Every person who has ever walked the face of this earth is trying to understand who he or she is.
Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am”? He needed others to help him gage what the world perceived about him. The great mystics of the world all identify the same idea. We must discern who we are in order to understand who we are not. At the core of our being, we must see the reality of our being and lean on that core of truth to help us function in life.
The great monk Thomas Merton identified the idea of the true self vs. the false self. The true self was that which relates to God. In his book “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”, he writes:
“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us . . . It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely”.
Throughout the ages, theologians have touched on the recognition of this Christ consciousness that Merton describes and modern theologians are no exception. The Jesuit Bernard Lonergan writes about the “brand of the first principles on our soul”. He notes, “God kissed the soul before he sealed it”. Henri Nouwen calls this the “First Love”. Our first expression of love comes from God and is present within us. Our appreciation of love, harmony and beauty stems from this expression of Godliness.
Although Merton says this truth is “never at our disposal”, some theologians contend that we can access it. We know love and beauty innately. We understand what it means to us. It is instinctual and presents itself in ways throughout our lives in our experiences and the love of others and love of life.
What is the “false self” then? As much as we would like to admit that the presence of God is within us, it is undeniable that many people do not acknowledge that. We live a duplicitous life. We present ourselves for any given situation in order to play the role we are called to play or play the role we think we need to play to get what we need.
The false self is that which supports the needs of the ego. It is putting on airs and the attainment of pretense in order to get what the ego wants. It is the mask we all wear to survive. Beneath the mask is the true self. The true self is the purest form of who we are. It is the expression of God manifesting through love. The true self is an honest expression of who we are called to be.
I once heard someone liken the idea of true self/false self to dating. When we meet a potential partner, we put our best foot forward. We dress up, present ourselves in a manner that is proper and likeable, we may even watch our words to make sure we don’t look like a fool. Having succeeded in getting your mate, marrying that person, a year or two into the marriage and you let yourself go. The pretense is gone. You know the other for who they are – their bad habits, their secrets, their fears and truths. There is nowhere to hide, but they accept you for who you are.
The true self is more than that, though. The true self is how God sees us. It is how we are seen in our truest expression of love. It is hard to uncover the true self. We work at identifying it when we turn within and dig deep into the depths of our being through meditation and self-awareness. It is at its best when loves manifests in selflessness, care and concern. It is glimpsed in those pique experiences where our perception of the unity of the world fills our hearts and points to something more.
Life has a way of helping us sort through where we go right and where we go wrong. Our egos get us into scrapes that can wreak havoc on our consciences. Our egos can stifle us and prevent us from doing what’s right in life. Egos can compromise the blessedness of life.
Commitment to identifying our true selves should be the goal for anyone in life. Artists and poets know the drill. It is the sacred fire that births a beautiful creation. Saints have tapped the well of the “true self” powers and absorb its nutrients.
I sense that mothers have glimpsed it at the birth of a child, but the moment is fleeting when she starts considering the needs of the child and fear creeps in to her mind about caring for and raising it.
As that child grows in life, it will need to experience the power of love in order to grow in its own sense of being. In its ideal situation it is surrounded by love and nurtured to recognize truth, goodness, beauty and love in its fullness. At its worst, it lives in false illusions, deception, sin and fear. It learns how to survive through the ways of the world and ego.
We are more than this flesh, this mind and this ego. We are “billions of points of light” walking together in our quest for understanding truth.