Daily Meditations

True Self and False Self: Living in God

Guest writer and CAC faculty member James Finley continues exploring insights on the true self and false self that he gleaned from Thomas Merton.

In ways known only to God, the one seeking God in silence unexpectedly falls through the barriers of division and duplicity to discover, as Merton writes, that:

. . . here, where contemplation becomes what it is really meant to be, it is no longer something infused by God into a created subject, so much as God living in God and identifying a created life with His [sic] own Life so that there is nothing left of any significance but God living in God. [1]

This “disappearance” is the antithesis of loss of self. Rather it is an expression of the true self’s final consummation as a created capacity for perfect union with God. Thus, this disappearance is actually a manifestation of ourselves as radically one with God. The only self that actually vanishes is our false self, the separate self we thought ourselves to be. Within the context of this contemplative awareness, we actualize Jesus’ words: “He who loses his life shall find it” (Matthew 10:39).

Merton says the contemplative realizes that the ego-self is:

not final or absolute; it is a provisional self-construction which exists, for practical purposes, only in a sphere of relativity. Its existence has meaning in so far as it does not become fixated or centered upon itself as ultimate, learns to function not as its own center but “from God” and “for others.” [2]

This is why Christ came, that through him and in the Spirit we might find our fulfillment in union with the Father. Merton relates this contemplative transformation of consciousness to the whole of Christian life, saying:

This dynamic of emptying and of transcendence accurately defines the transformation of the Christian consciousness in Christ. It is a kenotic transformation, an emptying of all the contents of the ego-consciousness to become a void in which the light of God or the glory of God, the full radiation of the infinite reality of His Being and Love are manifested. [3]

~Adapted from James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God through Awareness of the True Self (Ave Maria Press: 1978), 139-140, 144-145.



[1] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New Directions Paperbook: 1972), 284.
[2] Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite (New Directions: 1968), 24.
[3] Ibid., 75.