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A Point of Nothingness

True Self/False Self: Week 1

A Point of Nothingness
Friday, August 5, 2016

Today we continue with Thomas Merton’s description of the True Self as written following his “conversion” at Fourth and Walnut. It is so inspired, I want to quote it at length:

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 so to speak [God’s] name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship [and daughtership]. 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. [1]

Most people spend their entire lives living up to their false self, the mental self-images of who they think they are, instead of living in the primal “I” that is already good in God’s eyes. But all I can “pay back” to God or others or myself is who I really am. This is what Merton is describing above. It’s a place of utter simplicity. Perhaps we don’t want to go back there because it is too simple and almost too natural. It feels utterly unadorned. There’s nothing to congratulate myself for. I can’t prove any worth, much less superiority. There I am naked and poor. After years of posturing and projecting, it will at first feel like nothing.

But when we are nothing, we are in a fine position to receive everything from God. As Merton says above, our point of nothingness is “the pure glory of God in us.” If we look at the great religious traditions, we see they all use similar words to point in the same direction. The Franciscan word is “poverty.” The Carmelite word is nada or “nothingness.” The Buddhists speak of “emptiness.” Jesus speaks of being “poor in spirit” in his very first beatitude.

The Bible as a whole prefers to talk in images, and the desert is a foundational one. The desert is where we are voluntarily under-stimulated—no feedback, no new data. Jesus says to go into the closet or the “inner room.” That’s where we stop living out of other people’s response to us. We can then say, I am not who you think I am. Nor am I who you need me to be. I’m not even who I need myself to be. I must be “nothing” in order to be open to all of reality and new reality. Merton’s reservoir of solitude and contemplation allowed him to see the gate of heaven everywhere, even on a common street corner.

A Zen master would call the True Self “the face we had before we were born.” Paul would call it who you are “in Christ, hidden in God” (Colossians 3:3). It is who you are before having done anything right or anything wrong, who you are before having thought about who you are. Thinking creates the false self, the ego self, the insecure self. The God-given contemplative mind, on the other hand, recognizes the God Self, the Christ Self, the True Self of abundance and deep inner security. We start with mere seeing; we end up with recognizing.

Gateway to Silence:
You live in me; I live in you.

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Image Books: 1968), 158.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (Crossroad Publishing: 1999, 2003), 76-78.

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