“My Story” — Center for Action and Contemplation
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See the schedule and event session details for the final CONSPIRE conference (Sep. 24 – 26)

“My Story”

The Cosmic Egg

“My Story”
Monday, January 25, 2021

The modern and postmodern world is the first period of history where a large number of people have been allowed to take their private lives and identities seriously. This marks a wonderful movement into individuation, but there is also a diminishment and fragility if that is all we have. It is a paradox! This first dome contains my private life, those issues that make me special, inferior or superior, right or wrong, depending on how “I” see it. “I” and my feelings and opinions are the reference point for everything now. This is the small self we must let go of through contemplative prayer; and yet most people, including Christians, take this very tiny and even false self as normative and sufficient.

The Cosmic Egg image showing The Story on most external, Our Story in the middle, and My Story on the inner most area.

The dome of My Story is often all the postmodern person has left: my power, my prestige, and my possessions. It’s the little stage where I do my dance and where the questions are usually “Who is watching me? How do I feel? What do I believe? What makes me unique?” It’s a passing arena, to be certain. It will be over in a few years and is frankly not very interesting if it is all we have to talk about. My Story is not big enough or true enough to create large or meaningful patterns by itself. It is all just personal anecdotes, and some people live their whole lives there with no need for broader connections.

Perhaps we can see how fragile, unprotected, and constantly striving this self will almost certainly be. Self-focused people are very easily offended, fearful, and therefore often posturing and pretentious. My opinion is that if we stay in this smallest dome of meaning, we often move toward a neurotic self-image. Psychologist Jean Houston puts it this way: “When mythic material remains latent, unused and unexplored, it can lead to pathological behavior.” [1] This small and fragile self needs to be a part of something more significant—and so it creates dramas, tragedies, and victimhood to put itself on a larger stage.

The small self is intrinsically unhappy because it has no ontological foundation. It is not real. It does not exist. It will always be insecure, afraid, and scrambling for significance. In Jesus’ language, “the branch cut off from the vine is useless” (John 15:5).

However, when we are able to move beyond the small or “false self”—at the right time and in the right way—it will feel precisely as if we have lost nothing. In fact, it will feel like freedom and liberation. When we are connected to Our Story and The Story and not just My Story, we no longer need to protect or defend the mere part. We are now connected to something expansive and inexhaustible; and we can become a useful and contributing citizen in both this world and the reign of God.

References:
[1] Jean Houston, A Mythic Life: Learning to Live Our Greater Story (HarperCollins: 1996), 98.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern (Franciscan Media: 2020), 112–113; and

Immortal Diamond: The Search for the True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2008), 28.

Story from Our Community:
One morning I prayed and received the words “be a gift to the Church and to the world.” I realized that, like St. Therese of Lisieux, I can do little things with great love. I made “being a gift” my life mission. Most of the things I do take minutes and occur during the daily rhythm of life. I have come to view myself as a conduit of God’s love. Every morning, I look forward to giving gifts to those around me. If even a small portion of the adults in the US can be transformed the way I have been and start being a gift to those around us, we will change the world through love and God’s grace. John P.

Image credit: Branches and Leaves (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Image inspiration: A tree with its leaves can only tell the cyclical story of life alongside a tree that is dying. Life and death in creation weave harmonies to share the rich this-ness of The Story.
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