Our previous two sessions have reflected on the origin and characteristics of the false self system. The main point to keep in mind is that the false self is primarily a conditioning in response to the perception of non-love, creating distortions in our development while orienting our spirit in the direction of "making oneself OK" by getting what we think will compensate for the pains of non-love. This analysis is similar to what one will find in family systems theories, which have become popular since the 1980s and the emphasis on codependency and dysfunctional families. What I have done, here, is to develop the spiritual dimensions of this wounding.
The present session takes things a step further, now, by examining the role of attachments and addictions in perpetuating the false self system. In doing so, I will make use of a worksheet/handout published recently in my Handbook for Spiritual Directees, and which I've used as a lecture outline in the past as well. Although the points are quite sketchy, I think presenting the material in this manner might actually be more helpful than breaking it open in a more conversational essay form. You'll see how it goes, I'm sure, and how it is that one can regard attachments and addictions as the concrete expressions of the "spirituality" of the false self.
Ready? OK, here goes.
Desire--the attraction of the will toward any particular person, place, or thing.
--it is natural and inevitable for a created being with needs to have desires.
--our deepest, most fundamental spiritual desires to are have a sense of living fully, to understand reality, and to love; these desires are ultimately fulfilled in God.
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Disordered Desires--the inappropriate attraction of the will toward any particular person, place, or thing; inappropriate because . . .
--the fulfillment of such a desire hurts oneself or others;
--the pursuit of such a desire violates moral values;
--the cultivation of such a desire undermines the experience of God as the fulfillment of our deepest desire.
A. To have what you do not want (but what you cannot be rid of without violating your moral values).
B. To want what you do not have (in such a manner as to undermine your experience of what you need most . . . i.e. union with God).
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Attachments--disordered desires which have become more or less habitual preoccupations of the mind and will.
A. Examples: approval of others, winning, controlling other people and circumstances, accumulating money, sexual escape, getting high on something, perfect work, losing weight, etc.
B. Effects on consciousness:
--Intellect is preoccupied with ways to get what you want and avoid what you don't want; other people seen as a help or a hindrance to obtaining attachment.; judgmentalism.
--Will is focused on getting what I want . . . selfishness
--Emotional climate is disturbed. Anxiety about not getting what I want; angry toward threats to my fulfillment.
--Attention is focused on past and future. NOW is missed.
--Experience of God: One who can help me get what I want.
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Addictions--attachments which have become compulsive preoccupations. The mind and will are no longer capable of completely resisting indulgence.
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Spiritual Significance of Attachments/Addictions: They are our primary obstacle to experiencing peace. . . happiness . . . union with God.
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How to Know if You Have Attachments
1. Do you experience anxiety over situations beyond your control?
2. Is your mind "noisy," preoccupied over concern about which you derive little pleasure in considering?
3. Is it difficult for you to enjoy the NOW without disturbing memories from the past or anxious concerns about the future intruding?
--If you answer yet to any of these questions, you have an attachment of some kind.
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Reflection and Discussion
1. What questions or comments do you have from this session?
2. How do you experience attachments frustrating your spiritual growth?
Important nuance, I think, re: perception, because so much of our early formation is taking place when we are, necessarily, at very early stages of cognitive, affective and moral development. For example, if we are at an early stage of moral development where we only really respond to a punishment-reward system of reinforcement, and we are at an early stage of cognitive development --- concrete and not abstract, then there is no way we are going to be capable of interpreting parental discipline as a form of unconditional love or unconditional positive regard, which it nevertheless is (if done correctly and in the proper spirit). So, again, this false self is a much needed and inescapable stage of human development wherein we are being socialized and humanized, transformed from little animals into little humans. There needn't be any sin involved on the part of children or their parents, although, of course, there will be. Our finitude and our sinfulness combine, however, to make quite the mess of it all, which requires quite the effort to clean up as we journey further, surrendering this socialized self for an authentic self, where a lot of the obligational will have become truly aspirational and a lot will be cast off as so much baloney, too.
Read this piece today and thought of our discussions:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on
as though you could be today what time
-- that is to say, grace --
acting on your own good will
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser.
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Thanks Naomi. I'm not very patient, especially with myself.
Thinking about attachments here are my big three...
I'm imprisoned in a selfish jail,
enclosed by just three bars.
I'm most confined by what you think.
Second to the things I own.
Third, I am what I can do.
Defined, I am, by this false self...
A Danny I have built.
So Jesus comes to rattle my cage.
With a jingle of keys he says,
"Step out into me and be free!"
That's a powerful poem from Teilhard de Chardin, and most relevant, I believe, Naomi. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Danny, it seems that some of this material is resonating very personally with you. I hope others are checking in on the discussions, as your honesty and authenticity help all of us to do the same.
A Danny I have built . . .
Yes, this shows how much even our self-image has been influenced by false self concerns. I once wrote of this in my own journal:
- A little actor on the stage: the false self!
But notice that such an insight implies a deeper consciousness which "sees" the false self for what it is. This is what we might call the true self, or, more precisely, the non-reflecting, observational aspect of the human spirit, to use the terminology we've been carrying forth. Now to get our minds and wills disengaged as well . . . the 2nd half of this course will address that process.
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JB, I'm glad you picked up on my use of the word "perception," for I used it rather than "experience" to begin to suggest what the way out of this dilemma entails -- namely, the perception of unconditional love. I think you are spot on when noting that the embryo and child cannot sometimes perceptually distinguish between loving disciplines meted out and non-loving behavior. OTOH, I do think they pick up on the love aspect in non-cognitive ways, and can sense its presence (or absence) even during a time of discipline.
What this points up is that the constrictions and convolutions in our psyche and spirit are very deeply established in our nature -- all the way down into the realm of affective and somatic intelligence. And that's why a practice like "positive thinking" often has such a superficial impact on our character. It takes the purgations of the Dark Nights of the Soul to heal us of these woundings and open us to the life of the Spirit. More on all this later . . .
And to think that, as radically social animals, even this love aspect must be learned ... well ...
Take the innocence and finitude of the one being formed and combine it with the sinfulness and finitude of the manifold societal agents that are contributing to that formation ...
with in-formation and re-formation and de-formation ...
and one can see how the journey to transformation can require as much un-learning as learning of this love aspect ...
before many can engage the ignatian spiritual exercise of seeing oneself as God sees us ...
for a chief and initial problem in spiritual direction is the proper imaging of God, even in those who've had a modicum of good formation ...
which reveals, in fact, an improper imaging of life's love aspect, itself!
All good points, JB. Thanks.
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