31Mar Is the priest at home? The personal maturity and mental health of the priest. Brendan O’Rourke

By: Brendan S. O’Rourke, C.Ss.R., D.Min

(This article was first published in the book “Priesthood Today”, edited by Eamonn Conway.  Brendan O’Rourke is a Redemptorist priest and psychotherapist.  It is published here with the consent of the author).

Underpinning these thoughts on the mental health and personal maturity of the priest is the conviction (psychology) that at the very centre of the human being is the desire for, and thrust towards relationship, and the belief (theological) that this desire and thrust is a reflection of the relational core of the mystery of God, which we call Trinity.

The more our surroundings facilitate and promote connection and relationship the greater is our potential for growing into maturity.  When circumstances frustrate our connecting, and undermine our trust, the journey towards maturity and emotional balance is made more difficult, and sometimes impossible.

The mature priest is not necessarily a well-rounded personality.  He’s far from perfect.  But he is able to love, to befriend, to be befriended, and minister effectively.  In developing a solid sense of self which allows him to be available for friendship and closeness to people the priest is establishing a firm foundation for all he does.

Many priests were warned of the dangers of closeness.  Many recount stories of formation which praised independence and caution.   At best the intent may have been to alert the priest to the power he possessed, on the one hand, and the responsibility to use that in the service of the needs of the other, especially people who were vulnerable.  The negative side of this training, even apart from its delaying the human development of many priests, was that it did not recognize the damage that is caused by relating to people in an impersonal, disconnected manner.  Super-independence is not a virtue.  It damages the self and others.  It is not human.  It is not manly.  It is immature.  It weakens all aspects of priestly ministry.

One of the lies of super-independence is that the priest doesn’t need others.  This is a dangerous denial of his deepest self.  It violates “the human condition of interrelatedness.”[1]   It impedes the priest from a healthy awareness of his own feelings, his need for friendship, for support, and contexts of mutual honest sharing.  Super-independence leads to isolation and priests who live isolated lives, tend to meet their needs in unhealthy, manipulative ways.

To achieve closeness a priest needs some level of trust in self and others.  He needs some positive sense of who he is.  If deep down, sometimes beyond consciousness, he suspects that he is faulty, bad, or seriously defective, or, if, for example, he deeply doubts his capacity to be really human, or, again if he’s unsure or afraid of himself  sexually, or if his needs and feelings are foreign territory for him, or even judged as shameful or sinful, then, in his encounters and ministry he is likely to put up a shield, a mask, a false self.  He will do this to avoid being rejected, disliked, or disapproved of by others.

The journey from the false self to the real self may be part of the journey towards maturity for many priests, moving from a service of (rather impersonal) duty, to one of genuine care, compassion, and justice.

Unless priests work at being in relationship with themselves and others their ministry will suffer.  The Word of God needs to resonate in their whole selves.  They need to preach with their whole selves.  They don’t need to be perfect but they do need to be real.

Being real and mature will mean that the priest does not have all the answers.  This is a struggle for men who have been trained to be problem solvers.  It is a journey into humility, into an awareness of the complexity of life, into vulnerability and weakness, and into letting go of black and white thinking.  It is a journey into awareness of and gradual acceptance of one’s sexual orientation.  This maturity calls priests into equal relations with men and women.  If usually requires a deep listening to the reality of the experiences of men and women, starting from the freedom of realizing that his job is to learn and not know in advance.

Claudia Black summarizes rules for unhealthy relationships as, don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel.[2]  The journey to maturity for priests often involves a growing awareness that these are the rules they have lived by.

In the journey towards maturity, which is a lifelong path, priests often discover that there are other patterns in their lives which block relatedness.  One common one is that of operating mostly on an intellectual level.  The priest who does this will function on the level of ideas and facts, but will not be available for the give and take of relationship.  He will not be vulnerable.  He won’t share his hopes or fears.  He will hide.  Another way of hiding is the priest who uses his role to keep a distance from others.  He would be uncomfortable not being in charge and having the cover of  “father.”  Other priests can avoid the immediacy of relationship by using humour as a way of avoiding being down to earth and facing reality.  Some priests use the topic of Rome as a way of not engaging personally, others use the past, others talk church all the time, while others talk politics.  Clearly these issues are worthy of conversation but are commonly focused on in a way that blocks the priest from a real engagement with another.

