Varieties of spiritual journey

What? You talk of “nonduality” as one or two peak experiences for a moment, in your entire lives, years ago? Ha! I am nondual all the time!

One of my judgments is that it is wrong to boast of spiritual growth, but as I spoke to Friends of God in me, and the judgment or thought that second-guesses God and stops God from speaking, the words “melts away” formed in my mind. I had intense judgment against that, the claim to wisdom or spirituality, and yet-

In me there is that of God, and what else? Judgments, ego, introjects, something I do not fully understand but attempt to, using whatever language I have and concepts from philosophy or psychology. In that moment, speaking to Friends, the “whatever else” seemed to melt away, and I felt extreme joy. I do not want to boast, and I want everyone to experience that joy.

I experience inner conflict between that of God and the something else, and experienced it in that moment- the insistent words “melts away” and the horror at claiming something I do not know to be true, and the self-doubt- and then it melted away, and I spoke the words. Anguish gave way to acceptance and wonder.

Heaven is human integrity, where that of God within shines out through that person’s thoughts, words and deeds, and there is no alloy or admixture of anything else: that person is nondual.

I felt shame this week, does not matter what for, and it was clear to me that it was my own rather than some introjected shame- a feeling to help me reach my goals and best self, rather than anyone else’s demands. Instead of being my enemy it was my friend. That felt new, and delightful.

Part of the way I might help others experience that joy, and understand humans or humanity, is to describe my own experiences. How much this has value depends. Is the inner God of other people like mine, or does it vary as human character and personality varies? What else is there, and is the something else in each person different? How does the spiritual journey differ- there is an unveiling of God Within, until it stands fully visible, in all its beauty, but does the way the unveiling proceeds differ between people?

I saw God, and so God Within, as “powerful,” and letting go of that concept has helped me see God in me so much more clearly. Yet it seems to me that God in others might be powerful, or that at least the concept would not get in the way of others seeing their inner God as it did for me. Words are at best a way to approach reality.

Are there people who grew up in ideal conditions, such that their inner God was nurtured and cherished and there was never much in the way of veil to begin with? Quakers aim for such nurture, “leaving [children] free to develop as the Spirit of God may lead them”.

If I call the something else “ego”, there is the word “egotistical”, meaning self-aggrandising, but my inner judgments called me worthless. Carl Rogers pictured the self-concept and organismic self overlapping, and in my moment of becoming conscious of the spiritual journey, when my understanding of the world seemed completely contrary to how the world is, mine seemed to be entirely separate. My conversion might be like a Road to Damascus moment, but not everyone’s need be. Possibly, some might be unable to bear such an experience.

And there is common humanity. Because our eyes have cones and rods in similar formation, our experience of colour is similar, and different from a dog’s. While I cannot know my experience is like anyone else’s, we have a number of words for emotions which have a similar understanding in each of us to be useful, and we can look at another person and guess or sense what they are feeling. We are programmed to recognise faces- the youngest infants will respond to them- and who knows what else is programmed? We are eukaryotes, mammals, apes.

Some people may simply be nondual. Others may approach that. It is my way to worry and question, and also to use my analytic mind soberly to assess what is true. It is my aim to see God in myself and others more clearly which will mean loving God more dearly, and to help others do the same, and I will grow in my ability to do that.

Approaching nonduality as a physical being

Nonduality is a spiritual goal, and I am a living creature, a being made of matter.

I am a creature that changes, that works out its nature, that is what it is, does what it will, because it can be and do no other. I want that: I want this living being to live and be, which means growing and integrating, action proceeding from nature, always developing, always fitting my circumstances in the moment.

We shall be with each other always, and cannot lose each other. Our lives intertwine as we are woven together, and I contain every one of you, as you all contain me.

That got a lot of likes on facebook. I approach nonduality, where the God Within, the natural human, is the source of thought speech and action. And consciously I worry about this. Conscious me says, how will I know?

Nonduality is Heaven, and it does not mean not being hurt, tired or confused, just not resisting or resenting these feelings. All is well, but not necessarily comfortable. I am a living being, so do not escape my situation and my problems, even if I might not now be facing them with so many internal blocks and conflicts.

I consider my desires. Some come from I Am, some from society. Of the ones from Society, some are clearly harmful to me and others: the desire to make a man of myself is the clearest. Transition was the necessary though not sufficient step towards self-actualisation. Arguably fatphobia is also clearly harmful, though if we name it self-discipline aimed at a healthy BMI that’s not so clear. And not everyone who watches their weight is anorexic.

