19: Formation of the Homemade Self: The Existential Model, Part 2

Hilma af Klint, The Swan No. 8, Group IX-SUW, 1915

May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened
that you may know what is the hope of your call …
– Ephesians 1:18


The Evolutionary Model is how human beings would develop if uninterrupted by life and circumstances; in other words, it is the blueprint for growth and development. The Existential Model is what really happens to most of us as our life evolves with our needs being met or not, influenced by our family, friends, school, church, culture.

Fr. Thomas introduces the “Energy Centers,” building from Ken Keyes work in Handbook to a Higher Consciousness. Our needs for security and survival, esteem and affection, and power and control are completely normal when we are in the early childhood stages of development. They are, in fact, normal for us as adults as well. The problem we face is when our preferences for meeting these needs turn into demands, and we turn these demands into expectations we place on the people, events and circumstances in our lives. The constant frustration of unmet needs and expectations begins to form a “false-self system” and is the source of much of our afflictive emotions and resultant life choices and behaviors.

It’s important to remember that this is occurring mostly on the unconscious level. If we were aware that we were making unrealistic demands for unmet needs we believe will make us happy, we might make a different choice. In much of his teaching on the spiritual journey, Fr. Thomas asks us to change the direction in which we are looking for happiness. Once the energy centers — our hidden motivations based on values from early childhood — are firmly in place, they become what he calls “programs for happiness which can’t possibly work” and are in fact, programs for human misery. He states, “The energy centers are the heart’s blood of the false-self system.”

Another significant piece of the false-self system is cultural conditioning which can limit us to the mythic membership level of consciousness. As children, we are influenced by our family and any other social unit we are a part of in our lives — church, school, clubs and the culture into which we are born. As children, we accept the values of these groups unquestioningly. As adults we are called to re-evaluate these values and cultural conditions. If we don’t, we may be developing unconscious compensatory needs to belong, with a tendency to over-identify with these groups, causing divisions and unfair or uninformed judgments.

“You are ready for growth into the happiness of higher consciousness when you realize the utter futility of trying to live a beautiful life by your efforts to rearrange or change the world of people and things outside of you to fit your addictions and desires. You will find you have only to rearrange your own personal, automatically programmed responses to life situations — most of which are childhood hang-ups … It is the patterns in your head that make you unhappy, although you usually blame the people and conditions outside you for your unhappiness.”

– Ken Keyes, Handbook to a Higher Consciousness

“When ‘happiness’ eludes us — as eventually it always will — we have before us the invitation to examine our programmed responses, and to exercise our power to choose again. We exaggerate, confuse, and distort reality, thus causing an emotional imbalance in our families, our church, and our politics. We can learn to heal our reactive responses by seeking ’emotional sobriety,’ which is really the task that we call contemplation.”

– Richard Rohr, Emotional Sobriety: Rewiring Our Programs for Happiness CD

A Meditation

“You are the awakening
you await by the roadside
but do not know,
cannot see,
the eyes of your heart
being darkened,
blinded by tinsel and neon
to the star
which has risen
in the east
and points the way
toward dawn.

across the vast
expanse of eternity,
you can glimpse it
even here.
But you must close
your inner eye
to this world’s
false twinkling,
and step outside
your little self
into the shining darkness
of world without end.
– Bonnie Thurston, “Teacher Let Me See,” The Heart’s Lands

To Practice
  • View the video excerpt “Formation of the Homemade Self: The Existential Model, Part 2.” This excerpt is about 27 minutes in length.
  • Spend some time with the “Existential Model” chart; reflect upon your own history, childhood influences and influencers, your preconceived ideas and pre-packaged values, the groups you identify with. Just observe what is evoked. How is Centering Prayer or your other contemplative practices, such as the Welcoming Prayer, bringing your value system into light?


“Formation of the Homemade Self: The Existential Model, Part 2,” excerpted from The Spiritual Journey Part 2, 27.2 mins.
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Audio for this Narrative

"Formation of the Homemade Self: The Existential Model, Part 2," excerpted from The Spiritual Journey Part 2, 27.2 mins.
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Resources for Further Study:
You may wish to read the Introduction and Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 in Invitation to Love (20th Anniversary Edition) and the Introduction through Chapter 6, in older editions.

Additional Resources