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Center for Action and Contemplation

Unitive Consciousness and Nondualistic Thinking

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Paul: Week 1

Unitive Consciousness
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

After conversion, self-consciousness (in the negative sense) slowly falls away and is replaced by what the mystics call pure consciousness or unitive consciousness—which is love. Self-consciousness implies a dualistic split. There is me over here, judging, analyzing, labeling that or me over there. The mind is largely dualistic before spiritual conversion and even foolishly calls such argumentation “thinking.” In true conversion the subject-object split is overcome at least for a moment. You can’t maintain this non-dual state twenty-four hours a day; you have to return to dualistic thought regularly to function in this practical world of necessary choices. But now, maybe for the first time, you know there is something more and you will always long to return there. To refuse or resist that invitation might just be the core meaning of biblical “hard heartedness” or sin. Once you’ve experienced any true union (perhaps at times of peace, acceptance, surrender, prayer, intimate sex, all authentic love), you know that is what you were created for.

Recall what it’s like to fall in love. It’s an experience of forgetting about yourself and living through another for at least a while. Similarly, having a baby often reorients one’s whole life to be completely absorbed and focused on the needs of another. I’ve watched this happen with so many young parents after they have their first baby. In a very short time they outgrow their youthful narcissism because, perhaps for the first time, their center is outside themselves. Both marriage and parenting are almost perfectly made-to-order to cure you from your self-centeredness. Of course, many are afraid of the cure, whether married, single, or celibate.

Paradoxically, such unitive consciousness (love) doesn’t destroy your sense of self; it actually increases it. When you first fell in love you never felt more alive, more a whole person. Yet at the same time you had also lost yourself! You’d given yourself away to another person, and yet you felt more like yourself than you ever did before. True union does not absorb distinction, but actually intensifies it. The more one gives oneself in creative union to any other, the more one becomes oneself. This is wonderfully mirrored for the Christian in the Trinity: perfect giving and perfect receiving among three, and yet they are each utterly and fully themselves.

The more you become yourself, the more capable you are of not over-protecting your false boundaries. After all, you really have nothing to protect. That’s the great freedom and the great happiness of truly converted people. There’s no longer a little self here to fuss over or pander to. The little self—which you thought you were—has passed away. Paul says of himself, “I live no longer not I” (Galatians 2:20). This is exactly what Jesus meant by “you must lose yourself to find yourself” (Mark 8:35), which he says repeatedly in different settings and formulations.

Gateway to Silence:
My life is not about me. I am about Life.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation (Franciscan Media: 2002), disc 1 (CD).

Image Credit: Conversion on the Way to Damascus (detail), Caravaggio, 1601.  Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, Italy.
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