I have various words which appear on the surface to make a clear distinction, between a healthy and unhealthy consciousness of weight, and when I burrow down into what that would mean for individuals it becomes unclear and shifting. Heather wanted to fatten me up, and found my refusal of a biscuit joyless- “’No thank you, I’ve had one’,” she would say, mockingly. Her apron objectively showed her relationship with food was unhealthy.

I trust myself to serve myself the food I need, and feel, directly perceive, my body’s needs for fat, salt and protein, more in winter or when doing more physical activity outside, less at other times, and the one thing I could not resist, where I would finish a kilogram tin, was salted peanuts. I don’t have a problem with addiction and self-soothing with food, and see some people do.

Another verbal distinction which appears clear but is shifting. Addiction is bad. Self-soothing is necessary or unavoidable, and asceticism is also harmful. Words might help the conscious self get a grip on the goals and pitfalls. I hope the “promptings of love and truth in my heart” will help me get it right, and am unsure.

Ooh, this is new. I am not walking a tightrope, where a loss of balance to right or left will cause me to fall to perdition. Rather the path is the golden thread of my best self, which exerts an attraction on me, so that I can drift away from it and it will pull me back. That thread is God in me, despite the controlling messages of society.

I want what a human wants- to be loved and admired, say. I have various models for this. Conscious me second-guesses God within, and its fear and judgment pulls me away from her balance. Possibly the best thing conscious me can do is get out of the way.

I consider that pulling things into consciousness and analysing them has value. What is going on? What do I feel? What do I need?

Oppositions come to mind. Immediate impulse v long term goal; my own impulse v ones imbibed from society; goals imposed by society which oppress me v getting on in society for my own good; good v evil. I will continue to write about these, and analyse them. Does nondual reality mean that these oppositions do not exist, or that they are spectra rather than separate things?

Meeting for Stillness

Does the term “Meeting for Worship” put off people who are “Spiritual, but not religious”? Jan Arriens in The Friend suggested “Meeting for Stillness”, and Peter Jarman dismissed worship as “what happens in other churches”.

As an Anglican I believed in God the Eternal Father, Whom I worshipped. Just before I came to Quakers I found Matthew Fox’s explanation of Panentheism, God suffusing all that is, and later William Blake’s statement “Everything that is, is holy”. Rather than worshipping, I was communing- with the Mystery, with that which is greater than myself.

I took a combative line as a Christian against the non-theists: it’s a Meeting for Worship, we must be worshipping something, and was referred to Old English: weorþscipe, meaning worth or dignity: noun, not verb. But I still think Quakers have always used the term as a transitive verb. We worship God. What of those who reject God, as refugees from the Churches, or consider God a superstition? Meeting as a spiritual practice has value, and does not depend on belief.

Some might come to us having meditated, as a Buddhist or even non-religious practice. We tell them our meeting for worship is not meditation, as it is something we do together. Well, Buddhists meditate together, but in Meeting someone may feel moved to speak in love for the others gathered there, and for the World.

Jan referred to David L. Saunders’ article saying stillness is so much more than silence, which is merely the absence of speech or noise: it is about Presence. Be still and cool in thy own mind. In stillness, Saunders says, we seek the place of being, encounter, power.

There is no silence outside an anechoic chamber. Friends can worship at a noisy demonstration. There will always be distraction: I try not to be distracted, and sometimes the distraction inspires me.

Stillness is also a deceptively simple concept, the absence of motion. I sit in stillness for what happens in stillness to my perceptions, of my surroundings, the others with me now, and my accumulated experience of life in the world.

In a “Meeting for Worship” I still think you must be worshipping something. I turn outward to the mystery of all that is outwith myself, and inward to what is within me but beyond my ordinary conscious experience. What do I worship? If forced to put it in a simple phrase, I would say the “Mystery of being”, but the phrase does not satisfy me. I want a phrase which is immediately understandable- like, “Meeting for Stillness”- but which leads the enquirer attender or member into new depths. If I said I worshipped God, I would mislead some, and deter others. I am not a theist.

I do not like the word “Meeting for Worship”. I thought of “Meeting for Contemplation”. Meeting needs our concentrated attention, and diligent practice.

Another alternative is simply “Meeting”. At the moment it is shorthand- we go to Meeting, we say. It could be the whole term. Meeting what? Each other, or- something else, perhaps.

