Experiencing True Self – False Self: Reflections on Thomas Merton
The human family, who God personally chose to create in his own Divine Image and Likeness, has One calling from God – Holiness – no matter whatever other profession we might chose for ourself.
We also have one huge obstacle to fulfilling our common God-given vocation – “not knowing who we truly are” – as unique manifestations of Christ .. who is Love!
As a matter of survival in early childhood, we begin constructing a false psychological self, which is merely how we think and feel about ourself. It is an illusion of ourselves (self-concept with concomitant emotion) with no substance, and we wear it around like a mask hiding the kind, loving Face of Christ who we each Truly are. It was before the origins of the universe when God personally chose to create each of us uniquely in His very own Divine Image and Likeness as exclusive manifestations of Christ, who is Love. We are all Special to God, as if we were each His One and Only “Beloved” or “Tight Squeeze”. (Eph. 1:4-6)
This is a personal choice God has made, to enter into a love relationship with each of us, and He is presently nurturing that concerned outreach by giving Himself away to us moment to moment, loving us into existence, abiding within our inmost being, delighting to make His Home in us, so we make our home in Him. (John 15:4)
How deeply Christ desires us to “wake up” to His constant caring Presence, so we are aware, aware, aware that we are each a unique manifestation of Him. He is continuing His Incarnation through each of us uniquely.
Thomas Merton lived his monastic life fulfilling Christ’s deepest desire: “Father, may they be One in us as you are in me and I am in you.” (John 17:21) Becoming aware He was identical to Christ, who is Love, Merton was “pointing” the whole human family to the fulfillment of their True Self as unique manifestations of Christ.
For Merton, nothing in our spiritual search for God was more important than why Christ became Incarnate – to “wake” us all up to our True Self = Christ (Love) living intimately within us, as us, where He delights to make His home.
Merton, through his intuitive contemplative experience, was aware of who he Truly was as a unique manifestation of Christ. Rarely are we informed of an extremely important part of Thomas Merton’s well known experience in 1958 at the corner of 4th and Walnut in the business district of Louisville, Kentucky. Uncertain of what to call this intuitive contemplative experience beyond his mind, Merton labeled it (Le Point Vierge) – literally The Virgin Point. It is the awakening of our True Self – Christ Himself living intimately in the very center and core of each of us, as us.
God was gifting Merton in Louisville with a contemplative intuitive experience beyond his mind of who we each “Truly are” as God’s very own Divine Image and Likeness manifesting Christ in our own unique way.
When reading this awesome contemplative experience, we have to understand that – Humility is happily embracing the Truth – that we are “nothing” of ourselves, and yet “everything,” because we are each Chosen and Oned with God as His own Divine Image and Likeness. Our nothingness and poverty is the very thing that attracts God’s compassionate and Merciful Heart to pour out His Goodness as He continues to fill us to overflowing with His “Everythingness.”
Thomas Merton shares his experience with all of us so we too can “awake” to our True Self as a unique manifestation of Christ. He is mingling with a crowd of strangers in Louisville when they suddenly – “Light Up” – “Walking around shining like the sun.” … “It was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the Person that each of us is in God’s eyes.”
“At the center of our being is a point of Nothingness = (Everythingness) 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 “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, so to speak, His Name written in us .. as our poverty, as our destitution, as our dependence, as our (daughtership) and sonship. It is like a pure diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in Everybody and, if we could see it, we would 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 … I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of Heaven is everywhere.”
Heaven is everywhere because God is everywhere, saturating each of us with Himself and all of his Creation with his caring Presence. His tender and loving Heart permeates all of reality since everybody and everything exist in Him. – “There is only Christ: He is everything and he is in everything.” (Col. 3:11)
If we think our ego or someone else’s ego is in control of our life, we better think again. God abiding intimately within us, as us, is uniquely disposing of our life in the best way possible for us personally; and for the whole human family. This is the Truth, even though we might not have the Gift of Faith or are not aware of the kind, gratuitous gift of His Presence living intimately within us, as us.
Christ's Father is also our Father and, as the source of all Goodness, is always concerned for the wellbeing of His cherished Human Family. Every Present Moment is a manifestation of Christ's love for us.
