February 1978 talk, Serial No. 00554

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Vina Retreat




Talking about the monastic life as a kind of a progression into truth, and the last
thing we did was to look at St. Bernard's three steps of truth.
The first of these steps of truth was the way of self-knowledge, the way of, in the
language of our medieval fathers, the way of discovering our own misery.
And second, there was the step of discovering our solidarity with all men, that we're
all in the same boat.
And at that point, compassion begins to flow into our hearts.
And then the third step is discovering the truth in itself, which is contemplation, which
is the truth of God, unmediated.
We saw also that if there's something that defines monasticism, the monastic way, it's
a kind of a resolute turning against the inclination to vainglory, in other words, a turning against
the inflation of man's own ego in the direction of transcending the ego in some way.
And so, I'd like to say a little more about that, this way of humility, if we want to
call it that, because that, it seems to me, is distinctive.
That's the central axis of Christian monasticism, is the way of humility.
That's perhaps why St. Benedict's Rule has been so basic for Western Christian monasticism,
because that's the backbone of St. Benedict's Rule, is Chapter 7, the way of humility.
And somehow, that's hit the nail right on the head, and so it's been so fruitful.
Even though so many other rules might have been adopted, that's one reason, I think.
We describe this way of humility as a descent into the heart, the heart being the kind of
anthropological theme that we're carrying on throughout the different subjects that
we're covering throughout the retreat.
This is what Theophanes says, Theophanes the recluse,
Until the soul is established with the mind in the heart, it does not see itself, nor
is it properly aware of itself.
Now before, when we were talking about Theophanes and that mind in the heart, descending into
the heart business, we were talking about prayer.
We were talking about the prayer of the heart, and the moment, the time when prayer becomes
unified, descends from the multiplicity of discursive thinking and imagination down into
the unity of the heart.
But now he's talking about something which seems to pervade the whole of one's life,
that is not just the moments of prayer, the time of prayer, and not really prayer at
all as a matter of fact.
He's talking about man's state continually being of the mind and the heart, and that
as the position in which he begins to acquire self-knowledge.
He begins to look at himself in another way.
Still Theophanes, he's writing to one of his disciples.
I have come to the conclusion that you are still in the head and not in the heart.
Descend into the heart and you will know at once what you are worth.
You express the wish to attain a sense of your own unworthiness.
This you will begin to see and feel as soon as you descend into the heart.
The deeper you go, the clearer it will appear.
So he's saying the way to acquire humility, which is true self-knowledge, is not so much
to be meditating on your own unworthiness or your own nothingness.
That's not going to do it.
What you do in your head isn't going to solve the problem.
In some way you have to find a way into your heart, and presumably that would be largely
through prayer but also through a kind of directing of one's own energies, one's own activities
out of the mind into the heart, out of multiplicity into unity, from the exterior to the interior
and so on, and from the kind of managerial kind of thinking, the operative type of thinking
to a simpler type of thought, a more passive type of thought perhaps.
Gilson says this about St. Bernard.
The displacement of fear by charity, by way of the practice of humility, and that consists
the whole of St. Bernard's Assises, its beginning, its development, and its term.
It was likewise Cassian's and Basil's.
The displacement of fear by charity, by way of the practice of humility.
If you read chapter 7 of St. Benedict's Rule you'll see that that's what's happening.
In the first degree of humility we have the presence of God conceived not in terms of
kind of a sweet presence but rather in terms of God's surveillance, that the eyes of God
are upon you.
In other words, in terms of the fear of God.
At the end of chapter 7 we find this kind of liberation in which no longer out of fear
but out of love a man runs in the ways of God.
I may have mixed that up a bit with the end of the prologue, but the sense is the same
in both places there.
The time of liberation has come when charity has appeared in the heart.
The charity has appeared because room has been made by humility.
It seems to work because monks have stood by the rule.
Generation after generation of monks have followed this way and have matured.
Some of them have blossomed in this way of humility.
And why does it work?
It must work because it's the way of truth.
Because following the way of humility we're seeking the truth about ourselves and ultimately
the truth about ourselves is not different, is not separable from the truth about God.
When we find the truth about ourselves we are very close to knowing the truth about God.
So the indispensable condition, the indispensable attitude is an openness towards the truth.
The indispensable belief perhaps is that the truth is good, that the final answer is yes,
that reality is really love and not condemnation, that God is really Father.
It's a very simple attitude at the basis of all of it it seems, but which requires a kind
of persevering courage to continue following this track of truth, even when the truth at
the moment may be seemingly negative, may be threatening, may be painful, to keep at
it knowing that sooner or later if you follow the truth, the truth is going to come out
in all of its dimensions, that the truth is going to turn out to be goodness, the truth
is going to turn out to be love.
This is a kind of very tacit and unarticulated belief which I think makes the difference
in a man's life.
Jesus says, as soon as he begins his preaching, he says, Be converted, metanoete, have a change
of mind, he says, be converted and believe in the gospel.
Gospel means good news.
There are two parts of that, there's the turning of the mind, conversion of the mind, and really
believing, which sometimes is a bigger effort for us than turning away from what we're stuck
Really believing that the truth is all that the word of God tells us that it is.
Really believing that the ultimate reality is love.
For the reign of God is at hand, he says.
The kernel, the heart of this good news seems to be sort of contained in these propositions
which we find in the letter of Saint John.
The truth of God's being is love.
The truth of God's being is love.
So if you follow the truth all the way, that's what you're going to find at the end, that
God is your father, that you are greeted with an attitude of love, that you are greeted
with that embrace.
Secondly, that the truth of your being is love, that if you follow yourself all the way
to the bottom, if you descend all the way into your heart, through all of the darkness,
through all of the layers of darkness and stubbornness and malice even, and hatred, and self-hatred,
and ignorance, if you follow it all the way down to the bottom, you're going to find out
that your reality is really, at the core, is really love.
That your reality is the resplendent image of God, way down in the center.
And so if you continue to follow the truth, you can't possibly be lost.
It may be a problem sometimes to know what is the truth and what's not, but that indispensable
first attitude is that welcoming, hopeful attitude towards the truth, towards reality,
which is really the Christian attitude, really the Catholic attitude in the end.
And that the two of these, the truth of God's being being love, and the truth of our ultimate
being being love, the two are one, are united in Christ Jesus, and only in him, who makes
us sons of his Father, and who made us exactly for that.
Remember how, to change the subject of it and move on, remember how Cassian and also
Evagrius called asceticism the first stage of spiritual knowledge, which for a moment
may be puzzling, except that we know where they get their philosophy from the Greek
intellectualist background, where everything would be sort of described, classified in
terms of the mind, and of study, and of knowledge, and of art, and technique, and so on.
But there's an implication there, that if asceticism is the first stage of knowledge
before you come to theoria, before you come to contemplation, that means that asceticism
itself is in function of truth.
Asceticism is in function of truth.
Which says something also, implicitly, about the kinds of asceticism that we can do.
We have to be careful that it is meaningful.
We have to be careful that it is making us more true, and not the contrary.
And we have to remember that it is an instrument, it's not the end.
But the whole spiritual life in this way sort of lines up in terms of truth, which I think
is important for us.
Because if we need anything, we need a realistic attitude, an openness towards reality.
And often the Church, and also the monastic institution, has been really too defensive
and too fearful regarding reality.
There are times, however, when it's a challenge.
Either you open up to a wider horizon of reality, either you take a more courageous attitude
towards the truth, or you die.
And we may be in one of those times today.
There's another question that appears here.
When we talk about humility, maybe this doesn't come to our mind all the time, but it's always
with us.
And that is, we seem to find a conflict between the traditional doctrine of humility, the
way we've learned it, and sort of the gospel of psychology, which is that you need a positive
self-image in order to exist, really, in order to flourish, in order to grow.
That self-realization implies thinking well of yourself.