BOUNDARIES

“The purpose of establishing boundaries is to promote the well-being of the priest and that of the people to whom he ministers, in the hope of creating a safe and predictable environment.  Boundaries help to establish clear roles and expectations; they also serve to protect and preserve the integrity of relationships.”[3]

If someone asks to speak with the priest, in order to give them his full attention, he needs to choose a time when he is not distracted, rushed or too tired.  He needs to listen in a place that is conducive to listening.  Boundary setting respects what works best for him, and for the other person.  In the way he puts aside time to be available for the other he increases the likelihood of prioritizing the needs of the other, while also attending to his own needs.

It is important that the priest does not do for the other person what they can do for themselves.  That would be to take too much responsibility.  If he finds himself doing this he needs to wonder why and to talk to someone about it.  On the other hand, he needs also not to be under-involved.  There is always the requirement to be attentive, to communicate understanding and empathy, even if he determines early on that this situation is beyond him and requires referral.  Boundaries are respected when he recognizes that someone needs expertise he doesn’t have.  The priest respects boundaries also by having ready a list of trustworthy professionals he can refer people to.  Some priests fall into the trap of using referrals as a way of avoiding even an initial listening to people.  This is not good ministry and is an abuse of boundaries.

There is sensitivity needed when it comes to physical expressions of support or affection.  The question that needs to be uppermost for the priest is: whose need is being met?  The priest is entitled to, and needs, to have a variety of ways of meeting his need for support and affection in healthy ways.  If he is not attending to this, he is likely to seek to meet those needs inappropriately.

A weakness in the training of many priests, and in their current ministry, is not having a supervisor whom they can talk over their ministry with.  Most in the helping professions would not dare to function solo.  They know how complex relationships can be and how helpful and necessary it is to have a safe, confidential, context in which to process our experiences.

Fr. John Heagle gives a fine rule of thumb for good boundaries in our work with people.  He writes:  “In our day to day pastoral contacts with people, approach each encounter as if we want our closest associates and friends – those who respect and trust us most – to know exactly how we are conducting ourselves.”[4]

In ministry the priest is saying: “I am here for you.”  In order for that to be true the priest needs to attend to his own needs – not in a selfish way.  A simple and crucial prerequisite is adequate sleep and rest!  Workaholism is an addiction that is often seen as a virtue.  It is destructive for the life of the priest and his ministry.  Priests need to be very aware of this and take responsibility for achieving a healthy balance in their lives.  Luisa M. Saffiotti speaks of the fact that “…increasingly priests are faced with more and more work demands.  For many a 70 hour week is not so exceptional.  This leaves them fatigued and often lacking in the energy or enthusiasm for creative responses to the world’s pain.”[5]  Part of good boundary-setting is learning the skill of saying no!  The priest needs to say no to whatever will result in his not really being able to say “I am here for you.”  Many bishops and priests (together with the faithful) are struggling with declining numbers of priests and asking questions of some emerging responses, e.g. the clustering of parishes.  Some pose the question:  “Are we becoming sacramental robots and losing any real sense of relatedness and community?”  This concern is crucial for establishing solid boundaries in ministry.  The fewer the priests the less personal contact with people.  And so the priest runs the risk of becoming a depersonalized functionary rather than servant of the faith community.

BALANCE

An on-going struggle for many priests is to maintain a sense of balance in how they live their lives.  While some may under-work, many struggle with becoming overly busy and living unhealthy lives, with the inevitable weakening of their ministry.  Maturity asks of us to give energy and attention to balance in our lives.  Balance is achieved when I give enough time to the important aspects of life.

Some questions for reflection to assess one’s balance in life:

Do I eat regularly and healthily?

Do I make time for exercise?

Do I attend to my medical and dental care?

Do I get enough sleep?

Do I take time away from phones and emails and texts?

Do I make time for entertainment, sport, film or theatre?

Do I regularly make a list of things I’m grateful for in life?

Do I try at times not to be in charge or the expert?

Am I vulnerable with myself, others, God?

Do I pray daily?

Do I spend time in nature?

Do I spend time with good books and music, regularly?

Am I open to not knowing?

Do I stay in touch with friends and family regularly?

Do I cherish people who give me honest feedback?

Do I take time to chat with others?

Do I accept that any given day things will remain undone?

Do I get regular supervision or peer support?

Do I have realistic expectations for myself and others, e.g. human, vulnerable, imperfect?

Am I learning to be mutual in my friendships (self-disclosing, empathic, able to give and receive challenge or feedback)?

