Letting Go of the False Self

Self-Emptying

Letting Go of the False Self
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
(Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe)

Meister Eckhart, the German Dominican mystic (c. 1260-c.1328), said that spirituality has much more to do with subtraction than it does with addition. [1] Yet our culture, both secular and Christian, seems obsessed with addition: getting rich, becoming famous, earning more brownie points with God or our boss, attaining enlightenment, achieving moral behavior. Jesus and the mystics of other traditions tell us that the spiritual path is not about getting more or getting ahead, which only panders to the ego. Authentic spirituality is much more about letting go—letting go of what we don’t need, although we don’t know that at first.

Life and God ask us to let go of our false self—the passing, egoic identity we’ve manufactured in order to cope and survive. To be freed from self-preoccupation, we must be centered in the Real, our inherent and unbreakable identity as God’s beloved. Once we’re connected to our Source, we know that our isolated, seemingly inferior or superior individual self is not that big a deal. The more we cling to self-importance and ego, the more we are undoubtedly living outside of union.

We were created for union. But the place of union feels like nothing. We spend most of our lives projecting and protecting our small, separate self-image. Living instead from our True Self, hidden with Christ in God, feels like no thing and no place. It doesn’t come with feelings of success, others’ approval, awards, promotions, or wealth. In fact, others may think us foolish or crazy. And so we put off the death of our false self. We cling to our ego because it feels substantial and essential.

But the saints and mystics say, “When I’m nobody, I’m everybody!” When I’m no one, I’m at last every one. When I’m nothing, I’m everything. When I’m empty, I’m full. This is why so few people truly seek an authentic spiritual life. Who wants to be nothing? We’ve been told the whole point was to be somebody.

John of the Cross expressed it this way:

To come to the pleasure you have not, you must go by a way in which you enjoy not. To come to the knowledge you have not, you must go by a way in which you know not. To come to the possession you have not, you must go by a way in which you possess not. To come to be what you are not, you must go by a way in which you are not. [2]

Gateway to Silence:
Let it go; let it be.

References:
[1] See Meister Eckhart, “Sermon on the Fourth Sunday after Trinity.”
[2] John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel. See John of the Cross: Selected Writings, ed. Kieran Kavanaugh (Paulist Press: 1987), 44-45.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Letting Go: A Spirituality of Subtraction, disc 1 (Franciscan Media: 1987), CD; and
The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis, disc 1 (Sounds True: 2010), CD.

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