Whereas if you read Saint Benedict's Rule, it tells you, well, consider yourself to
be the worst of all, to be a lousy workman, and so on, to be capable of none, all of those
They're just two clearly contradictory doctrines there, seemingly.
A couple of examples.
The ones from Saint Benedict, Chapter 7, are already familiar to you.
Abba Isaiah has this to say,
Nothing is so useful to the beginner as insults.
The beginner that bears insults is like a tree that is watered every day.
That's something for novice masters to write over their door.
Saint John of the Cross is simply a desire to be nothing.
And Theophane is continually saying,
The sense of self-importance is the greatest pitfall in the spiritual life.
Think of yourself as worse than all, as being worth nothing.
And then we compare this with what some of our psychological writers have to say today,
and it's cleanly the opposite.
I'm just quoting John Powell because he sums these things up from a bunch of different
Here's one of his affirmations.
A good self-image is the most valuable psychological possession of a human being.
A good self-image.
And we know this to be true from our own experience.
We know that when we don't think well of ourselves, we're not really ourselves.
We're only half ourselves.
Some more affirmations in the same line.
The first of the essential steps into the fullness of life is to accept oneself.
Obviously, all growth begins with a joyful self-acceptance.
Otherwise, one is locked perpetually into an interior, painful, and endless civil war.
The war of self-doubt.
The war of hesitation.
Should I or should I not?
Can I or can I not?
However, the more we approve and accept ourselves, the more we are liberated from doubt about
whether others will approve and accept us.
The more we become centered, in a sense, so that we can grow.
Again, the wellsprings for the fullness of life rise from within a person.
And psychologically speaking, a joyful self-acceptance, a good self-image, and a sense of self-celebration,
which doesn't seem to be exactly what Saint Benedict is recommending, are the bedrock
beginning of the fountain that rises up into the fullness of life.
So he gets absolutely lyrical about this good attitude towards yourself.
And it seems to be true to life, too.
So how do we reconcile this with the other gospel?
Thomas Merton has, of course, run across the same problem.
He's discussed it in a couple of articles in Contemplation and World of Action.
He gets into this.
He says,
In the highest sense, the monastic and contemplative life seems to be a sacrifice of identity,
a loss of the self, in order that there may be no self but that of God,
who is the object of our contemplation and of our praise.
You must have been careless if you left that word object in there.
And this, paradoxically, is not self-alienation, but the highest and most perfect self-realization.
But he says that many people nowadays, even the majority of people who come to the monastery,
at least in the United States, don't yet have an identity that they can give up.
The mystique of humility and contemplation is good only for those who have an identity
which they are capable of surrendering as though it were a nothing,
in exchange for the all of God,
in which they, too, are found and recovered with all the world beside.
To the immature man for whom the accession to full identity is too difficult a step,
a role of passivity and anonymity, a laudable and highly respectable nothingness,
can become a very convenient evasion.
So the monastic, what do you call it, the monastic spirituality and regime of humility
and self-denial, self-negation, of selflessness,
may be exactly contrary to the needs of many people.
Or at least they need a kind of introduction to it, a kind of preparation for it.
They have to build up a personality before they can let go of it.
I found that Paul Tournier to be very helpful in this regard also.
In that same book of his, A Place for You,
he's the one who talks about the two Gospels,
the Gospel of Psychology and the Gospel of Christ,
the Gospel of Self-Realization and the Gospel of Self-Renunciation or Self-Transcendence.
He says,
It is one of the laws of life that one stage successfully completed prepares the way for the next,
while failure in one stage lays in advance a heavy handicap on the next.
And yet the first stage may be seemingly a positive stage,
a grasping stage, a planting stage,
and the second stage may be seemingly the contrary,
that is a rooting up stage, a negative stage, at least on the surface,
with a deeper positivity.
It is true that one must first have a place in order to be able to leave it afterwards.
He quotes Ecclesiastes,
For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.
It is not always the same time.
There is a time to cling to one's parents and time to detach oneself from them.
In all things there is a time for attachment and a time for detachment.
He who does not attach himself properly at the time for attachment
cannot detach himself properly either at the time for detachment.
So it's as if he was talking about one fundamental attitude there
which operates in the sense of attachment at one time
and in the sense of detachment at another time,
which seems like a real mystery,
until we realize that even when there is detachment going on,
even in that phase there must be a deeper attachment
because man can't really live in a vacuum.
So if he's giving up something, if he's letting go of something,
that means because he's stepping across to something else
which isn't yet realizable on the same level of experience,
but which is nevertheless there.
And that's what happens, of course, when we step out in faith,
when we let go of ourselves,
when we let something in us die.
One must first have a place before leaving it.
One can abandon only what one has got.
One can give up only what one has received.
There is a radical opposition between being denied a thing and leaving it.
Being denied a thing means being prevented from having it
before one has known what it is to have it.
And so one has a longing for it
which is all the greater for one's not having had it.
It would be absurd and unjust to urge detachment
upon a man who had never received the thing in question.
Unfortunately, it is often done.
Let me get some examples from the Gospel.
And he quotes Teilhard de Chardin
who speaks about the alternation between receiving and giving
in the divine milieu.
He talks about the relationship between growth and diminishment,
that both of them are necessary in our lives
in a kind of alternating cycle.
And sometimes, of course, both of them at the same time in different ways.
Which is better for the Christian, activity or passivity,
life or death, growth or diminishment?
There we hear the two Gospels once again.
And as a priest he replies,
Why separate in contrast the two natural phases of a single effort?
Develop yourself and take possession of the world in order to be.
Once this has been accomplished,
then is the time to think about renunciation.
Then is the time to accept diminishment for the sake of being in another.
First develop yourself.
So what does this mean for us?
It means that the matter of leaving one's self,
the matter of going beyond one's ego,
is not as simple as we might think at first sight.
That first we must establish an ego.
First we must have an identity
before we can let it go for another deeper identity,
for another deeper self.
Very important to realize this,
otherwise we can make some horrible mistakes
that keep us frustrated in our growth for years.
There are then, in fact, two movements.
Movements which are successive and complementary.
We shall see that they correspond to the Gospels of which I have spoken,
that of self-fulfillment and that of renunciation,
that of psychology and that of religion.
But they do overlap.
It's not as simple as if one simply came after another.
And since the process has a different rhythm
and a different appearance in each individual,
it's always a matter of individual discernment,
individual direction, individual treatment.
So it becomes quite a problem, of course, for a monastery,
especially for the younger people in a monastery
who are still largely in that first phase.
And that very much is, I think, our formation problem today,
because of the background out of which young Americans come
to the monastic life,
which hasn't helped them along this road very much often.
Merton says that our current American scene
tends to deprive a young person of identity,
tends to alienate him,
so that he's not ready for the traditional monastic spirituality
of renunciation when he arrives at the monastery very often.
Here's what one of the fathers has to say on this.
This is a pretty unusual example from the fathers.
One old man said,
I hate the vainglory of the young fellows.
It makes them wear themselves out for nothing,
that is, for no reward.
They're wasting their time, he says,
because in fact they're looking for human reputation.
They're doing everything out of vainglory, he says,
and that gives me a great deal of pain.
But there was another old man who was wiser than he was,
and he replied,
For my part, I quite approve them,
for it is useful for a young man to have regard for vainglory
rather than falling into negligence.
If he has vainglory, in fact, he must restrain himself.
That means he must mortify himself,
must control himself,
keep vigil, exert himself,
acquire charity and support tribulations
in view of earning praise,
even if he's just doing it for the parasaic reason
of having others approve him.
After he has behaved in this way,
the grace of God comes to him and says,
Well, why do you tire yourself out for men and not for me?
Then he allows himself to be persuaded
to give no more attention to human glory
but rather to that of God.
That's an unusual example of discernment,
where the two phases are distinguished,
because usually the fathers are kind of one-sided
in what they say.
Not always.
For instance, Pullman very often is acutely discerning,
but it's not very often that you find that kind of subtlety.
So there's a law of graduality here,
and a law of growth,
and there's a time for building up
and a time for tearing down.
