THOMAS KEATING ON CONTEMPLATION

In 1990, I was reflecting on words by Thomas Keating. I can’t tell in my journal whether I was quoting Keating directly or paraphrasing:

Contemplation is an exercise in being rather than doing. You will be able to accomplish what you have to do with much greater effectiveness and joy. Much of the time we run on cylinders that are out of oil or a bit rusty. Our power is pretty much used up by noon on most days. Contemplative prayer opens you to the power of the Spirit. Your capacity to keep giving all day long will increase. You will be able to adjust to difficult circumstances and even to live with impossible situations.

I was 46 years old when I recorded Keating’s words, the age close to where my children are at now. My life was full of the kinds of concerns they have now, struggling through the lives of teens, financial and career choices to make that effect self and family, and day-to-day inner frustrations and doubts that accompany a particular stage of development called mid-life. My 46 year old self found a great deal of comfort in the words “by noon on most days”.My energy depletion was normal.

It is the other piece of Keating’s message that touches the 75 year old me today. “Your capacity to keep giving all day will increase. You will be able to adjust to difficult circumstances and even live with impossible situations.” On the surface, one would assume Keating saying that prayer is like going to a filling station to get the gas needed to so go further. But I believe he was talking about something else. He says, “You will be open to the power of the Spirit.” Perhaps the idea of running on fumes paints a better picture. As I have grown spiritually, I find myself plodding through situations that used to unglue me. I am less apt to lose my temper when road blocks present themselves and I am more able to manage clear thinking even though it may take more time to put the facts together in my head. This seems to be the case even when I am operating on little sleep or I am suffering from exhaustion from an overloaded schedule. Fear and resentments rarely get hold of me and they certainly don’t control my actions as they once did. I don’t contribute this at all to a gust of physical energy. Rather, it is the power of the Spirit, as Keating says.

The power of spirit is not like body energy. Sometimes I get through a difficult situation maintaining a feeling of exhaustion all the way. But I know even in the midst of it, that I am doing all right. I am holding my own and when it is over, I have no regrets.

I am not always on top of things. But even when I fail, the Spirit lets me ride through the feeling of disappointment in myself gracefully. I am empowered to make amends as needed, to fix what I can and leave the rest without guilt.

This new place is the contemplation Keating is talking about. It is living in the center. Finding center takes time and work. It seems I have been at this work since my mid-years. I wouldn’t have it any other way.