I thought of “Holy Meeting” or “Sacred Meeting”- a time set apart from worldly concerns- but these words remind me of the Christianity which at least since Constantine has been used to oppress people and maintain worldly control, and I support the seeker’s rebellion against that.

Meeting. Or, Meeting for Stillness. A practice of Love which helps human beings reach our full potential as individuals in community.

Quakers in Britain have a similar issue having rejected the word “Overseer”, meaning, roughly, pastoral carer, but not agreed on a single preferable term yet. We should check the terms we use periodically: might they mislead, or put off, someone who might otherwise join us? Are they accurate descriptions of the things they refer to?

Joy in the World

My calling is to manifest joy. That is a Truth about myself that I know. It fits my experience. What does it mean?

I have chronic depression, with little energy to tackle tasks (most of it channelled in this blog). Depression is not a matter of sadness but of motivation. I know I should, for example, clean my house, because it would be more hygienic and pleasanter to live in. At some level I might say I want to clean it; and yet I don’t, for weeks. I am not sure I can distinguish energy and motivation. Depression is different from anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure, which I do not have. I bit into a ripe pear this morning, and felt delight.

Joy may be linked to the state of being aware in the present moment. I find that a heightened state, which gives me pleasure. There is the monkey-mind, ruminating all sorts of old stuff, mostly fantasy rather than reality, and I drop out of that into Presence.

Joy is linked to positivity, to seeing possibilities and opportunities, movement, growth. Denial, the refusal to face uncomfortable truths, is anathema to it, because you never succeed in denying, you are always aware of the Problem on some level. Bracketing can be useful- I know the unpleasant Fact exists, and I will deal with it later but must deal with this first. Avoidance, picking anything to deal with rather than the Problem, is harmful.

There is joy in action towards a goal. “There is no ‘try’,” as Yoda said, that’s avoidance too, faking an attempt at doing something because you don’t believe you can achieve it. Joy in action is linked to exhilaration in movement.

Humanity is being, doing, knowing, and there is joy in our simple existence. It is filled with possibilities.

My niece, when she was a toddler, at one time had a practice of going up to her significant adults and saying “I love you”. “I love you, Uncle Stephen,” she would say to me, and I was at a loss how to respond. Eventually I said “That is what you are for”. That is the child’s value. Love will grow into action in time. Only love is real. She grew up, perceptive, with compassion and a strong sense of integrity. Now her daughter is three, and my nephew reports she too is very smart, loving and generous. They played a game together where you throw beanbags at targets, and when he missed she put his beanbag where the target was. Competition is all very well, but that was the common goal.

If my calling is manifesting joy, is this unique to me? Possibly stronger in me than in others. It is my fundamental nature. Someone ministered that our certainties are stripped away, and insofar as they come from outside us, from the culture, our certainties about ourselves may need to be (though it is possible that somewhere there is someone who is “normal”). Humans have different gifts.

I said in my revelation that my calling is manifesting joy, and communicating it. If I am simply myself, that may bring joy to others. If something makes me joyful and I show that others may see the delightfulness of that thing.

This is something I want to grow into, this year. The revelation is like a gift. I will explore it more deeply, and come to know it. I end with Edwin Muir’s description of a wise man, not elsewhere on line, from Collected Poems p288:

I think the shrewdest sweetest man
I ever saw, modest and yet a king
among his harvests, with a harvester’s eye
that had forgotten to wonder why
at this or that, knowing his natural span,
and spoke of evil as “the other thing”,
Judging a virtue as he judged the weather
Endured, accepted all, the equal brother
Of men and chance, the good and the bad day.

That is something to aspire to.

Mental states

How could one not be “present in the moment”? I have no time machine. Humans cannot simply “be”- we are always doing something, even if only breathing and taking in sense-perceptions. When we sleep our brains are making connections. It seems there is a “spiritual state” I would call “present in the moment”, which makes me think there are other states, somehow less than that. Moulded or traumatised, I live in such sub-optimal states; or, well-adjusted, I flit between states, choosing the one appropriate to my surroundings or task.

My ideal, now, is to “flow like water”, as the Tao Te Ching has it. In that state I am doing something without consciously controlling it.

I read that spirituality is not about “states”, but of course it is. An analogy: having learned the piano I can play scales in 24 keys, but there was a time I could only play a few, and had to learn the others.