And we've got to remember that the tearing down
is always in view of a deeper building up,
something that's going on on a deeper level.
And if that isn't there,
then it's going to be purely destructive.
So in this way of humility,
there's the question of confronting
the dark side of ourselves.
Humility is the recognition and the acceptance of the truth
that is coming to know ourselves
not as we would like to be,
not maybe as we've always considered ourselves to be,
but rather as we really are.
And that may be kind of a painful process.
Certainly it's a long process.
When we're separated from God,
when we don't have sort of his support,
when we're in the darkness,
when we're without true hope,
then we have to manufacture our own reasons for hope.
We have to think of ourselves
as being sufficiently worthwhile not to fall apart,
not just to disappear.
We've got to sort of justify ourselves.
So we have to construct a satisfactory image of ourselves,
but it's not a true image.
The movement towards the truth,
therefore, has to bring this view of ourselves
back into balance by bringing us to face the other side,
because we've constructed a slanted image of ourselves
in order to fortify our whole life,
our whole structure of security or whatever.
So we have to look at the other side now,
which we've hidden from ourselves,
which we've left in the darkness,
the side that we've rejected.
And as we make this confrontation,
as we persevere in it,
we shall be able to reach the center of ourselves.
Through this darkness we really move towards the light,
because at the center there is light.
At the center of ourselves there is light.
But that light comes from a point beyond ourselves
that really is at the bottom of the dark nights
that John of the Cross talks about.
You'd better go through the darkness before you get to the light.
And you'll go through one night,
one phase of darkness,
and light will appear and then it'll be taken away
and you'll find yourself in deeper darkness than ever.
But at the very end is a light which never ceases,
which never blinks.
One of the old men said,
in the sayings of the fathers,
As the shadow goes everywhere with the body,
so we ought to carry penitence and lamentation with us wherever we go.
As the shadow goes everywhere with the body,
so ought to be our spirit of penance.
He didn't mean it in that way,
but there's a symbolic meaning to that.
That is the shadow, the dark side,
the side of us that's in shadow,
the side that we don't see.
Most of us are more familiar with that term shadow
maybe from the psychology of Jung.
When Father John Eudes came to our monastery
to give us a retreat,
he, as a matter of fact,
related the shadow of Jung
to this confrontation of the dark side.
I don't know if any of you have heard that.
That is, Jung talks about a part of ourselves
which we thrust away from our consciousness
because we can't accept it.
We look at the bright side,
we thrust away the dark side.
And that's what the shadow means.
Here's a definition from Jung.
The term shadow refers to that part of the personality
which has been repressed for the sake of the ego ideal.
In other words,
for the sake of what Martin would call the false self.
Since everything unconscious is projected,
we encounter the shadow in projection,
in our view of the other fellow.
As a figure in dreams or fantasies,
the shadow represents the personal unconscious.
It is like a composite of the personal shells of our complex.
There's a lot of technical jargon there.
And is thus the doorway to all deeper transpersonal experiences.
And yet it comes across as that which is threatening,
that which is frightening to us.
And yet it's what we have to go through
if we want to go deeper towards the center of ourselves,
if we want to find the place of love and of light.
And we project that shadow on other people.
Have you ever heard this?
That the things that we ourselves are doing wrong
and don't recognize it,
we tend to see them in other people.
We tend to judge other people for the same faults
that we really have but are not admitting.
St. Paul says somewhere to the Jews, to the Pharisees,
Why do you judge others by the law
when you don't follow the law yourselves?
Why do you judge other people for the same sins
that you're yourselves committing?
That sort of thing.
It's a matter of experience.
We do tend to see our own faults,
especially our hidden ones, in other people.
Living in community, we become pretty aware of that.
So the fathers, the monastic fathers,
laid great stress on judging nobody.
In the sayings of the fathers,
there's a whole chapter, a whole section,
given to that, on not judging.
Here are a couple of examples.
Abba Moses.
Moses was, of course, the big black man
who had been a robber.
He had a pretty hard time
at first being accepted himself.
In seat, a brother was once found guilty of some sin.
They assembled the elders and sent a message
to Abba Moses telling him to come.
But he wouldn't come.
And then the priest sent saying,
come for a meeting of the monks is waiting for you.
So Moses got up and he went.
And he took with him an old basket
which he filled with sand
and he carried it on his back.
And of course, that was a curious thing to do.
So the people who went to meet him said,
what's this, father?
What does this mean?
And the old man said to them,
my sins are chasing me and I do not see them.
Have I come today to judge the sins of someone else?
So they called off the meeting.
There's a similar saying about Abba Peor.
Who put a big bag of sand on his back
and a little basket in front of the sand.
And he said, those are my sins behind me
and I don't see them.
These are my brother's sins.
Abba Joseph asked Abba Fulman,
tell me how to become a monk.
And the old man said,
if you want to find rest in this life and in the next,
say at every turn, who am I?
And judge no man.
Say at every moment, who am I?
And judge no man.
Looking in both directions.
Abba Fulman said,
the wickedness of men is hidden behind their backs.
Again, Fulman, who was kind of a specialist in this, it seems.
A brother asked Abba Fulman,
how can a man avoid speaking ill of his neighbor?
And the old man said to him,
we and our brothers are two images.
When a man is watchful about himself
and has to reproach himself,
in his heart he thinks his brother is better than he.
But when he appears to himself to be good,
then he thinks his brother evil compared to himself.
So as we sort of get careless
and not watchful about the darker side of ourselves,
as we sort of get complacent
and get a kind of carelessly good idea about ourselves,
we tend insensibly to think ill of our brother.
We find ourselves comparing ourselves with our brother
and the brother coming off second best every time.
We find a certain kind of movement going on inside of ourselves
which always tends to exalt me,
to make me a judge,
and to make the other one the criminal.
There's something that we get out of that judging business.
There's some kind of an ego yield in that.
This is Theophane.
No, this is a Russian nun in the art of prayer.
Why do we criticize others?
Because we do not try to know ourselves.
Whoever is busy trying to know himself
has no time to notice the faults of others.
Judge yourself and you will stop judging others.
Regard every man as better than you are,
for without this thought a man is far from God
even though he performs miracles.
Saint Benedict has got that curious section
in chapter 7 of the Rule on Humility
where he says that a monk should not only say
but believe himself to be worse than everybody else.
And that can be, of course,
that sort of thing can be sheer hypocrisy
or simply trying to squeeze and contort
your mind and heart into something that it's not.
But what he's talking about there is some kind of a charism.
It's some kind of a gift
that comes at that point in the spiritual life
and makes that possible
because it can only come through grace.
That's an infused light, in other words,
about the real situation of things.
That's the way we're supposed to be, really.
Not with a whole lot of negativity
but with that kind of, what do you call it,
sense of nothingness, sense of gratitude
and sense of respect for the other man.
A kind of gratitude and joy
just for being members of the human race.
That's the way it should be.
Rather than comparing myself with each other
rather than having to come out number one.
And yet that's the kind of movement,
that's the kind of striving
that's going on in us all the time.
So that's the sort of thing
that the Desert Fathers would attack.
And they had some pretty crude ways of doing it, too.
This liberation from the need
to compare ourselves favorably with others,
to criticize others and to judge them
is a big sign of progress, too.
Merton writes about that in New Seeds of Contemplation.
That's a marvelous book, by the way,
New Seeds of Contemplation.
I just read it again a little while ago.
There's so much in there.
He says,
The saints are what they are
not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others
but because the gift of sainthood
makes it possible for them to admire everybody else.
It gives them a clarity of compassion
that can find good in the most terrible criminals.
It delivers them from the burden
of judging others, condemning other men.
It teaches them to bring the good out of others
by compassion, mercy and pardon.
It delivers them from the burden of judging other people
because this fact of judging other people,
this thing is a compulsion.
We can't stop it.
We don't know how to stop it.
We've got ways of sort of
trying to move ourselves in the other direction
but we don't seem to be able to stop that movement,
that motor that's going on inside of us.
