Open Mind Open Heart
The Contemplative Dimension
of the Gospel

by Father Thomas Keating

Chapter 13

Guidelines for Christian Life, Growth and Transformation

    The following principles represent a tentative effort to restate the Christian spiritual journey in contemporary terms. They are designed to provide a conceptual background for the practice of centering prayer. They should be read according to the method of lectio divina.

1. The fundamental goodness of human nature, like the mystery of the Trinity, Grace, and the Incarnation, is an essential element of Christian faith. This basic core of goodness is capable of unlimited development; indeed, of becoming transformed into Christ and deified.

2. Our basic core of goodness is our true Self. Its center of gravity is God. The acceptance of our basic goodness is a quantum leap in the spiritual journey.

3. God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing.

4. The term original sin is a way of describing the human condition, which is the universal experience of coming to full reflective self consciousness without the certitude of personal union with God. This gives rise to our intimate sense of incompletion, dividedness, isolation, and guilt.

5. Original sin is not the result of personal wrongdoing on our part. Still, it causes a pervasive feeling of alienation from God, from other people and from the true Self. The cultural consequences of these alienations are instilled in us from earliest childhood and passed on from one generation to the next. The urgent need to escape from the profound insecurity of this situation gives rise, when unchecked, to insatiable desires for pleasure, possession, and power. On the social level, it gives rise to violence, war, and institutional injustice.

6. The particular consequences of original sin include all the self serving habits that have been woven into our personality from the time we were conceived; all the emotional damage that has come from our early environment and upbringing; all the harm that other people have done to us knowingly or unknowingly at an age when we could not defend ourselves; and the methods we acquired--many of them now unconscious--to ward off the pain of unbearable situations.

7. This constellation of prerational reactions is the foundation of the false self. The false self develops in opposition to the true Self. Its center of gravity is itself.

8. Grace is the presence and action of Christ at every moment of our lives. The sacraments are ritual actions in which Christ is present in a special manner, confirming and sustaining the major commitments of our Christian life.

9. In Baptism, the false self is ritually put to death, the new self is born, and the victory over sin won by Jesus through his death and resurrection is placed at our disposal. Not our uniqueness as persons, but our sense of separation from God and from others is destroyed in the death dealing and life-giving waters of Baptism.

10. The Eucharist is the celebration of life: the coming together of all the material elements of the cosmos, their emergence to consciousness in human persons and the transformation of human consciousness into Divine consciousness. It is the manifestation of the Divine in and through the Christian community We receive the Eucharist in order to become the Eucharist.

11. In addition to being present in the sacraments, Christ is present.

12. Personal sin is the refusal to respond to Christ's self-communication (grace). It is the deliberate neglect of our own genuine needs and those of others. It reinforces the false self.

13. Our basic core of goodness is dynamic and tends to grow of itself. This growth is hindered by the illusions and emotional hang-ups of the false self, by the negative influences coming from our cultural conditioning, and by personal sin.

14. Listening to God's word in scripture and the liturgy, waiting upon God in prayer, and responsiveness to his inspirations help to distinguish how the two selves are operating in particular circumstances.

15. God is not some remote, inaccessible, and implacable being who demands instant perfection from His creatures and of whose love we must make ourselves worthy. He is not a tyrant to be obeyed out of terror, nor a policeman who is ever on the watch, nor a harsh judge ever ready to apply the verdict of guilty. We should relate to Him less and less in terms of reward and punishment and more and more on the basis of the gratuity--or the play of divine love.

16. Divine love is compassionate, tender luminous, totally self-giving, seeking no reward, unifying everything.

17. The experience of being loved by God enables us to accept our false self as it is, and then to let go of it and journey to our true Self. The inward journey to our true Self is the way to divine love.

18. The growing awareness of our true Self, along with the deep sense of spiritual peace and joy which flow from this experience, balances the psychic pain of the disintegrating and dying of the false self. As the motivating power of the false self diminishes, our true Self builds the new self with the motivating force of divine love.

19. The building of our new self is bound to be marked by innumerable mistakes and sometimes by sin. Such failures, however serious, are insignificant compared to the inviolable goodness of our true Self. We should ask God's pardon, seek forgiveness from those we may have offended, and then act with renewed confidence and energy as if nothing had happened.

20. Prolonged, pervasive, or paralyzing guilt feelings come from the false self. True guilt in response to personal sin or social injustice does not lead to discouragement but to amendment of life. It is a call to conversion.

21. Progress in the spiritual journey is manifested by the unconditional acceptance of other people, beginning with those with whom we live.

