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

Our True Self Is Life Itself

Monday, February 28, 2022

Father Richard shares his belief in the eternal nature of the True Self and its ability to connect us to ultimate purpose and meaning:

As disappointed as I get with religion, I can’t give up on it. Only healthy religion is prepared to point us beyond the mere psychological to the cosmic, to the universal, to the absolute. Only healthy religion is prepared to realign and reconnect all things and reposition us inside of the whole, in true community instead of mere individualism.

Only your soul can know the soul of other things. Only a part can recognize the whole from which it came. But first something within you, your True Self, must be awakened. Most souls are initially “unsaved” in the sense that they cannot dare to imagine they could be one with God/Reality/the universe. This is the illusion of what Thomas Merton (1915–1968) called the “false” self and what I have taken to calling the “separate” or small self that believes it is autonomous and separate from God.

Thomas Merton said that the True Self should not be thought of as anything different than life itself—but not my little life—the Big Life. [1] Franciscan philosopher John Duns Scotus (c. 1266–1308) said that the human person is not different or separate from Being itself—not the little being that you and I get attached to and take too seriously, but Universal Being or “the One in whom we live, and move, and have our being,” as Paul said to the Athenians (Acts 17:28).

When we’ve gotten too comfortable with our separate self and we call it Life, we will get trapped at that level and we will hold onto it for dear life—because that’s the only dear life we think we have. Unless someone tells us about the Bigger Life or we’ve had a conscious connection with the deepest ground of our being, we will continue to live as though we are separate from God.

The final, stupendous gift is that our “separate” self becomes the raw material for our unique version of True Self. Our ordinary lives and temperaments are not destroyed or rejected. They are transformed. Or, as the Preface of the Catholic funeral liturgy puts it, our little life is “not ended but merely changed.” “This perishable nature will put on imperishability, and this mortal body will put on immortality” (see 1 Corinthians 15:52–54)—one including the other, not one in place of the other.

Your True Self is Life and Being and Love. Love is what you were made for and love is who you are. When you live outside of Love, you are not living from your true Being or with full consciousness. The Song of Songs says that “Love is stronger than death. . . . The flash of love is a flash of fire, a flame of YHWH” (Song of Songs 8:6, Jerusalem Bible). Your True Self is a tiny flame of this Universal Reality that is Life itself, Consciousness itself, Being itself, Love itself, God’s very self.

[1] Merton writes about the True Self throughout New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1961).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, True Self/False Self, disc 2 (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2003, 2013), CD; and

Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 60, 183–184.

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 wear my ego like a coat, and in the cold isolation of selfishness, it seems to provide an illusion of comfort. When I am in contact with others, I feel the hearth of divine fire, and the warmth causes me to discard this coat. As part of my recovery (15 years and counting now) I practice prayer, meditation, and contemplation every morning. I share my insights on AA with others before I leave for work. Waking up at 4 a.m. was a challenge at first, but when I start my day contemplating God’s will for me and thinking of others, I feel peace and serenity.
—Jason Z.

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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