Inhumility is the greatest freedom.
As long as you have to defend the imaginary self
that you think is important
you lose your peace of heart.
As soon as you compare that shadow
not shadow in the same sense, not in the Jungian sense
with the shadows of other people
shadow means simply the external self
with its deceptive appearances
you lose all joy.
As soon as you start comparing yourself with other people
you lose all joy.
Somehow you've gotten into the wrong context.
You've gone into the wrong place.
You're thinking in the wrong way.
It's as if you've risen out of the heart
into the mind or something like that
except that the heart is where the sickness goes on too.
Because you have begun to trade in unrealities
you've begun to compare one exterior self
with another exterior self
and they're both just a veneer.
They're both just a surface.
They're unreal.
And there is no joy in things that do not exist.
And the more unreasonable importance
you attach to yourself and to your own works
the more you will tend to build up your own idea of yourself
by condemning other people.
Because that's what we do when we judge others.
This is a very subtle thing.
But criticism, very often
the yield that we get out of it
is just putting ourselves in the position of judge, of critic.
And in some way that builds us up.
It gives us a little ego satisfaction.
It's really a murderous thing though.
And it's murderous to our own
to the life of our own heart as well.
It's easy to say this
but it's very hard to work through it, to conquer it.
Sometimes virtuous men are bitter and unhappy
because they have unconsciously come to believe
that all their happiness depends
on their being more virtuous than others.
You see, there we're treating virtue or goodness
as if it were the same as the material things that we know.
As if it were the same as having a newer car than the other fellow
or a more beautiful wife
or simply having more money than the other person.
It's very hard for us to conquer that instinct.
Actually we have to be taken across by grace
to another way of thinking.
To another way of seeing.
And this is the sort of thing I think that the Buddhists are working on
the Zen people when they talk about
getting beyond the self.
Letting the self disappear.
Letting it die.
That's the old self.
That's the old ego that's still functioning there.
That's doing all this mischief.
True self-knowledge, says Theophane,
is to see one's own defects and weaknesses so clearly
that they fill our whole view.
And mark this, the more you see yourself at fault
and deserving of every censure,
the more you will advance.
But note above we were talking about the danger
of having a negative self-image.
Well isn't this a negative self-image?
No, not in a dangerous way.
Because at a certain point a person can stand that.
He's got enough interior strength.
He's centered well enough
so that he can begin this particular phase.
So that he can begin to
think unwell of himself
and it's still not going to damage him.
The vitality, the spiritual vigor
has increased to the extent
where this sort of thing is what he needs now.
So it's a matter of discerning the time,
where a person is.
Theophane again.
Progress in the spiritual life is shown
by an ever-increasing realization of our own worthlessness
in the full and literal sense of the word.
The moment that we ascribe some value to ourselves
in any sense whatever,
it will mean that things have gone wrong.
He's pretty strong.
It doesn't come out here,
the fact that in this
there is a kind of joy.
In other words,
if this thing is true,
if this self-judgment
and self-putting down of ourselves is true,
if it comes from grace,
then it's going to be accompanied by joy.
In other words, it's not going to be a darkness,
a negativity.
There's not going to be any self-pity at all in it.
There's going to be a liberation.
It's very important to understand that.
There's going to be a kind of liberation,
a kind of feeling of being freed from a burden.
In this discovery,
I don't have to worry about being something anymore.
I can be perfectly happy being nothing
because I have a father in heaven.
There's a psychiatrist now,
his name is Thomas Hora.
I don't know if any of you have heard of him.
He's interesting.
He's written a couple of books that have just been published
because he happens to be a very contemplative person.
He takes his whole starting point
in the fact that his idea of man is that man is the image of God,
so that's where he starts from.
Man is the image of God.
That's unheard of for a psychiatric practitioner.
And he says that the one basic cause of neurosis,
that is of pathology, is this.
It's self-confirmatory thinking.
Self-confirmatory thinking.
In other words,
the kind of thinking which is geared towards
making me come off well in my own eyes,
towards fortifying my idea of myself,
that mechanism that's going on inside of us continually
to make us think that we're worthwhile,
to find some pretext for thinking well of ourselves,
simply because we're not standing on the solid ground of God,
simply because we're not rooted, we're not centered,
and so we're groping continually
for some line of thought,
for some confirmation that we exist,
that we're worthwhile,
that we're okay, as they say.
So I think that's a good insight that he has.
I wouldn't say to put it in absolute terms as he uses it,
but it goes pretty far.
Maybe that's all we should do tonight,
so tomorrow morning maybe we'll be able to go in
a little bit to Thomas Martin's view of the false self
and the true self,
which is really extremely interesting.
Thank you.
Good morning.
I'd like to talk about the false self and the true self.
So the first part may be a little depressing,
and then I'll get out of the woods
and talk about something nice.
I'm happy that you read that reading from the Mass again,
because I was going to start with that as a matter of fact,
that reading from Jeremiah,
Jeremiah chapter 17.
Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He's like a shrub in the desert
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness
in an uninhabited salt land.
That's a good image for the false self.
It is a self which does not draw its nourishment
from beyond the ego, from God.
And in other places, like the first psalm,
you find this image of the grass that's planted on the rooftop
and therefore can't have any roots in the earth,
of the chaff blown away by the wind,
compared with the tree that's planted beside running waters,
and it sinks its roots deep into the sources of nourishment,
which is a good image for the true self,
for that which grows within us unseen
and yet has its roots all the way down in God,
in the depths of God.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is in the Lord.
He's like a tree planted by water
that sends out its roots by the stream
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.
A glorious throne set on high from the beginning
is the place of our sanctuary.
This can be taken also in terms of the inner sanctuary.
We're talking about the image, remember,
the image of God within us.
O Lord, the hope of Israel,
all who forsake Thee shall be put to shame.
Those who turn away from Thee shall be ridden in the earth,
ridden in the earth,
ridden in the dust,
and so the wind will blow away their identity,
their being,
for they have forsaken the Lord,
the fountain of living water.
You remember the other passage,
I'm not sure it's in Jeremiah, it might be in Isaiah,
where the Prophet reproaches the people
for having forsaken the fountain of living water
and dug for themselves cisterns that hold no water.
Instead of living water that flows from the center,
from the ground,
they've made reservoirs
which will soon be empty,
broken cisterns out of which the water will leak.
And that's the way it is with the shallow self of us.
We're continually trying to patch up,
but it's continually leaking on us,
and so it's always a source of anxiety.
Compared with the fountain of living waters,
which has no bottom,
and instead of leaking out,
it draws in moisture from the living God from beneath.
I'll read you some passages of Thomas Merton
on the false self from
New Seeds of Contemplation.
That's the book I find in which he
centers on this most clearly
and at greatest length.
Some of you have read Karen Horney,
the psychologist, I'm sure,
and her notion of the ideal self,
the ideal self image,
the image sort of that we make up
and then try to believe that that's us.
That's pretty close to Merton's false self,
but it's not exactly the same thing.
It's pretty close to his exterior self.
She talks about three selves, in fact.
There's the self that we are at this moment,
the actual self,
and then there's the self that we
imagine ourselves to be,
the ideal self which we try to conform to,
and which really, she says,
is the source of all of our miseries.
And then there's the true self,
which we potentially can be,
if we can become authentic.
It doesn't exactly square with
Thomas Merton's picture of the false self
and the true self,
but it sheds a useful light on it.
He's talking about contemplation early
and no seeds.
And so he's talking about the true self
and the false self at the same time.
We must remember that the superficial I,
the superficial ego, is not our real self.
It is our individuality and our empirical self,
the self that we know by experience,
the self that we sort of conclude to
from our experience in contact with
things and people and happenings in the world.
But it is not truly the hidden and mysterious person
in whom we subsist before the eyes of God.
The I that works in the world
and thinks about itself
and observes its own reactions
and talks about itself
is not the true I that has been
united to God in Christ.