Presence is not simply immediate experience without language. I know what a “table” is, can recognise or use it, because of the word. I cannot divorce experience from language, but there does seem to be a time when I am classifying and assessing verbally, and a time when I am relating. Relating seems better to me.

Colouring in these pictures was called “a quiet mindful moment in the spirit of self-care”, where I would call it a sensual activity undertaken simply for its own sake. Such activities are a way of not doing what one has to do. They may be recreational, in which case, choose the recreation which most delights you, or addictive, in that you use them to avoid pressing duties. Cleaning your house can be self-care, showing that you deserve it.

There is rumination. Like a cow, I return to old thoughts, and chew them over again. I tend to feel there is always some progression when I return to old thoughts, but then cows ruminate to digest grass. Things recede into the past.

There is paying attention. I look at an art work or listen to music and it occupies my conscious mind. There is worship, when I pay attention to the situation I am in. Sometimes, then, the ministry which is only for me comes to mind, a new realisation, which is unconscious processes making connections.

Or I just keep clicking through the same websites for dopamine, and the less dopamine I get the more desperately I click. I don’t know why I would rather read articles than books. I want to know.

Sometimes a physical need overwhelms me, and sometimes I am conscious of it, I pause to do something else, and the need gives me an extra kick to get my obedience. Different parts of the brain seek different activity, and strive for dominance.

I pause for a moment to check what I feel. One feeling recently seemed to deserve its very own German compound word- anticipation of delight, where the anticipation was so strong it was painful. Freudeangst.

There are things going on in my brain and body of which I am not conscious. I so want it always optimised. I never trust it is. I do so little because I rarely believe it will be safe.

Loving yourself

What would it mean to love yourself?

“Let your God love you,” she said. I don’t believe in God. I believe in a mystic observation, of love, light and guidance within, which human beings can access. It would be better, obviously, to have a theory including what this whateveritis actually is, to pin it down, to describe it in prose rather than that irritating poetry, but the bare observation of how people feel and what they do, and what they say about it, shows the whatsit, this “Light”, this “Spirit”

(note the anger, my loathing of my incomprehension, my frustration, my inability to use positive words unqualified, because “Light within” is a huge thing)

this Light within

No, I don’t believe in it. Such a thing could not be in me. Yet “Let your God love you,” shared in the zoom Quaker meeting as the Americans there enter their election day, hit me over the head. I may still be giddy from it.

Now, I know the poetry becomes prose, literal and merely descriptive. For example, “The disordered society is full of loyal patriots” (Tao Te Ching, 18) is merely true. What else are we to call the loyal patriots but what they call themselves? “Be broken to be whole. Twist to be straight” may eventually prove to be prose too.

I am grasping after prose. There is something I do not know.

This light within that people call God

Tomorrow I will cycle thirteen miles (I hope) and the difficulty of it will be admitting it is difficult, because it should not be difficult, it should not trouble me at all. There I was at war, between the part of me driving myself on and the part telling the driver it was too much, miserable, trying to suppress my feeling of misery below my own consciousness even though it makes me depressed and stops me doing anything. That’s the root of the depression.

Then there’s the “inner light Which Is god”

scare quotes again

which could be the primary feeling which I fear and seek to suppress, because I should not find any difficulty. That protean, mercurial, changeable, reactive thing within me, could it be the Light? And the problem with it is all those unpleasant feelings, the fact that when there is something I cannot allow myself to admit I find difficult it feels the difficulty.

And it seems so completely in the moment in the worst possible way, in that it seeks short term comfort. Be comfortable for a minute because I won’t be, within an hour.

For twenty years I’ve been on this

“Spiritual Journey”

and the point of it, I realised early, was not to feel angry and scared any more, and I realised that was what I wanted from it, and I realised that was full of shit even as I admitted it was what I wanted and I still wanted it. And I still want it. To stop feeling angry and afraid. To stop the world going on at its dizzying pace (here the world is, waiting for the result of the US elections, a lot of people feeling angry and afraid right now, loyal patriots terrified of each other)

I am on a spiritual journey

And then at worship someone shares a poem by Edwina Gateley finishing with the line “Let your God love you”. And I want that in prose. There’s the emotional being, within, feeling angry and hurt or frightened

when it is appropriate to feel angry, hurt, or frightened

and beneath it, perhaps, there is God, an inner light which I have never met, the bit I am supposed to have been seeking for nineteen years in various Quaker meetings, I may have been both wasting my time and disrupting every one else who has this Light, active and accessible.