God, in His Divine Providence, whether we are aware of it or not, through the ages is using both "The Good" and "The Bad" to bring us closer to Himself. He wants us to Trust Solely in His huge, Compassionate Heart because He is aware that we are wounded and are powerless to heal ourselves. In our weakness and fragmentation, we depend entirely on His Unconditional Love.
Gradually, the Human Family is maturing and evolving very slowly to who each of us already and Truly is, before the origins of the universe, as God's very own Divine-Human Image and Likeness, manifesting Christ in our own unique way.
When God allows injustices to happen, He desires us to stand up, in the face of these many daily inequities, and change them. It is one of the many ways Christ is bringing about Good – through us, as us. We are not God's puppets; He is so close to us that He is more "us" that we are ourselves.
How deeply Christ desires us to "Wake Up", even Now on earth, to our intimate Union and Oneness with Him and His Loving Father – "Father, may they be One in us, as you are in me and I am in You." (John 17:21) When we go Home to God and see Him face to face, "Wide Awake" to how much we are like Him as our True Self, we will experience the fullness and happiness that God so desires for each of us in our intimate union with Him. Even Now, in our contemplative experiences beyond our mind, we have a "bit of heaven .. all the way to heaven"!😊 Is this why St. Catherine of Genoa ran through the streets shouting, "God is Me, God is Me!" ?
We can live with a Peace and Contentment that surpasses our understanding – "Embracing" our life just the way it is, in all the simple and ordinary details of the Present Moment, which we realize is a manifestation of God's immense, personal Love for us. God is madly in love with each of us "as if" we were His One and Only Beloved. Don't allow your psychological ego and it's "negative self-critic" to put you down and deprive you of the "Loveable, Awesome True Self that you Truly are" – manifesting Christ and His Love in your own unique way.
How profoundly Christ desires us to Trust whole-heartedly in His Overwhelming Unconditional Love for us, in whom He sees His very own Divine Self, and has given us a share in His Divine Nature (2 Peter :4). We hurt ourselves so badly with our "lukewarm trust". There is never any limits to how much we can Trust in God's tremendous Love for each of us, just the way we are, with all our wounds.
Christ is most Present to us in His Silence. Sometimes, when our heart feels mute, He is moment to moment pouring out Himself and His Love into our inmost being, speaking silently and communing with us heart-to-heart. Listen to the Silence! He is everywhere and always Present.
The ego self we construct for ourselves is necessary for our survival, but is an illusion of who we Truly are. Thomas Merton sees this mistaken ego identity at the bottom of many of our problems, leading to Sadness, Absurdity and Despair.
Before Thomas Merton experiences this false ego identity in someone else, he becomes acutely aware of it in himself. He understands how hollow he is as an ego, and experienced his ego as his own biggest mistake, before he “woke up” to who he “truly is” as a unique manifestation of Christ.
When reading Merton’s description of our ego, it might be valuable to see it as Merton’s way of telling us something about himself. Otherwise, it can sound extremely accusatory, even though we need it to survive until we “wake up” to our True Self.
It usually doesn’t help much for people to shake their finger at us, even though we might still be addicted to our mistaken ego identity. When we “wake up” to our True Self, our ego self becomes very relative and insignificant. It then takes its rightful place in our rational consciousness.
Merton tries to explain: “This false ego self is the person I want myself to be, but who cannot exist because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy!” God knows who we each are as unique manifestations of Christ because He sees Himself in each of us.
Merton continues to describe our mistaken ego identity: “We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves … “For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist.” “We assume that our false self, that exists only in our own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus, I use up my life in the desire for pleasures, power, honor and knowledge to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real.”
“But there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed. I (ego) am hollow and my structure of pleasures and ambitions has no foundation. I am objectified in them. But they are all destined by their very dependency to be destroyed. And when they are gone, there will be nothing left of me but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness to tell me that I am my own mistake!”
The seriousness of these allegations tells us how determined Merton was about waking us up to our Truth Self – Christ living intimately within us, as us, and freeing us of our addiction to our mistaken ego identity and all the problems it creates for us.
For Merton, the precious Gift of our Oneness with Christ is both a segue to the happiness of the human family and our awareness of who we each Truly are as unique manifestations of Christ. When we “Wake Up” to the intimate “Divine Presence” of Christ living within our inmost being, as us, our mistaken ego self takes its relative and rightful place in our rational consciousness.