It is at best the vesture, the mask,
the disguise of that mysterious and unknown self
who most of us never discover until we are dead.
It's sort of a sign,
a symbol of that true self,
but a deceptive one.
It's a kind of temporary substitute for it,
as he says later on.
Our external superficial self is not eternal,
not spiritual, far from it.
This self is doomed to disappear
as completely as smoke from a chimney.
It will disappear like smoke from a chimney,
which reminds us of that biblical notion
of the chaff that's blown away by the wind
or the weeds that just wither up
when the sun comes up.
It's a matter of not having roots in reality.
It is utterly frail and evanescent.
Contemplation is precisely the awareness
that this I is really not I
and the awakening of the unknown I
that is beyond observation and reflection
and is incapable of commenting upon itself.
The unknown I, the hidden I, the true self,
somehow is in the center of humility,
whereas this other self is in the center of pretense
and of that kind of self-confirmatory striving
that we were talking about yesterday.
Somehow is in the center of humility,
whereas this other self is in the center of pretense
and of that kind of self-confirmatory striving
that we were talking about yesterday.
Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person,
a false self.
I apologize to the people who have already read this seven times.
This is the man that 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.
That reminds us of Adam in the garden, remember?
After his sin, when he hid himself in the shrubbery
and we started with that,
and God came and said, where are you?
He was unknown by God in some strange way.
And he was really unknown by himself.
He had been split into a false self
and a hidden true self somewhere.
Turn the tape over now.
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.
So this is a self that wants to be autonomous,
but not in the way that God wants us to be autonomous,
because we're supposed to have a certain autonomy.
But we're not supposed to be separated from God.
And because we don't understand that,
we construct for ourselves this false self,
because we're afraid of our relationship with God.
We're afraid that it's going to crush us or quench us
or rub us out somehow,
or not allow us to be what we are.
Because we have this error in thinking of who we are,
of what we are.
We are not very good at recognizing illusions,
least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves,
the ones we are born with and which feed the roots of sin.
For most of the people in the world,
there is no greater subjective reality
than this false self of theirs which cannot exist.
A life devoted to the cult of this shadow
is what is called a life of sin.
All sin starts from the assumption that my false self,
the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires,
is the fundamental reality of life
to which everything else in the universe is ordered.
Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures
and the thirst for experiences,
for power, honor, knowledge and love
to clothe this false self
and to construct its nothingness into something objectively real.
And I wind experiences around myself
and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages
in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world,
as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible
when something visible covered its surface.
But there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed.
I am hollow.
And my structure of pleasures and ambitions has no foundation.
I am objectified in them,
but they are all destined by their very contingency to be destroyed.
So we are borrowing our being from things outside of ourselves.
And when they are gone, there will be nothing left of me
but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness
to tell me that I am my own mistake.
So, that sounds pretty pessimistic.
It reminds us of that business of the self-confirmatory thinking.
He says here that the source of all sin is this false self
and the attempt to make it real,
to make real something which is not real.
And remember that Thomas Horace says
that the source of all pathology, of all mental disease or whatever,
is, or at least the meaning of it,
sort of the movement that's going on there,
is this self-confirmatory movement,
self-confirmatory thinking
of trying to make real something which is not real.
Later on in the book,
I took the trouble to compare this with the old Seeds of Contemplation
and I found out that there's,
the fundamental thought is the same, it's identical,
but some things have been added in the new Seeds.
And one of them is
something which is added to this notion of the false self.
In the additions, in the new Seeds of Contemplation,
there's a little more,
what do you call it, a psychological approach
and Thomas Merton identifies the false self much more clearly
with the empirical ego itself, that is, with our normal ego.
At the same time, he's not so negative about this exterior self
as he was at first.
It seems to me that he gives it more of a right to existence,
recognizes more our need to live around this exterior self
until we know something better.
It is a great mistake to confuse the person,
that is, the spiritual and the hidden self,
united with God, and the ego,
the exterior empirical self,
the psychological individuality
who forms a kind of mask for the inner and hidden self.
This outer self is nothing but an evanescent shadow.
Its biography and its existence both end together at death.
Of the inmost self, there is neither biography nor end.
It's an eternal thing.
In returning to God and to ourselves,
we have to begin with what we actually are.
We have to start from our alienated condition.
We are prodigals, all of us,
in a distant country, the region of unlikeness.
And we must seem to travel far in that region
before we seem to reach our own land.
And yet, secretly, we're in our own land all the time.
You see how it's a matter of illusion.
It's a matter of a cloud of something
that keeps us from being in contact
with what's really there all the time.
The ego, the outer self, is respected by God
and allowed to carry out the function
which our inner self cannot yet assume on its own.
This is something that appears in the second version.
We have to act in our everyday life
as if we were what our outer self indicates us to be.
But at the same time, we must remember
that we are not entirely what we seem to be,
and that what appears to be our self
is soon going to disappear into nothingness.
One of the most widespread errors of our time
is a superficial personalism
which identifies the person with the external self,
the empirical ego,
and devotes itself solemnly
to the cultivation of this ego.
So, there's a lot more in the same vein,
but perhaps that's enough to render the idea.
Nowadays, there's a lot of promotion
about becoming centered, in a sense,
psychologically and spiritually.
The human potential movement.
There are kinds of psychology
which really reach for the true self,
in some way.
But the difficulty is that
you can't do it in a humanistic-centered way.
You can't do it in a man-centered way.
What we tend to do is to
learn something about the true self
from people who have been there,
and then sort of decorate our ego world with that.
But as long as we're starting from the center of the ego,
it's impossible.
Martin stresses all the time
that nobody can bring you there but God.
And unless this is done in a theistic way,
unless it's done in faith and in trust in God,
it's another futility.
It's another disappointment.
Even though psychology does seem to advance,
certainly in that way,
by taking into consideration
the higher reaches of human nature,
the deeper reaches,
it might be interesting, as a matter of fact,
to see some of the characteristics
that some of these humanistic psychologists
attribute to the self-realizing person.
I have a list of them here from Abraham Maslow.
And we see that they do correspond
to the way that the saints would describe
the self-realized person in Christ.
They're in the right direction.
In fact, they can be helpful to us
in seeing the signs along the road.
So here are some characteristics
that Maslow has observed
in his study of what he calls
self-actualizing people.
Some of whom are explicitly religious people,
but many of whom are secular people,
and some of whom don't explicitly believe in God at all.
First of all, a more efficient perception of reality
and more comfortable relations with it.
Secondly, an attitude of acceptance.
Acceptance of self, acceptance of others,
acceptance of nature.
Thirdly, spontaneity.
Fourthly, problem centering,
which means that they're kind of objective
and that they can center on a problem
instead of being concerned with themselves.
Fifthly, a quality of detachment.
A quality of detachment.
In other words, they're not stuck in
what they're dealing with.
They're not stuck in what's around them.
They're able to stand back far enough
to be able to relate to it in a different way.
And with this quality of detachment
goes a need for privacy.
They like solitude.
They like to be alone,
and they do well when they're alone.
That is, they can use that time and that solitude.
Sixth, a kind of autonomy,
an independence of culture and environment.
They're not simply slaves
determined by what's around them,
by their culture and so on.
In some way they've evolved an individuality.
Another, continued freshness of appreciation.
Continued freshness of appreciation,
which means in some way
that they don't have a shell around themselves.
And so reality can strike them
each time as if it were the first time.
They don't have a lot of predetermined
factors in their consciousness.
So their consciousness is able to be
awake at every moment
and in touch with the new.
They're also open to mystic experience,
what William James describes as the oceanic feeling.
Doesn't have anything to do with swimming.
They have feelings of identification,
of sympathy and affection for mankind.
Their interpersonal relations are deeper
and more profound
than those of most people,
but they have few real friends.
Not a whole lot of friends.
There's another level of friendship for them
which includes only a few.
They have a democratic character structure,
which means that people
and distinctions between persons,
questions of status and of dignity
are not important to them.
