The Search for Our True Self (Note: We Don’t Have to Look Far)

One of the wonderful books I read this summer is Richard Rohr’s latest, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self. Although I’ve already mentioned the book here and here, I have been meaning to say a little more about it and am finally getting around to doing so.

In Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, which I have recommended to many people (and which I talk about here, here and here), Rohr focuses on the ways in which the ego (part of the False Self) gets in the way of our spiritual maturity. In this book, as the title suggests, the focus is on the True Self).

Rohr calls the True Self, in contrast to our small self or ego (the False Self), is our absolute identity. It is, Rohr suggests “an absolute reference point that is both utterly within you and utterly beyond you at the same time.”

Both within and without. At one level is sounds confusing; at another the truth seems self-evident. I alone is not my total reference point; I think Rohr is absolutely right that to think I am feeds the small I egoic self. Nor, however, is truth totally out there somewhere, completely beyond my experience.

Another way of saying that is to know that “God is both utterly beyond me and yet totally within me. In the first appendix to the book, Rohr has an image of two intersecting circles. The larger one is labeled “God/Reality” and the smaller one is labeled “Me.” I am not totally separate from God (dualsm), but I am also not the same as God (pantheism). Rather I am inherently in union with God.

If we can grasp this, then the Trinity, a concept that is usually difficult for us to grasp, becomes much easier to understand. Rohr writes that good trinitarian theology

says that God is more a verb than a noun: God is three “relations”…God is a process rather than a clear name or idea, a communion, Interbeing itself, and never an isolated deity that can be captured by our mind.

God is relationship itself and known in relationship… The doctrine of the Trinity was made in order to defeat the dualistic mind and invite us into nondual, holistic consciousness. It replaced the argumentative principle of two with the dynamic principle of three. It leaves us inside the wonderfully open space of “not one, but not two either.”

Although we don’t have to look ver far to find the True Self, finding it takes some work. Rohr’s book is a wonderful investigation, relying on Scripture, Tradition and inner experience, to help us uncover it.

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2 thoughts on “The Search for Our True Self (Note: We Don’t Have to Look Far)

  1. Thanks for this discussion and I hate to be critical but for quite a few years now I have been very put off by the True Self/False Self language that Fr Thomas Keating and Fr Richard Rohr have taken from Thomas Merton and have thrown around. I think it really misses the point that it claims the language is trying to make. It sets up a duality and reifies something that they themselves admits doesn’t exist.

    And yet I find more and more people adopting the language and yet it seems like it is a misunderstanding of Saint Paul’s Old Man/New Man language.

    There is no false self that dies and true self lives. In Christian anthropology, in good contemplative/mystical/ascetical theological understanding there is nothing in us left behind. When we die, we completely die — true, false selves, sinner, saint — it is a real death. And then we receive a new life. All of us. Not part of us. We are transfigured. We are not reanimated corpses. Resurrection is new life. A transfigured life. Not a transcended life with anything left behind. All “parts” of us redeemed.

    The true self/false self language seems to point to a subtle difference than what is revealed in deep Christian contemplative prayer. But that subtle difference is very important because it holds on to the linear, limited type of thinking that Christ mind transfigured into our and God’s glory.

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