Do I invest time and energy in updating myself professionally, emotionally, spiritually?

Am I learning to be more intimate with others – to get my human needs for appreciation, intimacy, touch, affection, and caring – met with a variety of people in healthy and appropriate ways?

Do I take holidays each year (an average of 4 weeks)?

Do I make an annual retreat?

Do I attend professional development training regularly?

Do I take a sabbatical (of at least 3 months) every ten years?[6]

For balance in life we need to develop an awareness of our feelings and a skill in reading them.  We are like an airport control tower whose radar is down.  For many priests skill in befriending our feelings and learning from them was not part of seminary formation, nor was it part of their development as men.  For healthy balance in life and ministry it is a crucial skill to develop.  Otherwise a lot of unnecessary  crashes will take place.

For balance in ministry it is also important that we not get caught in the trap of “only seeking confirmatory experiences”[7] and avoiding whatever is unfamiliar or different.  So, crucial to the maturing of the priest, is that he be open to experience in his ministry.

GRIEF

A missionary priest got that dreaded phone call telling him that his sister had days to live.  He made arrangements and travelled home.  He travelled home with dread in his heart.  One might expect that his fear was that he wouldn’t make it in time.  However, his fear was that he would make it in time.  He was afraid that his sister would be still alive when he arrived because he knew himself.  He knew that he was not able to deal with loss.  He knew that he was frozen around loss.  He was unable to feel or show love or grief.  So, he hoped, for his sister’s sake, so as not to hurt her, that she would be dead.

Numbness, inability to access our feelings, and difficulty in acknowledging or communicating them are struggles many men experience.  The returning missioner was at least aware that there was something frozen, a way of relating he could not access or demonstrate.  Maturity in priesthood necessitates grief work, otherwise our ability to relate, to connect, to be present is greatly diminished.

The priest needs to grieve over his last parish in order to be ready to really engage in his next one.  It is important to ritualize this ending in some way, to express it, to find a way to express gratitude to the parishioners, and to receive their gratitude in return.  It is important to say goodbye, and to feel our goodbye.  If there is just numbness, stoicism, or a heady response to goodbyes, the people being left are damaged.  They are left with a sense that they did not really count in the life of the priest.  If the reality of leaving is not felt by the priest – and leave-taking can often be a mixture of sadness, relief, excitement, new horizons – then the engagement in the new community can be weakened.  We need to have said goodbye to be capable of saying hello to new relationships.

Maturity requires the priest to deal with his grief in the course of his ministry which may so often place him in positions of witnessing – and in some ways, be part of – the loss and tragedies of others.  Often the priest has to face the trauma of being an early witness to sudden death through accidents, suicide, violence.  The priest is often present with families torn by grief.  The priest may have journeyed with people, old and young, and their partners, their children, or their parents, and witnessed the heartbreak and horror of sickness and death.  Many priests demonstrate great heart and sensitivity in helping people cope with the sorrows of their lives.  What is not always attended to so well by priests is their own grief and the price they pay for so often dealing with trauma and pain and loss.  It is important for the priest to deal with the sometimes strong feelings he experiences in journeying with people.  He needs to be able to talk through his own experience, his own pain, his own numbness, his own anger and frustration.  These are best shared with a trusted other.  Professionals debrief because it helps them to stay available in healthy ways.  The priest needs to bring his own feelings and experiences into prayer but also into conversation with trusted others.  Otherwise he risks numbing himself with alcohol, over-eating, compulsive television or computer use, by over-working, or becoming short-tempered.

An area of grief that many men, and priests need to deal with is what Steve Biddulph calls the “hidden grief of ‘father-hunger’”.   Biddulph writes: “Father hunger is the deep biological need for strong, humorous, hairy, wild, tender, sweaty, caring, intelligent, masculine input.  For long satisfying hours spent learning to be confident and capable in the world, in the pleasure of doing and making, striving together and laughing at adversity, learning the joy of being a man from men who know these things and are willing to share them.”[8]

Many men suffer from an alienation or distance from their fathers, whether they are living or dead.  Some call this “the father-wound”.  It is important for the maturing of a man to come to terms with his relationship with his father.  Biddulph’s book, “Manhood”, outlines a process of discovering the energy of the father-son relationship and blessing.