They tend to put the importance
in other values.
They distinguish means and ends clearly.
They don't get hung up in the means.
They don't confuse the means with the end.
This is something that often happens,
for instance, in the monastic life,
where we get hung up on a practice
or on a custom or something like that.
Cassian writes about it.
Instead of moving into the depths,
instead of moving towards the goal,
we forget about the goal
and we get too involved with the means.
They act clearly and ethically in daily life.
They have definite moral standards.
They're not confused or unsure
about right and wrong in their daily life.
In other words, they act with a certain sureness,
which means a certain quickness.
They have a philosophical and unhostile sense of humor.
Sense of humor, in other words,
which doesn't make fun of people,
but which simply finds a kind of freedom
and a joy in reality.
And finally, creativeness, creativity.
There seems to be one basic attitude
through a lot of these characteristics,
and that is an attitude of affirmation towards life.
The person who is realizing himself
as he truly is,
tends to be positive about life,
which implies a certain courage,
a certain openness,
a willing to encounter that which is new,
which is unexpected,
a trust, an attitude of trust towards reality.
For the religious person,
that's an attitude of trust in God,
and he will say that explicitly.
For the non-religious person,
it's simply an attitude of trust
without any predicate, as it were,
but it's there nevertheless.
And this seems to be really the basis
of any kind of a fruitful life.
Okay, so much for Maslow.
There's a lot of that kind of thinking
and study going on now.
According to Thomas Merton,
the one problem in life
is to move from the false self to the true self.
That seems to be really the axis of his thought,
the axis of the spiritual journey,
according to him.
In nearly everything that he writes,
it comes out in one way or another.
Here are a few quotes from New Seeds.
The only true joy on earth
is to escape from the prison of our own false self
and enter by love into union
with the life who dwells and sings
within the essence of every creature
and in the core of our own souls.
For me to be a saint means to be myself.
Therefore, the problem of sanctity and salvation
is in fact the problem of finding out who I am
and discovering my true self.
If I never become what I am meant to be
but always remain what I am not,
and he says that's where we start,
I shall spend eternity contradicting myself
by being at once something and nothing,
a life that wants to live and is dead,
a death that wants to be dead
and cannot quite achieve its own death
because it still has to exist.
Therefore, there's only one problem
on which all my existence,
my peace and my happiness depend,
to discover myself in discovering God.
If I find him, I will find myself,
and if I find my true self, I will find him.
Reminds us once again of St. Bernard, of course,
with his stages of truth,
the first one being finding the truth in yourself,
the final one being finding the truth in itself,
which is God,
and the two really being inseparable.
If you want the third,
you have to go through the first.
And yet, it's not as if one just came after the other one.
They're concurrent.
The secret of my identity
is hidden in the love and mercy of God,
but whatever is in God
is really identical with him.
For his infinite simplicity
admits no division and no distinction.
Therefore, I cannot hope to find myself anywhere
except in him.
Reminds us of the land of likeness, remember,
from the land of unlikeness
to the land of likeness.
But there's no distinction
in a certain sense anymore.
There's still a certain kind of distinction.
But there's no distinction
because there's no little self getting in the way.
The self has no shell around itself anymore,
which keeps us from being one with its ground,
with God.
Ultimately, the only way that I can be myself
is to become identified with him
in whom is hidden
the reason and the fulfillment of my existence.
Remember Rabbi Aaron,
who said that
all that he had learned from his master
was nothing.
That is, that I am nothing
and that notwithstanding that, I am.
And who had somehow
the echo of that voice of God
saying, I am,
ringing within his own center.
Okay, so much for the false self
and that's probably enough
about that.
Now we can talk about the true self, perhaps.
First of all, I'd like to read a few quotes
from the New Testament
which tell us about our identity, really,
from different points of view.
The first one is from Romans.
Because our identity is that which we receive in Christ,
is that which comes from the Father.
And so, the whole business of the true self
is based on the deepening of our faith
and it's becoming more real for us.
Romans, chapter 8.
So then, brethren, we are debtors not to the flesh,
but to live according to the flesh.
For if you live according to the flesh, you will die.
Now, the exterior self
and the interior self,
the false self and the true self of Merton
are parallel to a number of terms
in the New Testament.
And one of those sets of terms, of course,
is the flesh and the spirit.
Another one is the old man and the new man.
Another one is the outer man and the inner man, and so on.
Maybe none of them square perfectly and exactly, perhaps,
but there's a rough parallel with each of these.
For if you live according to the flesh, you will die,
but if by the spirit you put to death
the deeds of the body, you will live.
For all who are led by the spirit of God
are sons of God.
Notice continually this coincidence
between the spirit of God and the sonship.
That is, for Saint Paul,
that which makes us sons of God is the spirit.
And almost every time he mentions one,
he mentions the other.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery
to fall back into fear,
but you have received the spirit of sonship.
When we cry, Abba, Father,
it is the spirit himself
bearing witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
our identity.
And if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,
provided that we suffer with him,
in order that we may also be glorified with him.
There's something in us that has to die
in order that something else in us may live
and may take over completely,
may become completely ourselves.
A little later,
for those whom he foreknew,
he also predestined to be conformed
to the image of his Son
in order that he might be the firstborn
among many brethren.
So, Jesus is the image of the Father.
Christ is the image of God.
We are the image of God.
And we are to be conformed to the image of Christ.
We are to be in the image of the image
as we are to be sons in the Son,
as we are to be words in the Word.
So our identity is completely in Christ,
no matter how we look at it.
And our resemblance to the Father
is to be in our identity with Christ.
In Galatians chapter 5,
Saint Paul gives us the fruits of the Spirit.
He just listed the fruits of the flesh,
which are an ugly bunch,
and now he gives the contrasting fruits of the Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Against such there is no law.
And these are the qualities of our true identity,
the qualities of sons.
In the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2,
Remember that you were at that time,
he's talking to Gentiles,
separated from Christ,
alienated from the commonwealth of Israel,
and strangers to the covenants of promise,
having no hope, and without God in the world.
He's telling them that they were nobody.
They had no identity.
They were nobody, because they didn't know God.
But now, in Christ Jesus,
you who once were far off,
have been brought near in the blood of Christ.
For he is our peace, who has made us both one,
Jews and Gentiles,
the insiders and the outsiders,
have become one in Christ,
and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility
between sacred and profane,
called nothing unclean,
called no man profane.
By abolishing in his flesh
the law of commandments and ordinances,
that he might create in himself one new man
in place of the two, so making peace.
So then you were no longer strangers and sojourners,
no longer strangers, aliens,
but you were fellow citizens with the saints
and members of the household of God,
members of the family, that's your identity,
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,
Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone of your identity,
in whom the whole structure is joined together
and grows into a holy temple in the Lord,
in whom you also are built into it
for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit,
the Spirit in the Sonship once again.
And here we have another aspect of the true self,
that is, it's not alone.
The true self is not separated from every other true self,
they're all one in Christ.
The aspect of solidarity,
which we haven't talked much about,
but which is basic and extremely important,
is our identity is the Church, really.
Our identity is one with the identity of all men
in their ground, in Christ.
First letter of John,
chapter 3.
See what love the Father has given us,
that we should be called children of God,
and so we are, our identity.
The reason why the world doesn't know us,
why the world doesn't know who we are,
is that it did not know Him.
It didn't know God, and it didn't know Christ when He came.
It didn't recognize Him.
So the world doesn't know us,
and so the world can't find itself,
because even the self of the world
is only to be found in recognizing Christ.
In that likeness.
Beloved, we are God's children now,
and it doesn't yet appear what we shall be.
But we know that when He appears,
we shall be like Him,
for we shall see Him as He is.
And finally, Colossians.
For you have died,
and your life is hid with Christ in God.
Saint Paul says somewhere else that your body is dead,
from your entering into the death of Christ in baptism.
But there's something else in you which is alive.
And your life is hid with Christ in God,
your identity, yourself.
