True Self and False Self: Week 2
This week guest writer and CAC teacher James Finley explored the true self and false self through Thomas Merton’s teaching.
A prayerful, respectful pursuit of Merton’s understanding of the true self can bring us to the brink of the insight into our own ultimate identity as radically one with God in Christ. (Sunday)
For Merton, the spiritual life is a journey in which we discover ourselves in discovering God, and discover God in discovering our true self hidden in God. (Monday)
“Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the man I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy.” —Thomas Merton (Tuesday)
Merton quotes Meister Eckhart as saying, “For God to be is to give being, and for man to be is to receive being.” Our true self is a received self. At each moment, we exist to the extent we receive existence from God who is existence. (Wednesday)
In utter simplicity, we intuitively realize within ourselves that our existence, though truly our own, is as the waves are to the sea, as the light is to the flame. (Thursday)
“This is a kenotic transformation, an emptying of all the contents of the ego-consciousness to become a void in which the light of God or the glory of God, the full radiation of the infinite reality of His Being and Love are manifested.” —Thomas Merton (Friday)
Practice: Prayer of the Heart
Read Thomas Merton’s own description of meditation or contemplative prayer:
In the “prayer of the heart” we seek first of all the deepest ground of our identity in God. We do not reason about dogmas of faith, or “the mysteries.” We seek rather to gain a direct existential grasp, a personal experience of the deepest truths of life and faith, finding ourselves in God’s truth. Inner certainty depends on purification. The dark night rectifies our deepest intentions. In the silence of this “night of faith” we return to simplicity and sincerity of heart. We learn recollection, which consists in listening for God’s will, in direct and simple attention to reality. Recollection is awareness of the unconditional. Prayer then means yearning for the simple presence of God, for a personal understanding of his word, for knowledge of his will and for capacity to hear and obey him. It is thus something much more than uttering petitions for good things external to our own deepest concerns.
. . . Consequently: first of all our meditation should begin with the realization of our nothingness and helplessness in the presence of God. This need not be a mournful or discouraging experience. On the contrary, it can be deeply tranquil and joyful since it brings us in direct contact with the source of all joy and all life. But one reason why our meditation never gets started is perhaps that we never make this real, serious return to the center of our own nothingness before God. Hence we never enter into the deepest reality of our relationship with him.
In other words we meditate merely “in the mind,” in the imagination, or at best in the desires, considering religious truths from a detached objective viewpoint. We do not begin by seeking to “find our heart,” that is to sink into a deep awareness of the ground of our identity before God and in God. “Finding our heart” and recovering this awareness of our inmost identity implies the recognition that our external, everyday self is to a great extent a mask and a fabrication. It is not our true self. And indeed our true self is not easy to find. It is hidden in obscurity and “nothingness,” at the center where we are in direct dependence on God. 
As you meditate in silence, allow yourself to become empty and naked before God’s loving gaze. In your nothingness, at the center of your heart, God can mirror back to you your True Self, one with God’s own heart.
Gateway to Silence:
I am one with God.
 Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (Image Books: 1996, ©1969), 45, 48-49. Emphasis in original.
For Further Study:
James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God through Awareness of the True Self (Ave Maria Press: 1978)