Father Brian had worked on his relationship with his father over the years.  His father had often commented that when he came to die he hoped that Brian would be at his death-bed to anoint him, hear his confession, and send him on his way.  Father Brian was about to take a leave of absence from ministry.  The words of his father troubled him.  He was unsure whether his father wanted Brian-the-priest at his bedside or Brian-the-son.  What if he wasn’t in ministry when his father came to die?  Evidence of the growth in their relationship was proven when Brian wrote and asked his father would he want him at his bedside as son, if he was no longer in ministry at that time.  Brian’s father wrote back:  “If it is God’s will that you not be a priest when I come to die, I could ask for no better man to be there than you, my son.”  Brian risked asking, did his father love him, and was deeply blessed by his father.

Dealing with unresolved issues around the father son relationship is particularly important for priests who are in leadership roles.  Coming to terms with this relationship is a process of coming to terms with masculinity and authority.

Conclusion

As the priest works at relating well, with balance and solid boundaries, together with the on-going grief work that life requires, he will be found to be at home.  At home in himself, and grounded in God and in God’s People.

 

Recommended Reading

 

Handbook of Spirituality for Ministers”, Edited by Robert J. Wicks, Volume 1, 1995

 

A Practical Guide to Priestly Wellness”, The National Federation of Presbyteral Councils (Canada), 2004

 

The Priest as Servant Leader: Developing Values for Priestly Ministry”, The National Federation of Presbyteral Councils (Canada), 2008

 

Manhood, An Action Plan for Changing Men’s Lives”, by Steve Biddulph, Hawthorn Press, 1999

 

When Men Grieve: why men grieve differently and how you can help”, by Elizabeth Levang, Ph. D., Fairview Press, 1998

 

The Care of Men”, Editors, Christie Cozad Neuger and James Newton Poling, Abingdon Press, 1997

 

Mothers, Sons & Lovers: how a man’s relationship with his mother affects the rest of his life”, Michael Gurian, Shambhala, Boston & London, 1994

 

 

 

 

 

 

Biographical Note

 

Brendan O’Rourke is a native of Wexford, a Redemptorist, a priest and a psychotherapist.

Brendan has worked in Ireland, the Philippine Islands, and the United States, in giving retreats, missions, teaching and counselling.  Brendan is Vicar to the Redemptorist Provincial in Ireland

and is Rector of the Redemptorist Community, Esker, Athenry, Co. Galway.

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1]

Sheila Murphy, “Spirituality, Sexuality, Intimacy, and Ministry” in Handbook of Spirituality for Ministers, Ed. Robert J. Wicks, Volume 1, 1995

[2]     Claudia Black, “Don’t Talk, Don’t Trust, Don’t Feel”  Audio Cassette, 5779g

[3]     “The Priest as Servant Leader:developing values for priestly ministry” Published by the Canadian National Federation of Presbyteral Councils, 2008

[4]     Fr. John Heagle, “Priestly Ministry and Healthy Boundaries” in “Priestly Relationships: Freedom Through Boundaries” Published by the National Organization for Continuing Education of Roman Catholic Clergy, USA, 1997

[5]     Luisa M. Saffiotti, Ph. D., “Forming Ministers for the 21st Century”, Human Development, Summer 2005

[6]                 Some of these questions are from the unpublished notes of Sr. Lynn Levo, CSJ, Ph. D.

[7]     Raymond F. Dlugos, O.S.A., Atlanta NOCERCC Conference address

[8]     Steve Biddulph, “Manhood: an action plan for changing men’s lives” Hawthorn Press, 1999

15 Responses

  1. Shaun

    There was a good programme on TG4 at 7.30pm on Monday. The next episode of ‘Sagairt’ (Priests) is on Monday 7th April at 7.30pm on TG4. It’s in Irish with English sub-titles. It follows the real lives of priests in Ireland. It was quite insightful for me. You can probably watch it again here: http://www.tg4.ie/ie/player/tg4-player.html

    On a separate note, I recommend the short book by Conrad Baars to everyone, including priests: Born Only Once: The Miracle of Affirmation. Get it on Amazon. Can be read in an afternoon or two.

  2. John

    This is the strongest argument I have read up to now of the need to have fully developed personalities in ministry and leadership in the church, women, married men or single men or women if that is really their vocation.