22. A community of faith offers the support of example, correction, and mutual concern in the spiritual journey. Above all, participating in the mystery of Christ through the celebration of the liturgy, Eucharist, and silent prayer binds the community in a common search for transformation and union with God. The presence of Christ is ministered to each other and becomes tangible in the community, especially when it is gathered for worship or engaged in some work of service to those in need.

23. The moderation of the instinctual drives of the developing human organism for survival and security, affection and esteem, control and power allows true human needs to come into proper focus. Primary among these needs is intimacy with another or several human persons. By intimacy is meant the mutual sharing of thoughts, feelings, problems, and spiritual aspirations which gradually develops into spiritual friendship.

24. Spiritual friendship involving genuine self-disclosure is an essential ingredient for happiness both in marriage and in the celibate lifestyle. The experience of intimacy with another or several persons expands and deepens our capacity to relate to God and to everyone else. Under the influence of Divine Love the sexual energy is gradually transformed into universal compassion.

25. The spiritual radiation of a community depends on the commitment of its members to the inward journey and to each other. To offer one another space in which to grow as persons is an integral part of this commitment.

26. Contemplative prayer, in the traditional sense of the term, is the dynamic that initiates, accompanies and brings the process of transformation to completion.

27. Reflection on the Word of God in scripture and in our personal history is the foundation of contemplative prayer The spontaneous letting go of particular thoughts and feelings in prayer is a sign of progress in contemplation. Contemplative prayer is characterized not so much by the absence of thoughts and feelings as by detachment from them.

28. The goal of genuine spiritual practice is not the rejection of the good things of the body, mind, or spirit, but the right use of them. No aspect of human nature or period of human life is to be rejected but integrated into each successive level of unfolding self-consciousness. In this way, the partial goodness proper to each stage of human development is preserved and only its limitations are left behind. The way to become divine is thus to become fully human.

29. The practice of a spiritual discipline is essential at the beginning of the spiritual journey as a means of developing the foundations of the contemplative dimension of life: dedication and devotion to God and service to others. Our daily practice should include a time for contemplative prayer and a program for letting go of the false self.

30. Regular periods of silence and solitude quiet the psyche, foster interior silence, and initiate the dynamic of self knowledge.

31. Solitude is not primarily a place but an attitude of total commitment to God. When one belongs completely to God, the sharing of one's life and gifts continually increases.

32. The Beatitude of poverty of spirit springs from the increasing awareness of our true Self. It is a nonpossessive attitude toward everything and a sense of unity with everything at the same time. The interior freedom to have much or to have little, and the simplifying of one's life-style are signs of the presence of poverty of spirit.

33. Chastity is distinct from celibacy, which is the commitment to abstain from the genital expression of our sexuality. Chastity is the acceptance of our sexual energy, together with the masculine and feminine qualities that accompany it and the integration of this energy into our spirituality. It is the practice of moderation and self-control in the use of our sexual energy.

34. Chastity enhances and expands the power to love. It perceives the sacredness of everything that is. As a consequence, one respects the dignity of other persons and cannot use them merely for one's own fulfillment.

35. Obedience is the unconditional acceptance of God as He is and as He manifests Himself in our lives. God's will is not immediately evident. Docility inclines us to attend to all the indications of His will. Discernment sifts the evidence and then decides, in the light of the inward attraction of grace, what God seems to be asking here and now.

36. Humility is an attitude of honesty with God, oneself, and all reality. It enables us to be at peace in the presence of our powerlessness and to rest in the forgetfulness of self.

37. Hope springs from the continuing experience of God's compassion and help. Patience is hope in action. It waits for the saving help of God without giving up, giving in, or going away, and for any length of time.

38. The disintegrating and dying of our false self is our participation in the passion and death of Jesus. The building of our new self, based on the transforming power of divine love, is our participation in his risen life.

39. In the beginning, emotional hang-ups are the chief obstacle to the growth of our new self because they put our freedom into a straight jacket. Later, because of the subtle satisfaction that springs from self-control, spiritual pride becomes the chief obstacle. And finally, reflection of self becomes the chief obstacle because this hinders the innocence of divine union.

40. Human effort depends on grace even as it invites it. Whatever degree of divine union we may reach bears no proportion to our effort. It is the sheer gift of divine love.

41. Jesus did not teach a specific method of meditation or bodily discipline for quieting the imagination, memory, and emotions. We should choose a spiritual practice adapted to our particular temperament and natural disposition. We must also be willing to dispense with it when called by the Spirit to surrender to his direct guidance. The Spirit is above every method or practice. To follow his inspiration is the sure path to perfect freedom.

42. What Jesus proposed to his disciples as the Way is his own example: the forgiveness of everything and everyone and the service of others in their needs. "Love one another as I have loved you."

More information can be obtained by reading the book Open Mind Open Heart by Fr. Thomas Keating.  It is offered in our Bookstore.