As we grow older and are persevering in our receptivity and search for union with God, He often gifts us with an “Awakening” to our True Self and Christ’s Divine Presence dominates our awareness in the simple and ordinary details of our daily lives. It is then that our ego self is transformed and becomes Oned with our True Self as an awesome manifestation of Christ. There is nothing extraordinary about this Gift. We become at peace and content with every Present Moment of our life as a manifestation of Christ’s immense Love for us.
Our false ego self never dies entirely and that is why we Trust solely in God’s compassionate and merciful Heart to rest secure, knowing that even our many failings and mistakes bring us closer to Him who loves us unconditionally. Everything is working together for our good, even our weakness and brokenness. God is caring for us in every Present Moment of our life.
When we die, you will go to heaven and experience how intimately Oned you are with Christ as your own True Self. Egos are baggage that we leave behind. There will be little of you (ego) there. That’s why we will call it heaven!
God in His immense Love for His Divine human family is continuing to create the universe, galaxy after galaxy and, more importantly, sharing His very own Divine Image and Likeness with all the precious little babies He gives birth to daily. God dwelling intimately within us, as us, is our unceasing Hope, and is much more than our optimism that everything will come out in the wash.
No one expressed True Hope better than our solitary friend, Julian of Norwich: “This boundless Hope is less a future outcome than a yielding of the “finite self” to its “Infinite ground” in the Present Moment. In trust, I am invited to yield my hopes, desires and aversions, and rest in God’s ever Present, all-inclusive well-making, Now.”!
In his opening address to Vatican Council II, our good Pope St. John XXIII expressed the same Hope in Julian’s heart that applies, even now, in the face of this tragic pandemic, when we are eye to eye with despair. “The human family is on the threshold of a new era. We must recognize here the hand of God who, as the years roll by, is ever directing humanity’s efforts, whether they realize it or not, towards the fulfillment of the inscrutable designs of His Providence, wisely arranging everything, even adverse human fortune.”
“All will be well.” So many of the saints, as they aged, centered their Hope in every Present Moment of their lives, which they realized was a manifestation of God’s immense Love for them. They knew they were unique manifestations of Christ, and were content and at peace with life just the way it is, in all the simple and ordinary details of the Present Moment.
St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) is also one of the many saints who, on the first page of her insightful book Interior Castle, shares with us her discovery of her True Identity in the gratuitous Gift of God choosing to personally create her in His very own Divine-Human Image and Likeness as a unique manifestation of Christ.
In the core of her being, she awoke to Paradise through her intimacy with Christ, who delighted to make His Home within her. “Abide in me as I abide in you” (John 15:4) Teresa was in awe and amazed at the Beauty of her own Spirit, and that of the whole human family, which was Oned with God, others and creation. It completely shattered her rational comprehension.
Speaking to her sisters in the convent, she said: “It is a shame that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves or know who we (Truly) are.”
Each of us is already Oned with Christ before the origins of the universe, and called to “Wake Up” to our God-given Holiness through our intimate Oneness with Christ, who is our own True Self abiding within us, as us (Eph. 1:4-6). If we have never been told or experienced who we Truly are, it is time to “Wake Up” and “Go out to the whole world: Proclaim the Good News to all creation.” (Mark 16:15) As St. Francis of Assisi said – “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” How do we do this as individuals?
It is through the realization that God has Gifted us with His own Divine-Human Image and Likeness, that we awake to our True Self beyond concepts, which is not the discovery of a new unity, but of an older unity that we are already Oned with Christ, but imagine we are not, and what we recover is our "Original Unity". Thomas Merton assures us – "Who we have to be is who we already are."
Just “To Be” for each of us, as unique manifestations of Christ, is an Unceasing Prayer, as God is loving Himself within us and through us, moment to moment, pouring Himself out into all the Up’s and Down’s of our daily lives, loving us beyond our wildest expectations. Our prayer becomes not something “we do”, but “Someone we are.”
Author’s Note: This thing is voluminous, but I hope some people reconsider who they Truly are. Merton is a Prophetic Truth Teller, and went right to the roots of the Human Family’s problems. We don’t let go of our ego easily, but God wants us to wake up to who we already are, as unique manifestations of Christ, and He usually gets His way!😊 If not on earth, then in heaven.