Dying Before You Die
Dying to Ego’s Delusions
Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Dying to the false self before our physical death allows us to be reborn as our more authentic and soulful selves. Today James Finley, one of CAC’s core faculty members, reflects on how hard it is for our ego to surrender to the path of descent, to the transformative process:
In meditation, our customary, ego-based ways of experiencing ourselves yield and give way to more interior, meditative ways of being, ways that transcend all that ego can attain. While we may wish for transformation, realizing it to be the way we awaken to our eternal oneness with God, the process is at times immensely difficult.
It is amazing how a caterpillar spins about itself a hiding place from which it emerges and takes flight as a butterfly with delicate, iridescent wings. Similarly, Christ lived as a human being who freely entered into the hiding place of death to emerge, deathless, filled with light and life, utterly transformed. Our faith proclaims that in following Christ we experience the same thing: “Therefore if any person is in Christ, they are a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We sit in meditation so that the last traces of our tendency to identify with egoic consciousness might finally dissolve as our habitual base of operations. We come face-to-face with how deeply entrenched our tendencies to remain identified with ego consciousness are. The truth is, our own ego-based sense of ourselves is afraid to open to unknown depths, transcending its circle of influence and control. We will go halfway, in a willingness to become a caterpillar with wings. This leaves our ego intact, an ego which has now attained spiritual gifts or mystical states of oneness with God. Surrendering ourselves to something as radical as a complete metamorphosis of consciousness itself is too great a risk. The possibility of realizing a life that is at once God’s and our own is beyond what we can comprehend.
When we sit in meditation, we take the little child of our ego self off to school, where we must learn to die to our illusions about being dualistically other than God. We must also die to any grandiose delusions that we are God. In meditation, we learn to wait with compassion and patience until we are ready to take our next faltering step into a deeper realization of oneness with God. This tender point of encounter is Christ, understood as God in our midst, listening, loving, and helping God’s children across the threshold into eternal oneness with God.
This, then, is one way of understanding how to deal with the ongoing loss of our old familiar ways of understanding ourselves. And this is how we can, with Christ-like compassion, be present to the self-metamorphosing process in which, little by little, breath by breath, love dissolves the illusions and fears born of our estrangement from the infinite love that is our very life.
Adapted from James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (HarperSanFrancisco: 2004), 141-145.