A couple of years ago, a dear friend and confidant of mine was committed to a psychiatric hospital for what seemed to be a manic episode. It turned out she had a form of dementia that affected her judgment and insight, while leaving the rest of her formidable intelligence and memory intact.
It was a dreadful thing to watch. Because of the underlying physical condition that eventually killed her a year ago, the cause of this lack of insight was organic, due, the doctors suspected, to a scarring of some of the blood vessels in the brain in her frontal lobe.
There are other ways, however, lack of insight can plague us without having an organic basis. Back when I was in my early twenties, I was so lost in my own thoughts and feelings I had no insight into them, but was instead trapped in introspective tangle of over-thinking and took for granted a number of premises about reality based on lies. I could not step back and assess my thoughts and feelings with any degree of objectivity. I was trapped in a cycle of resentment, blame and judgment that rebounded like a boomerang on me with self-hatred, self-condemnation and constant internal criticism.
As I explained in my testimony, it took a mind-altering drug, accompanied by Divine intervention to jolt me out of this state. God reached down to me in this state and gently, lovingly exposed to me how my whole life was built on lies, that everything I believed was false, that blame and resentment were keeping me from freedom, and these states of mind were obscene in the light of God’s everlasting love. What a relief it was so see in a flash of insight my beliefs were not reality, as I had assumed, but an edifice of lies that kept me feeling hopeless, condemned and depressed.
Those habits of mind, those false beliefs and the feelings that accompanied them, however, did not vanish. They had formed deep grooves in my mind, and, I was later to discover, there was also demonic involvement that the sin in my life and reaction to things done to me had permitted, giving the enemy of our souls a foothold in my mind and thoughts and keeping me in a degree of bondage to them. But that flash of God-given insight, set me on a journey of seeking ways to resist the lies that I so easily fell into believing, and to come back to that state of believing God instead.
During this time, in 1973 I began listening to a radio program by a former hypnotist named Roy Masters, called “How Your Mind Can Keep You Well.” In this call-in program, he spoke about how resentment handed over control to cruel people who feed like psychic vampires on our emotional reactions. He taught what he called a meditation/observation exercise to help you become objective to your thoughts and emotions, so I eventually ordered the long-playing album that taught the technique.
While many years later, I had to renounce the teachings of Roy Masters as part of my journey to receiving an Apostolic faith, the meditation exercise was a Godsend to someone like me with terrible attention problems, an addiction to overthinking and thus, a lack of connection to the present moment.
The exercise is basically this: you sit quietly in a room, eyes closed anchoring yourself in your body by becoming aware of the blood flowing into your right hand as if you were looking out through the middle of your forehead. Every time you discover you have drifted off into the thought stream, which for me in the beginning was constantly, gently become aware of your hand. Nothing was to be forced: just gently becoming aware in the present moment and, instead of repressing or pushing away thoughts and feelings, observing them calmly without judging or condemning what we saw . Masters taught that in coming into the present moment, we would come into the Presence of God, and, if we had a pure intent, His Light would reveal our true nature and bring us to repentance.
Based on other things I was reading, it seemed to me he was teaching something similar to the mysticism of the Cloud of Unknowing, a way of approaching God by setting aside all of our thoughts, our ideas of Him, and approaching with naked longing.
Masters also taught along with the meditation technique that we were to overlook on the spot offenses, to not judge or give way to resentment or judgment. Better to avoid taking offence so as not to even get to the point where we even needed to forgive. This, he said, was a way of avoiding the sin in the Garden of Eden of playing God, of assuming we are the judge of good and evil. But he was not saying be a non-judgmental flower child who sees no evil, but to discern, to allow the light of God to reveal things to us by not getting in the way with our own judgments.
While there were things I eventually discovered were harmful to me in Masters’ teachings, among them a suspicion of organized religion that hindered my spiritual growth and some false doctrinal teachings on the Trinity and so on, the technique itself of sitting quietly in the Presence of God, rising above the thought stream to become objective to what I was thinking and feeling, eschewing offence and judgment, was incredibly fruitful. It was also, in the beginning, painful and extremely anxiety producing!
I would make myself do the exercise, even though everything in my sin-self rebelled against the idea. I would do it by the clock, a half hour in the morning and a half hour before going to bed at night. The half hour would often be an agony of boredom, of failure to stay in the present moment, a feeling like a part of me was writhing in the light and hating coming to light. And yes, that sin self that believed all those lies and fed on resentment whose feelings I identified with, felt the exposure to the Light as like experiencing death. It felt awful. But persisting, continuing to gently come back into the present moment, aware of my body through feeling the blood flowing into my hand, (or he said you could put your hands together in prayerlike fashion) then I would have moments of contemplation, where God gave me a gift of peace and insight and the sweet, sweet tears of repentance as He lovingly and quietly showed me my sinfulness but without condemnation, but with Holy love and cleansing.
