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Welcome, Sister Death

Monday, August 8, 2016

True Self/False Self: Week 2

Welcome, Sister Death
Monday, August 8, 2016

Some form of suffering or death—psychological, spiritual, relational, or physical—is the only way we will loosen our ties to our small and separate false self. Only then does the larger Self appear, which we would call the Risen Christ, the soul, or perhaps the True Self. The physical process of transformation through dying is expressed eloquently by Kathleen Dowling Singh, a woman who has spent her life in hospice work: “The ordinary mind [the false self] and its delusions die in the ‘Nearing Death Experience.’ As death carries us off, it is impossible to any longer pretend that who we are is our ego. The ego is transformed in the very carrying off.” [1] This is why so many spiritual teachers say we must die before we die.

The overly defended ego is where we reside before these much needed deaths. The True Self (or “soul”) becomes real to us only after we have walked through death and come out much larger and wiser on the other side. This is what we mean by transformation, conversion, or enlightenment.

Anything less than the death of the false self is useless religion. We do not need any more “super Catholic” false selves, or souped-up anything. The manufactured false self must die for the True Self to live, or as Jesus himself puts it, “Unless I go, the Spirit cannot come” (John 16:7). This is rather clear but also devastating news. Theologically speaking, Jesus (a good individual person) had to die for the Christ (the universal presence) to arise. This is the universal pattern of transformation. Letting go of the original “good person” that we are is always a huge leap of faith precisely because it is all that we know at that point. God surely understands this. What has to die is not usually bad; it is just extraneous to our essence, and thus gets in the way. Yet immature religion keeps decorating up this “non-being” instead of letting go of its pretenses altogether.

Your True Self is that part of you that sees truthfully and will live forever. It is divine breath passing through you. Your false self is that part of you that is constantly changing and will eventually die anyway. It is in the world of passing forms and yet it sees itself as a central reference point—which is never really true. The false self is passing, tentative, or as the Hindus and Buddhists might say, “empty.”

Mature religion helps us speed up the process of dying to the false self—or at least to stop fighting its eventual demise. This is why saints live in such a countercultural way. Dying is a gradual free fall anyway, so we might as well jump in and cooperate.  It is much easier to offer a conscious, free yes to death ahead of time before it is finally forced upon us on our deathbed or in some tragedy. St. Francis said it well: “Welcome, Sister Death!” All forms of dying are like a helpful companion or nurse. Only the false self sees death as an enemy or an ending. For the false self, death is surely an ending; for the True Self death is an expanding.

Gateway to Silence:
God in me loves God in everything.

[1] Kathleen Dowling Singh, The Grace in Dying (HarperOne: 1998), 219.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 62-64

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