God loves the emotional being. God, within me, loves the slave-driving part of me that cannot admit anything is difficult, because it is scared, and the resisting bit which is also scared and cannot bear the slave-drivinng bit. But both are complete shit, utterly worthless and bad, because they are scared. Who could love that but God?

“Hell is rejecting the love of God,” says prosaic Christian apology. That must be in CS Lewis somewhere.

How could I possibly? “Let your God love you.” Is there a God in me which loves all of me?

Just be, permit, and be loved, for c’est son metier. And then go out, not knowing who will be President (depending when you’re reading this) or cycling and being at war within, doing what you have to do.

There is a light within which loves me and loves the World and everyone in it. It is an emotional being looking at all of life and eternity. It is the Light of humanity.

Let your God love you.

Yeah.

Accepting the unruly self

Writing here, I only need persuade myself. Others get something from it: if a post has 27,000 views it appeals to people, but I can write a post if I like that might just get thirty, to clarify something for myself. And, I want to explain this to people, because I think it valuable. I tried, and met resistance, because it is counter-intuitive. So now I try again:

Moderately depressed, I can stay in bed until midday, and I have done so, periodically thinking, I ought to get up. I have to do X. X might be going to the supermarket, or doing some housework. I have to get up! I think to myself, panicking a bit, berating myself, then I go back to scrolling facebook. Then at midday I think, oh well, I am not going to do that today, I’ll spend the afternoon with the telly. And I do. This is not a way to endear myself to human society.

Mindful presence is part of it. Put down the laptop, it is just a distraction. I want dopamine, but facebook is a bad way of getting it. Put down the laptop, and I am alone with my thoughts and feelings, that shame, misery and desperation that I will not just GET UP! and do what I have to do. These are not pleasant feelings to face. Yet there are other feelings, not just about my inaction but about the desired action itself.

For a time in the Summer when I found this, I simply needed to acknowledge that I do not want to get up! And that, for me, was enough to get me up. There was some desire, some motivation, to get up and do the thing. Acknowledging the feelings stopping me, valuing and accepting that part of my inner conflict, was enough to make those feelings less insistent. “I do not want to get up!” I would say to myself, joyfully, and get up. The feelings affect me whether I am conscious of them or not, to the extent that I find consciousness overrated. I am not, primarily, a conscious being but an animal being. Somewhere else I have seen the simile consciousness is like a mahout on an elephant, and it’s not entirely clear whether the reins the mahout holds actually do anything.

Now I find I might make a better decision if I ask what, precisely, am I feeling about the X that I “ought” to do. That is, fully and completely acknowledging why I do not want to do it, or at any rate do not want to do it now. Unacknowledged, the feelings are too strong for me, demanding to be heard. Acknowledging them pacifies them. Therefore the counterintuitive suggestion, ask yourself all the reasons why you don’t want to go, what you feel and why you might feel like that, begins to make sense.

Now, I have no idea whether this is a common idea, which community psychiatric nurses routinely suggest to their patients, a more out there idea which has been the subject of an obscure TEDx talk, or completely original. That I have not heard of it is little evidence. Had I a name for it I might google it, but someone might have a different name. A name helps to get an idea accepted. It’s something like radical self-acceptance in the moment. I’ve just come up with the title for this post, thinking as I write, but there may be a better term for the technique. It’s a way of allowing feelings about the medium or long term take precedence. Feelings about Right Now are more insistent, and if I do not know what they are I have no tools for making decisions beyond the present moment. My post title says what I do, but a name expressing pithily what that achieves might be worthwhile.

I bring together the committee of the self, including the bits I don’t like, so they can decide together what to do.

I suggested this to someone, and she dismissed it out of hand, without even the need to explain why it was so wrong because that was obvious. Why would you think about why you don’t want to do something? That only makes you less likely to do it! Well, because those reasons or feelings are in fact stopping you from taking action, and examining them might help you address them. That the idea is hard to explain might show that it is less widespread.

Sixteen years ago a counsellor told me that “ought” is very poor motivation to do something. That is part of this idea.

God within, and Thomas Merton

God is in all Believers. Jesus said, “The glory that you have given me I have given them [the people who will believe as taught by his followers], so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you [God} in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” -John 17:22-23.

Thomas Merton put it this way:

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, 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. 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, 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, 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 … I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.

I got that from Richard Rohr. Rohr changes “His” to “God’s”, an inclusive language change which improves it, but changing Merton’s “sonship” to “birthright” as Rohr does takes away the allusion to Christ’s teaching, that we are His brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.

