Intimacy and the Shared Self

I receive daily e-mail meditations of Richard Rohr’s from the Center for Action and Contemplation. This morning’s was adapted form Rohr’s Immortal Diamond, a book I’ve written about before (here, here and here).

I love the way Rohr talks about intimacy in today’s passage. He writes

As I studied accounts of the Resurrection, I came to see what is now completely obvious to me: these texts reveal both the Christ and the True Self as a deep capacity for intimacy with oneself and with everything, probably including life itself. Starting with Christ’s “white as snow” robe and his “face like lightning” (Matthew 28:3), we have initial statements of perfect transparency, accessibility, and radiant visibility. The True Self is a shared and sharable self, or it is not the True Self.

In John’s account, Mary Magdalene knows Jesus not by sight but when he pronounces her first name (John 20:16). She completes the exchange by calling him “Master” in return. Jesus’ puzzling “Do not cling to me” (John 20:17) statement is what makes true intimacy possible. Intimacy is possible only between two calm identities and it is not the same as melding or fusing into one. As we say in non-dual teaching, “Not two, but not one either.”

Intimacy occurs when we reveal ourselves fully, reveal what is secret – to ourselves, to others, to God. Intimacy is risky. It is scary. But it is also exciting and true. And when we experience it, we know that we are where we ought to be.


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.

Original Goodness

I’ve made the point a number of times in talks I’ve given that it makes an enormous difference whether we view our starting point as sin or grace. A column in the current issue of Shambhala Sun (which contains my review of Brad Warner’s There is No God and He is Always With You) expounds nicely on that same theme.

We are a mixture of wisdom and neurosis. Everything we think, feel, perceive, say, and do has both an awakened and a confused aspect.

So, we are a mix of good and bad. This we all know. The important question is which we really are, which is the deeper reality of human nature. Which is more original, as it were, the sin or the goodness?

How we answer that question will define our path to becoming better people – whether we are struggling against our basic nature or trying to realize it.

What the author of the column describes as the Buddhist path to becoming a better person proceeds from the notion that it is the goodness that is more original. “The Buddhist path to becoming a better person is about being who we really are.”

Although not a Buddhist, I proceed from the same premise. If I take seriously the idea of being created in the image and likeness of God, and believe that God looked on his creation and judged it “very good,” than it is the goodness that is more original.

That means that our task is not struggling against our basic nature, but uncovering what Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr and others term our “true self.” Our task is to peel away the false layers of ourselves so that we can be who we really are.

What Narrative Do We Listen To?

I spent much of the time Monday and yesterday re-reading the current draft of the manuscript of my conversion book. I’ve been so busy with retreats and book talks on Growing in Love and Wisdom these last six months that it has been quite some time since I’ve looked at this manuscript. So it seemed to me useful, as I settle into ten days here at the Monastery to (hopefully) finalize the book, to take some time to just read what I’ve already put on paper.

One of the thoughts that came to my mind as I did so is this: We experience many things, many events over the course of time. The various events and experiences of our lives are in some sense unconnected until we construct a narrative of those events. Out of our experiences, we construct various narratives that explain our tendencies, our views, our ways of approaching people and things.

The (perhaps obvious) truth that became clear to me as I look back over my description of various segments of my life is that there is more than one possible narrative for any set of events. Meaning that we choose the shape of our narratives of those events. And once we do, we are affected deeply by the narratives we choose.

What I’m wondering is how carefully we examine the narratives we create? My suspicion is that once we create a narrative, we tend to see only those experiences that support that narrative, short-shrifting those that are inconsistent withe the narrative we’ve constructed. So that everything we see reinforces the story we’ve created.

That made me wonder how often we directly ask ourselves the question: What if the narrative I’ve created is false? What evidence am I looking at? And what have I ignored?

I think this is something worth thinking about.