  3. Sean O'Conaill

    If close and tender relationships with others are necessary for emotional health and maturation, can mandatory celibacy be compatible with the latter for all who feel called to ministry? I know of no relationship more conducive to maturation than that of parent.
    .
    And from where exactly comes the expectation on the part of so many priests that adult unordained people will fall into a child-to-parent relationship with themselves – one in which the priest will make all key decisions and the unordained will defer childishly to that arrangement? Nothing could be less conducive to the Christian maturation of all concerned.
    .
    I would definitely like to hear Brendan O’Rourke on the maturational implications of the denial of the biological parental relationship to all Catholic priests – other than those wise enough to start out as Anglicans!

  4. Joe O'Leary

    The TG 4 programme’s opening minutes focus too much on priests running around to say masses and worrying about mass attendance. Fr O’Rourke’s demanding identikit may not fit all personalities or all pastoral situations; there is a bit too much about the true self. I think we need a wider and more pluralistic outlook all round.

  5. roy donovan

    I have this sense around the Catholic Church that a strong thumb is holding back a mighty dam that is going to burst anyway. Many will argue that the dam is already bursting with the child-sex abuse and its far reaching consequences. There is also a huge gap between ideals and reality of so many people’s lives on the ground, including priests, the refusal to talk about why women can’t become priests etc. The dam needs to burst to bring in a whole new order – possibly undoing at least 1700/1800 years of the ‘Romanising’ of the Church.

  6. Con Devree

    The underlying message in this article is that priests, like everyone else benefit from acts of self discernment. Irrespective of state in life, self development is very desirable.

    However priests have to be allowed to be human, to have weaknesses. Personal weaknesses and vulnerabilities in a priest are symbolic of the weaknesses of the Church itself in its members. But as Pope Francis says in his message addressed to Catholics in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales: Even the weakest and most vulnerable … are masterpieces of God’s creation.”

    Fair-minded Catholics seeking to be faithful, have a tendency to adapt to even the very idiosyncratic priest. At core, the priest for his part exercises his responsibilities in Trust, in the mindset best expressed as: “Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain who build it.”

    Pastor and parishioners have to reach the insight that it is not the person of the priest that is paramount. Of course being a “nice man,” a charismatic figure, helps. The Baptist said: “He must increase, I (John as John) must decrease.” This is especially true at Mass, where there is a temptation for the priest to issue the invitation “follow me as me.”

    It is important for laity to assure priests that their greatest value to us lies in their striving to deepen their faith, to be men of prayer, to become holy, to be open to the works God wants to achieve through them for us. God, if allowed, works through human weakness grounded in faith.

  7. Joe O'Leary

    Well said, Con Devree. Another point to bear in mind is that being a “priest” often involves a nagging sense of guilt, given the multiple demands, both reasonable and unreasonable, coming from ancient tradition, from the people, from church authorities, and from the voice of conscience. Selfishness, cynicism, doubt, inability to pray, sexual divagations are all part of the common “humanity” of ministers of the Gospel, and no one is free of the encircling sin and weakness (Heb 12:1) that clogs “spiritual progress” and casts one back on divine mercy.

  8. Sean O'Conaill

    #4 Joe O’Leary: ” …there is a bit too much about the true self.”
    .
    That surprised me, Joe. What is careerism in the church but promotion of the false self – the persona we suppose will impress the controllers of ecclesiastical patronage? And what is clericalism if not the playing of a role of superior competence and superior spirituality – for the sake of one’s own ego needs?
    .
    All of the clerical game-playing I have experienced came very obviously from a mistaken belief that the game-player needed to impress everyone by the projection of a false image of superiority – what Pope Francis calls ‘spiritual worldliness’ and the Gospel calls ‘looking to others for glory’.
    .
    The journey to the true self – the self that is doing the promoting – is the spiritual journey of everyone. It involves dying to the false self – i.e. letting go of the belief that to love oneself one needs to be ‘successful’. Any kind of success actually postpones that eventuality. Suffering, bereavement, career defeat, redundance – all disasters – are salvation in disguise: only then can we ‘get’ at the very deepest level the meaning of the cross.
    .
    I truly believe that only when the pastor has understood this can he / she speak wisely to all of us about the perils of contemporary ‘make me a celebrity’ culture. And about the origins of the downside of all that – the deep depression that comes from supposing that there is no life beyond all that nonsense.
    .
    Even on Cursillo weekends I have heard very happy men speak of the extraordinary relief at being able to let go of ‘the mask’ – that persona they had been projecting in the first half of life. That’s the universal journey – so why is it that so few of our priests can confidently speak about that? Are they never taught about it in seminary?

