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Separateness Is Suffering

True Self/Separate Self

Separateness Is Suffering
Thursday, September 3, 2020

The idea of the two “selves” within every individual—the True Self and the separate self—is a part of the perennial wisdom and a pathway for transformation in most faith traditions. I share the thoughts of two writers, a rabbi and a Sufi Shaikh (elder), on why this teaching is so central to mature spirituality.

From Rabbi Rami Shapiro:

The term “perennial philosophy”. . . refers to a fourfold realization: (1) there is only one Reality (call it, among other names, God, Mother, Tao, Allah, Dharmakaya, Brahman, or Great Spirit) that is the source and substance of all creation; (2) that while each of us is a manifestation of this Reality, most of us identify with something much smaller, that is, our culturally conditioned individual ego; (3) that this identification with the smaller self gives rise to needless anxiety, unnecessary suffering, and cross-cultural competition and violence; and (4) that peace, compassion, and justice naturally replace anxiety, needless suffering, competition, and violence when we realize our true nature as a manifestation of this singular Reality. The great sages and mystics of every civilization throughout human history have taught these truths in the language of their time and culture. [1]

From Kabir Helminski:

Education as it is currently understood, particularly in the West, ignores the human soul, or essential Self. This essential Self is not some vague entity whose existence is a matter of speculation, but our fundamental “I,” which has been covered over by social conditioning and by the superficiality of our rational mind. In North America we are in great need of a form of training that would contribute to the awakening of the essential Self. Such forms of training have existed in other eras and cultures and have been available to those with the yearning to awaken from the sleep of their limited conditioning and know the potential latent in the human being. [2]

These are key reasons that the Center for Action and Contemplation is dedicated to reinvigorating the teaching of Christian contemplation. The consistent practice of contemplation helps to uncover our true reality, essential Self, or fundamental “I.”

Unfortunately, separateness is the chosen stance of the small self which has a hard time living in unity and love with the diverse manifestations of this One Reality (i.e., ourselves, other people, and everything else). The small self takes one side or the other in order to feel secure. It frames reality in a binary way: for me or against me, totally right or totally wrong, my group’s or another group’s opinion—all dualistic formulations.

That is the best the small egotistical self can do, yet it is not anywhere close to adequate. It might be an early level of intelligence, but it is not mature wisdom. The small self is still objectively in union with God, it just does not know it, enjoy it, or draw upon it. Jesus asked, “Is it not written in your own law, ‘You are gods’?” (John 10:34). But for most of us, this objective divine image has not yet become the subjective likeness (Genesis 1:26‒27). Our life’s goal is to illustrate both the image and the likeness of God by living in conscious loving union with God. It is a moment by moment choice and surrender.

References:
[1] Rami Shapiro, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent: Sacred Teachings—Annotated & Explained (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2013), xiv.

[2] Kabir Edmund Helminski, Living Presence: A Sufi Way to Mindfulness & the Essential Self (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam: 1992), 6.

Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 70.

Image credit: Room in New York (detail), Edward Hopper, 1932.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love—outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion. —Thomas Merton
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