When Christ, who is our life, appears,
then you also will appear with Him in glory,
as who you really are.
So that hiddenness leads us back to the hiddenness of the true self,
which Thomas Merton is talking about.
The unknown I that is beyond observation and reflection
cannot even say I with the assurance and the impertinence of the other one,
for its very nature is to be hidden, unnamed, unidentified,
in the society where men talk about themselves and about one another.
In such a world, the true I remains both inarticulate and invisible,
because it had altogether too much to say,
not one word of which is about itself.
In many places in New Seeds of Contemplation,
he talks about the true self in terms of the experience of contemplation,
because that's where the true self is experienced, is in contemplation.
When we say experience, we have to put it in quotation marks,
because in a way it's beyond experience.
But there's some kind of a sense of what's there,
some kind of a sense of this new self and this new identity.
Contemplation is the experiential grasp of reality as subjective,
not objective anymore,
not so much mine, which would signify belonging to the external self,
but myself, myself rather than mine, an existential mystery.
Contemplation does not arrive at reality after a process of deduction,
but by an intuitive awakening in which our free and personal reality
becomes fully alive to its own existential depths,
which open out into the mystery of God.
The experience of oneself and the experience of God here are inseparable.
For the contemplative there is no cogito, I think, and no ergo, therefore,
but only sum, I am.
Not in the sense of a futile assertion of our own individuality
as ultimately real, the external self,
but in the humble realization of our mysterious being as persons in whom God dwells
with infinite sweetness and inalienable power.
Often when we think of God dwelling within us,
we think of him dwelling as an object within us,
only as a person whom we may confront, encounter.
There's another way of thinking of God within us, however.
God is the very subject of our existence.
God is the self behind our self.
And I think this is a deeper and a truer way, ultimately.
God in us, not as in a tabernacle, as it were, to be worshipped there.
That's okay, too.
But there's something deeper than that, which is God at the bottom of our own existence,
God living in us, God living us, if we can use grammar like that.
Knowing God is the deeper subject of our experience, of our life.
And in this way, of course, we find ourselves completely in Christ.
Because what is Christ? What is Jesus?
He's the manifestation, the Word of the Father.
If we think of ourselves as being lived in that way by God,
as being the Word, the manifestation of God,
we find ourselves directly in the center of Christ, sharing his life.
The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and the mercy of God.
I think we ran into that one before.
Now here's a contemplative experience which awakens the sense of the true self.
God touches us with a touch that is emptiness, paradox, because this is the realm of paradox.
He moves us with a simplicity that simplifies us.
All variety, all complexity, all paradox, all multiplicity cease.
The mind has descended into the heart.
Our mind swims in the air of an understanding, a reality that is dark and serene
and includes in everything, in itself everything, the land of likeness.
Nothing more is desired, nothing more is wanting.
You seem to be the same person, and you are the same person that you have always been.
In fact, you are more yourself than you have ever been before.
You have only just begun to exist.
You feel as if you were at last fully born.
All that went before was a mistake, a fumbling preparation for birth.
There's this sense of being at home, of having found what was meant for one from the beginning
and also that which in some mysterious way was there from the beginning,
but from which we've always been separated.
That in a way which has always been present with us, but which we have never known.
A door which has always in some way been there, but never opened,
or at least we've never entered into it.
Now you have come out into your element, and yet now you have become nothing.
You have sunk to the center of your own poverty,
and there you have felt the doors fly open into infinite freedom.
The Buddhists talk about the bottom dropping out of the bucket.
Into a wealth which is perfect because none of it is yours, and yet it all belongs to you.
The Buddhists talk about the bottom dropping out of the bucket.
Within the simplicity of this armed and walled and undivided interior peace
is an infinite unction, which as soon as it is grasped, loses its savor.
And here he goes back to the picture, the scene of Adam and Eve in paradise.
You must not try to reach out and possess it altogether.
And this sort of automatically awakens the echo of the tree and the apple hanging from the branch
and Adam and Eve reaching out for it, and then being expelled from the garden.
You must not touch it or try to seize it.
You must not try to make it sweeter or try to keep it from wasting away.
You can't cling, you can't grab, you can't try to have it for your own.
The situation of the soul in contemplation is something like the situation of Adam and Eve
in paradise.
Everything is yours, but on one infinitely important condition, that it is all given.
That none of it is grabbed, and none of it is clung on to, that it's all given.
And of course this doesn't just take us back to paradise,
but it takes us back to the place where the son is with the father.
Where the son issues forth from the father and everything that he is and that he has is received.
Is not grabbed, but received.
And of course the only way we can get there is with a certain kind of emptiness.
St. Paul tells us that Christ emptied himself and he thought that to be equal to God,
to be the son of God, in all of its fullness, was not a thing to be clung to.
Not a thing to be clung to, but he emptied himself.
And his emptying of himself in the way that he did,
to come down and give what he is to ourselves,
is also a lesson in the only way to get there, which is emptying.
Is emptying ourselves, becoming empty so that we can receive everything as being given,
rather than having to grab it or possess it.
The Way to Reality
The way to reality is the way of humility,
which brings us to reject the illusory self and accept the empty self
that is nothing in our own eyes and in the eyes of men,
but is our true reality in the eyes of God.
For this reality is in God and with him and belongs entirely to him.
This inmost self is beyond the kind of experience which says,
I want, I love, I know, I feel.
It has its own way of knowing, loving and experiencing,
which is a divine way and not a human one.
A way of identity, of union, of espousal,
with a kind of gentleness, a smoothness about it,
of flowing with being instead of abruptly grabbing.
In which there is no longer a separate psychological individuality,
drawing all good and all truth toward itself,
and thus loving and knowing for itself.
Lover and beloved are one spirit.
At the end of New Seeds he has a chapter which is new in this edition.
No, this comes before it, though. I don't know whether this is an edition or not.
He talks about the people who have got there.
It is in these souls that peace is established in the world.
They are the strength of the world because they are the tabernacles of God in the world.
They are the little ones. They do not know themselves.
They do not know themselves. They are known by the Father.
They do not know themselves. They don't have to.
They don't watch themselves. They don't try to identify themselves.
The whole earth depends on them. Nobody seems to realize it.
These are the ones for whom it was all created in the first place.
They shall inherit the land.
And yet this potentiality is inside of all of us.
This identity is inside of all of us.
They are the only ones who will ever be able to enjoy life altogether.
They have renounced the whole world and it has been given into their possession.
They alone appreciate the world and the things that are in it.
They are the only ones capable of understanding joy.
Because joy implies freedom.
Joy implies not the grabbing but the accepting that which is given.
Joy implies spontaneity.
Joy implies something which is beyond our control.
It implies sort of the
spontaneity, what would you call it, the leap that happens in our being
when we find that reality itself is adequate, is sufficient,
that reality itself is good and good enough for us
without our having to do anything about it, without our having to tamper with it.
They are the only ones capable of understanding joy.
Everybody else is too weak for joy.
Joy would kill anybody but these meek.
They are the clean of heart who don't stop anything on its way through,
like the windowpane that John of the Cross talks about.
They see God. He does their will because His will is their own.
He does all that they want because He is the one who desires all their desires.
He is the self behind their self.
They are the only ones who have everything that they can desire.
Their freedom is without limit.
They reach out for us to comprehend our misery and drown it
in the tremendous expansion of their own innocence.
It washes the world with its light.
So Merton the poet appears there.
There's another place outside of New Seas, probably many other places,
where Merton talks about this real self, this true and ultimate self.
And he calls it here, identifies it with the point virge, the virgin point,
pardon my French pronunciation.
And there's a sister who wrote an article about this
and tied it in with a number of other things in Merton and elsewhere
in Sisters and Studies in 1971.
The passage which she's writing about itself
comes from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.
Again that expression, le point virge, I cannot translate it, comes in here.
At the center of our being is a point of nothingness
which is untouched by sin and by illusion.