  9. Joe O'Leary

    Sean, I am too steeped in Buddhist ideas of non-self to use words like “true self” easily. The great psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan uses Buddhism to unmask the Ego as an imaginary construct, focus of attachment and delusion. There is to be sure an authentic subject, the je rather than the moi, but it looks quite different from what the locution “true self” conjures up. I envisaged a horrible scenario of narcissistic clerics engaged on a hunt for the true self, and I suspect that such a cult of self underlies many of the recent scandals.

    Those scandals themselves probably force many priests to the humility and self-emptying you recommend. Certainly there is very little to feed the ego in being able to call oneself “priest” or presbyter today (which is why so many of us prefer, in Bernanos’s words, to “sidle along the wall”).

  10. Sean O'Conaill

    #9 Thanks, Joe. I understand you better now.
    .
    However, I don’t believe the ego is a ‘construct’, because it precedes all intellectuality. It is our little self’s abhorrence of its own littleness, its desire to be ‘great. The small boy who needs to boast about his Daddy reveals his ego before he has even learned to read. One cannot even ‘deconstruct’ the ego without crediting oneself with another achievement! :-)

  11. John

    There is such a thing as mental and psychological health, which is what this article is about. There is such a thing as adopting a pose and wearing a mask. Infantile attitudes. There is such a thing as teaching other people (perhaps in seminaries) to embrace ideas that do violence to their natures and alienate them from their humanity and from others. In such a climate it could take people years to return to normal when they have taken the decision to escape. People who have been caught up in cults like the Moonies have testified to this.

  12. Joe O'Leary

    Sean, I think Freud and Lacan would say the ego is “constructed” in early infancy (Lacan talks of the “mirror stage” in which the infant assembles itself as a unity by seeing its reflection — this is a work of the Imaginary, which has to be overcome at the oedipal stage as the subject is connected to the Symbolic order of the father’s authority etc.) Hume said that the passions of pride and shame are grounded in the ego, but he probably meant in the illusory construct to the ego (he had picked up some Buddhism from Jesuit missionaries in La Flèche where he was writing his Treatise.) Buddhism indeed deconstructs the ego, and this is at least a refreshing and thought-provoking thing, and probably a deep truth as well.

  13. Shaun

    You know Joe, listening to you and reading what I have elsewhere, it’s a real marvel that anyone would actually make a success of growing up and becoming a well-balanced individual. I’d hate to be a father myself because I am afraid I’d muck it up, me not being perfect and all, and lacking advanced understanding of psychological theories. It’s certainly something to wonder about. Airfix models are one thing, but to actually understand and make a success of whatever it was God planned for each person and how to make it work despite absolutely everything is another.

  14. Sean O'Conaill

    #12 Joe O’Leary: “Buddhism indeed deconstructs the ego …”
    .
    Very impressed once by a highly rated work on Buddhist meditation by one of their lamas, I Googled him: to find that in 1994 he had been the object of a $10 million civil lawsuit for sexual abuse of a female student, and that the case had been settled out of court.
    .
    I associate the word ‘construct’ with deliberation and intent. The ego forms itself entirely unconsciously simply out of our aborrence of our own apparent insignificance and worthlessness, and the fear that this will be discovered. Hence the false self.
    .
    It gets us nowhere to say there is no ‘self’. If we all agreed on that we would then have to agree on a different vocabulary to replace ‘myself’, ‘yourself’, ‘selfishness’, ‘unselfishness’ etc. What would be the point of that – when Buddhism would inevitably tell us that vocabulary had no meaning either?.
    .
    This is not to doubt the true goodness of many Buddhists – but to doubt the ‘deconstruction’ bit. The Ego is the only jack-in-the-box whose spring never fails. I’ll bet the greatest Buddhists know that too.

  15. Joe O'Leary

    Buddhism distinguishes conventional everyday worldly screening truth from the ultimate truth, so our talk of myself and yourself is conventionally valid. Freudianism is all about unconscious choices and formations (which I do not distinguish from constructs); you can also have an unconscious existential project, a la Sartre. On ego as construct there is much to be learned from Sartre’s maiden work, La transcendance de l’ego. The Ego’s spring never fails? Only if you believe the Three Poisons of greed, hatred, and folly can never be overcome; Buddhists believe they can be overcome, first by being deconstructed, then by a long course of meditative and compassionate practice that undoes their affective roots that are so resistant to intellectual deconstruction.


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