How does that “point of nothingness” relate to what I call the “Real me”?

Possibly, mystic theory gets in the way. If that at the heart of the human being is God, it must be good and pure. Yet I feel the Sociopath may have a clearer understanding of that human essence, less mask or ego, than most people. I am not sure. I feel in me, it is pro-social, but not that it is, of necessity, in all people. Jesus’, John’s and Merton’s idea of God within mean that part is without sin.

In contrast are “the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will”. Merton did not fully identify with that “point of pure truth”, but with his mind and will, or perhaps ego. The point of truth is beneath that, needing discerned, not clearly seen. However having found the “pearl of great price” we must “sell all we have to buy it”, for it is “the Kingdom of Heaven”. So we get rid of mind, will and ego and operate from the Pearl, or the Treasure found in a field, the Light or the point of pure truth. Merton had a conversion experience in Louisville on 18th March 1958, wrote this in 1965, and may have come closer to that “pure glory of God” later.

For Merton it is a point of “nothingness and poverty”, which may be a rejection of worldly values- the “boasted pomp and show of the worldling’s fading pleasure”- or admitting that the ego is simply and merely wrong, all its devices and desires meaningless and worthless.

It is without illusion. It sees everything I am too frightened to admit.

And- it is God. “To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees,” wrote Paul ValĂ©ry. No better name than “God” is available, because the word is capacious enough to include everything any human has ever used it for. The light within is indescribable in that it is illimitable, undefinable, not proper to be restricted to a concept or understanding of what it is. It is simply itself.

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Merton’s understanding of the false self is moulded by his life. In New Seeds of Contemplation, in 1961, he wrote (again quoted by Rohr)

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... 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 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.

That could fit my Born Again colleague’s experience of conversion, from sexual promiscuity and drunkenness to an ordered life following the rules and beliefs of her church, including in Adam and Jonah as real people, but Merton’s acceptance of Catholicism was twenty years before his “conversion”.

Merton was born in 1915 in France, the son of an artist, and baptised Anglican. His mother, a Quaker, died when he was six, and he never accepted his father’s new lover. He was sent to various boarding schools, and dropped out of Cambridge University where he “drank to excess and indulged in sexual licence” according to wikipedia. He may have fathered a child there. He took a degree at Columbia University, and stayed as a postgraduate. He chose Catholicism, had a second baptism in 1938, and became a monk in 1940.

My false self was moulded entirely differently. I wanted to fit in. I was completely controlled, and in my thirties decided “It is time to rebel against my parents”- my understanding of life was taken from them, so out of date when I was born. I drank to excess a few times at university, but fell in with a few men who did not, served at the altar of the Episcopal cathedral, and enjoyed folk dancing.

I have not wanted “experiences, power, honour, knowledge and love” but to fit in, not be noticed, and to survive quietly. I thought myself worthless, only of value for what I could achieve. I had to pretend to be the notional worthwhile human being inculcated into me, miserable and stressed because I never managed it.

I find the false self better understood through Carl Rogers. It is the self-concept, the understanding of who I am, formed initially by the parents’ or parental figures’ conditional positive regard, then either by conformity or rebellion as the child grows. Rebellion is as unfree as conformity. Merton, from a comfortably wealthy family yet insecure after his mother’s death, would form a particular false self. Our false selves are idiosyncratic, dependent on circumstances, and whether we ever shed them may depend on luck.

My conversion experience was 14 February 1999. During 1998 I became aware of a “vulnerable bit” of myself and in February 1999 realised it was the “Real me”. I have spoken from that part of me, which I now call God, and now want it to control my life entirely. Yet still, much of the time, my consciousness is thinking from the false self or ego. Distress may shock me into Real Self. Entering the Now, being present to the present moment, I can only be in the Real Self.

Merton’s understanding in that paragraph that Rohr quotes may also be moulded by Christian understandings of those outside the church, in “the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Possibly, with a sufficiently blessed upbringing, one might never form a false self at all. Whatever, many people do.

I feel that my real self has been caring for my false self, as in the “footprints” story where when there is only one set of footprints, Jesus carries the man. It maintains the false self’s amour propre. It is where my motivation resides, so if I have maintained the false self’s illusions it has been the action of the real self, to help preserve my feeling of safety, which does not keep me safe.

This is my mantra:

I am here
This is
I Am

I change it to “We Are” in Meeting. It brings me back to God within.