the most part in the deep centers of our being not readily accessible through language and logic. They drive our ‘cosmic dance,’ however, and underlie the ways in which we manage the struggle and unfolding drama of our lives.

Viewed from this context, we experience a need to protect ourselves from relationships ‘out there’ in which others may seek to use us to insure their security and survival, to satisfy their need for affection and esteem, and to serve as the object over which they exert power and control. In this context, there may well be, so to speak, a whole zoo of bears out there—individuals who seek to meet their needs without regard for our well-being and welfare.

But equally unsettling—or perhaps even more so—is the parallel truth that we may need to protect others from ourselves—from our driven needs to be secure and to survive, to be loved and admired, to be powerful and in control. Most of us learn, at times through bitter experience, that we have the capacity to act in ways that seek to satisfy our own needs at the expense of others, and that in doing this we contribute to our own self-injury. It is possible to get what we want only to discover that we’ve arrived in a place we do not wish to be. When uncontrolled, there is valid reason to fear the stranger within.

When are you most dangerous to yourself? To others?

One of the radical ideas of Jesus was that God meant by the Spirit to empower us to know ourselves and to love and be loved in the context of Spirit-enabled self-control. Paul had this idea, too.

What do you think?

See you next week.


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