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Center for Action and Contemplation
Transformation and the True Self
Transformation and the True Self

A Stirring of the Soul

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Author and retreat leader Paula D’Arcy shares an experience she had as part of a workshop with women inmates of a Texas county jail. An opera piece sung by two visiting performers brought a resonant stillness to a noisy room and awakened a sense of the True Self in the people present. Paula writes:

The music pulled us into the brevity of a lifetime; the mistakes we make; our longings for things to be different, to be better; the despair of being without hope; and the pure and the holy. When I turned around to look, I saw that many inmates were overcome by emotion. Something sublime was moving in that room—a sound that directly entered our hearts. . . .

It was as if the enveloping sound was saying to a hidden place in each of us: Something great is alive in you, and something more than this surface reality is intended for your life. Beyond your circumstances lies a different destiny.

It was not just the inmates who were visibly affected, but everyone else who was present as well. Something inexpressible in the music had broken our hearts open. . . .

It wasn’t the first time I had felt this. In the early 1980s, when I was still trying to put the pieces of my life together after the sudden deaths of my husband and daughter in a drunken-driving accident, I felt challenged by everything. In the blink of an eye my conclusions, my worldview, and my image of God were upended. It was an unsettling time. I kept reaching to the mind, searching for ideas and philosophies to guide me. That old way of managing things was very familiar.

Father Richard teaches that the mind and our thoughts are the source of the separate self. As he often says, “The false self is who you think you are. Your thinking does not make it true.” [1] Paula continues:

But the mind could not bring me where I needed to go. It was a long while before I turned in a different direction and began to look within. Eventually I saw that the seeds of a greater journey are waiting in everything and I understood that, when the time is right—when we are finally willing to meet “what is” and stop insisting on our own version of life [RR: which the separate self cannot help but do]—real change and transformation become possible.

It was an important waking-up. My familiar default was to rely on old voices and experiences—on the mind’s many concepts and ideas. Yet the force of love that sustains life is not a concept, and there are not a set of holy conditions to attain. As I opened my heart, love moved through the pain and slowly changed my sight. Things that once seemed fixed and defining were unmasked. When the [opera piece] “Flower Duet” was sung in the jail, it was again an experience of the flame of love.

[1] Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 36.

Paula D’Arcy, “A Surrender to Love,” Oneing 5, no. 1, Transformation (Spring 2017): 93–94. Available in print and PDF download.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Charlein Garcia, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Philippines, Unsplash, free use. Jenna Keiper, Untitled Leaves (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Charlein Garcia, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Philippines, Unsplash, free use. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: The true self is deeper than our egos and eccentricities. At times mirroring the innocence of a child, it awaits our remembering. May we also open, with childlike curiosity, to our own transformation.

Story from Our Community:

I am halfway through reading 50 years’ worth of old journals. I can see the healing and the growth in the words, along with the repetition of the suffering! In the end, I think I get to who my true self is. I am connected to God and all living beings. That is the most important thing I must remember in the midst of suffering, which will surely appear again.
—Barbara J.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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