Even on the days I did not have any spiritual experience or consolation during the exercise, but only felt like I almost had to be strapped to the chair to persist in sitting there, the fruits would come afterwards. I would find myself being naturally more patient, more present, more able to discern in the moment rather than to take offense and judge. Life and the present moment began to take on a sweetness. Scripture would seem to come alive.
On the days I did not start the day with the exercise though, it was like my old patterns would take over and I would not have a smooth day.
And, oh, I discovered that often before a period of consolation and of God’s presence, I would have moments of terrible anxiety, heart pounding, as if a part of me wanted to flee from the room. But if I continued to watch the anxiety, watch the feelings and thoughts, it would reach a certain pitch then subside.
These days, I still welcome those times of silence and contemplation when my prayer becomes a time of listening for that still, small voice. Now it is more likely praying the Rosary or the Divine Mercy chaplet that is the prelude to those precious states we cannot give ourselves but are a gift of the Holy Spirit. I am also extremely grateful to have a wonderful spiritual director and confessor. Also, since experiencing much deliverance over the course of many years, my mind is generally quiet and free of chatter and unwanted thoughts.
Some things that have stayed with me from this: It is crucial we not judge or put ourselves in the place of God. It is crucial we resist the temptation to do so and resist taking offence. That does not mean putting on blinders or refusing to see evil; it means we humbly allow God to show us with His light. It means taking seriously the command the Lord’s Prayer:
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
This to me is beginning Christianity, Christianity 101 as it were. Yet how often do I meet people, even some who have such a great intellectual command of the Catholic faith, who do not seem to get this important principle.
They easily take offence; they seem not to be able to help judging other people; and they seem to have little insight into their own thoughts or feelings. They have the faith in their intellect, and judge what they see in light of the precepts in their intellect, and may even come to right conclusions based on their thinking, but in their emotional reactions, there is still work to be done to bring their faith from the head to the heart.
I remember some recent conversations with a friend of mine who used to have a blog that often criticized various scandals occurring in the Church. He realized he was doing the equivalent of trying to get the fig tree Jesus had cursed to bear fruit by criticizing the fig tree for its lack of fruit. He decided it was time for him to find a way to build up the Body of Christ.
He also spoke with me about the danger of “scandal porn,” that if we get into a position of always writing about this or that thing wrong with the Church, we can be in danger of getting off on “scandal porn” and purveying it.
This is not to say some people do not have an apostolate to expose scandal and to correct improper teaching. This can be a prophetic calling but in order to be effective, it must be done in the proper spirit—out of sincere love, without a hint of resentment or the lower emotions. No, saying one has righteous anger like that of Jesus in the Temple when he threw out the moneychangers, is not an excuse for failing to apply Christianity 101.
It’s funny because these days I cannot listen to Roy Masters via his website. I find he meanders, never comes to a point, jumps from thought to thought in a way that makes me wonder, what did I ever see in him or his teaching?
But some principles he taught such: as you become like what you hate; discern don’t judge; overlook on the spot; become objective to your thoughts and feelings by coming into the Presence of God and the Truth will set you free; and the importance of giving up resentment have stayed with me.
For that, I’m grateful.
There’s a short sample meditation via his site that is quite different from what I heard in the 1970s, but the technique is the same. Also, Masters, who was raised Jewish, came to believe in Jesus Christ through the practice of this exercise, deliberately avoids using religious language because he thinks it is important for people to discover Christ and the truth of Scripture through the negative way of setting aside our thoughts and judgments.
This is a vintage article by Masters, who I see has having a ministry to those people who have fallen by the wayside, tormented by resentment and toxic emotion to the extent they have trouble functioning.
Unless you learn to respond properly in the present, you build upon that past. And without self-control, that is the only future you have to look forward to. Respond wrongly to pressure just one time—and what upsets you, gets to you. And you will go on responding slavishly until you find the truth that makes you free.
You are not alone in your dilemma. The wrong emotional reaction to various pressures is making everyone sick and depressed, and driving people into conflict with themselves. Trying to solve the pressure-caused conflicts, many turn to consciousness-reducing drink, tobacco and drugs, legal and illegal.
Your reactions, becoming compulsive, are a subtle form of obedience. But emotional obedience is a form of slavery. Behind the relentless pressures that people apply (sometimes in the name of God and good), is a selfish motive that compels you to sin. Because of your reactions, you are thrown out of control and so you can’t live your own life. That is the reason why you feel sick and depressed.
Most of your sexual, family and business problems arise directly from your failing to respond in a right way to what is wrong, and I might add, taking it out on your loved ones. Conflict with yourself now becomes conflict with others.Most of the things that are wrong with your life, your marriage, your health, your children, can be resolved by discovering how to control your emotions.
Your emotional upsets have literally turned you upside-down. Even though you were technically correct in what you said or did, if you did it resentfully, your emotions backfired and confused you and as you began to doubt yourself, conflict, depression and fear grew. Emotion has destroyed your objectivity, and, failing to see clearly, you have made terrible errors of judgment.