He reminds us very much here of the Rhineland mystics
who talk about this hidden peak of the soul,
the spark or the fine point of the soul,
which is within us from our beginning
and somehow is the place of divinity,
is the place where we remain joined to the Creator,
where somehow the uncreated is already within us.
A point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God,
which is never at our disposal,
from which God disposes of our lives,
which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind
or the brutalities of our own will.
We can't mess with it.
This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty
is the pure glory of God in us.
It is, so to speak, His name written in us,
which in some way is our name, is our identity.
As our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship,
it is like a pure diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven.
It is in everybody.
In other words, this is the image,
this is man's reality, his identity, what he is.
And if we could see it, we would see these billions of points of light
coming together in the face and blaze of a sun
that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.
We remember how much Merton was preoccupied
with the darkness and the cruelty of life,
with war and with racial injustice and so on.
I have no program for this seeing, it is only given.
But the gate of heaven is everywhere.
The gate of heaven is everywhere.
And the gate of heaven is particularly in each of our brothers
because this dwells in each of our brothers,
as well as in us.
The big question, of course, is how do you get there?
When Brother John Yates was at our place,
of course, one of the things he was asked about
after he raised this point of the true self in his retreat conference
is, well, what about it?
What are the guidelines for getting there?
There was quite a bit of discussion on that point.
Some interesting things came up.
I'll list a few things.
Some of them came up then and some of them came up later.
Just what guidelines can we find for getting into that place of truth?
First of all, a basic attitude of openness to the truth about ourselves.
That beginner's mind that we were talking about.
Always a student, never a master.
Because as long as we're in this self that's capable of being a teacher,
a master, an expert on anything else, we're not there.
In fact, we haven't even started.
We haven't started until we've got to the place where you can start.
And that's the place where we're supposed to be all the time.
We haven't started until we're starting.
So we have to go where we can start.
Go back to square one, as they say all the time.
Honesty with oneself as the basic virtue.
That kind of fundamental decision never to lie to oneself.
Never consciously to suppress or distort the truth.
Somehow this lies at the root of growth.
That decision to take the way of truth even when it's painful.
The decision even, the very simple decision, just to look at the truth.
Just to face the truth.
Just to be more honest.
To open up when we see the truth instead of closing up.
That kind of resolution to awareness, I think, is the key.
And this is based on confidence in the truth.
That the truth is what is.
And that there's nothing else.
And that the truth ultimately is good.
The truth is going to turn out to be a yes and not a no.
It's going to turn out to be love and not condemnation.
It really is the belief that God is our Father.
Not comparing oneself with others.
And especially not judging others.
When we have the impulse to criticize somebody,
on the contrary, to look at the impulse itself.
Look at the impulse to criticize and ask ourselves why we're doing that.
Why do we have to do that?
Remember Abba Joseph who said,
continually ask yourself at every moment,
Who am I? And judge no one.
To avoid absolutizing,
which means that kind of panicky conclusion that,
Aha! This is it. This is everything.
And the other panic... That's not the panicky one.
The panicky one is,
This is awful. I can't stand this.
This is the worst of all.
This is a disaster. That sort of thing.
I can't take this. I can't face this.
We have a tendency to go from
seeking and expecting that which is perfect,
that which is going to solve all of our problems,
to being in the depths because
we've been brought up against something which is simply too terrible to face.
And both of those things are usually just immature and unreal conclusions.
Or as a certain group of psychologists call it, irrational ideas.
They're based on
a set of irrational presuppositions that we have.
A set of errors that we have.
Like the one that,
I have to be approved and loved by everybody around me.
Otherwise I can't be happy.
So that leads to the conclusion that if I'm not, then it's a disaster.
And so I have to be unhappy.
Or the one that I have to be able to be successful,
really to be number one in everything that I do.
And if I'm not, then it's a disaster.
And similarly.
Or the presupposition that I really can be
completely happy with any limited thing.
And therefore that I have to pretend that this thing which I am enjoying
is really an absolute, is really the ultimate, you know.
There are a lot of things like that,
absolutizings that we do.
Accepting criticism and looking at ourselves
really in the light of the observations of others,
especially when they begin to converge
and when we hear the same thing from several other people.
Then there's the matter of observing our own feelings,
especially when we are criticized and opposed.
What are the factors and the events and the encounters
that control our feeling life?
There are those who say that this is the key to really finding out who we are.
As to understanding our feeling life and what's behind it.
And if we're going to do this, then we can't repress our feelings right away,
we can't shove them under the rug,
but we have to let them come out at least long enough
to look at them and identify them.
And decide whether they can live or whether they can't.
Patience and obedience help us to get outside this superficial self existentially.
In other words, when something comes to us
which is something we didn't bargain for,
we didn't ask for,
something comes from outside which is unwelcome,
there's an opportunity for us to climb out of
the self that we've been trying to maintain.
An opportunity for us really to dive into reality in a way.
So when Saint Benedict talks about
supporting injuries and injustices and so on,
and when he talks about
attempting the impossible, things like that,
or horrible obediences,
well, those are opportunities and that's the way he sees them.
They're only impossibilities usually for that little self.
That's the way of stepping beyond our own ego,
of getting out of ourselves,
and that's what obedience is about largely, I think.
To be determined from outside of ourselves,
which is practicing really for finding our true self in God,
for finding our determination in the Holy Spirit.
And then there's a matter of living in that part of us
which is already free,
which is already,
can be identified in some way with our true being.
There are a number of other things that could be said.
These are just some that come to mind.
And then there's something that goes further,
especially for the monk,
and that is this way of compunction,
which we haven't said a whole lot about.
We were talking about humility,
but we haven't talked about the way of compunction.
There hasn't been time.
But that is like a central thread,
a central axis of monastic tradition.
When the young monk comes to the old man,
comes to Abba Pullman and asks him,
Father, what shall I do?
What he usually gets is something like this,
Weep for your sins.
That's something that's hard for us to approach nowadays,
and so we would need to go into it at some length.
But I'm convinced that in that direction
really lies the further reaches of the monastic life.
Lupe is one who writes about that,
and to conclude this morning,
I'll just read you a few words of his
on sort of the way the monk's life feels
after he has gone forward
to a certain stage on this road of compunction,
this road of repentance.
This is once again from his article in
Monastic Studies No. 9.
Once this decisive stage is passed,
the feeling of a sweet and joyful repentance
will little by little predominate
in the spiritual experience of the monk.
From this asceticism of the poor,
we were talking about that before,
patiencia pauperum,
he is each day reborn a new man.
Henceforth he is entirely at peace,
having been undone and remade
from top to bottom by pure grace.
He no longer recognizes himself.
He has touched the depth of his sin,
but at the same moment
he has brushed the abyss of mercy.
He has learned to surrender to God,
to lay down his mask in his arms,
his mask on a false self.
Finally he finds himself weaponless before God,
no longer having any defense against his love.
He is despoiled and naked.
He puts aside his virtues,
his plans for sanctity.
He painfully retains his wretchedness
only to display it before mercy.
God has become truly God for him,
and only God, that is the Savior,
from his sin.
He ends by being reconciled even with his sin
and being happy in his weakness.
Henceforth he is indifferent to his perfection.
It is only soiled linen in God's eyes,
quoting Isaiah.
His virtues he possesses only in God.
They are wounds, but dressed and healed by mercy.
His very virtues are wounds.
He can only give glory to God who is working in him
and continuing ceaselessly his marvels.
Among his brothers he is a tender and gentle friend,
not irritated by false understanding of weakness.
He is infinitely mistrustful of himself,
but foolishly trusting in God,
entirely carried by his mercy and omnipotence.
Only one desire remains in him,
that it will one day please God to test him again,
so that one time more and always anew and always more
he can throw himself toward him
and embrace humble patience,
still better and with more love.
It is this which makes him like Jesus
and which enables God to continue his marvels in him,
his man of affliction and his workman.
Operarius suus.
That's a quotation from the Prologue of St. Benedict's Rule.
That's enough for this morning.