I spend the weekend with Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monastic. A Roman Catholic priest. Author of more soul-shaking books than I can count. In my “inner circle” of formative, Steven-shaping mentors and heroes. All sponsored by The Stillpoint Center for Spiritual Development, an inspired oasis of advocacy, refreshment, beauty and inspiration that surprises in this desert of caliche, cards, craps and cacophony.
Rohr’s new book is “Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self.” I don’t so much read Rohr’s books as I drink them. Chug them. Like a thirsty man just come in from doing yardwork on a hot summer day.
Already but not yet. This is the paradox of authentic selfhood. I am already Steven, but still learning how to be wholly and authentically Steven. Which is to say that much of what I am reacting to in myself — positively or negatively — is not very important. A distortion of me. The False Me. A collection of images and ideas, most of which were grafted into me by parents and then wider culture. Which is to say my False Self is not my fault. Yet, it is my responsibility. If I’m serious about authentic selfhood, the journey must include radical accountability for the mayhem created within me and around me by my False Self.
So, there are two of me, competing for playing time. I’m like a basketball coach who keeps his best player on the bench while watching his clumsy scrub grasp, claw and flounder.
By the way, all of this is true for you, too. Rohr has his finger on a universal truth here. A paradoxical truth. We are beings, yes, but still learning to be human beings. Everyone shapes a False Self. Everyone must search for (or, if not, eventually stumble upon) a True Self. It’s not like this is a new idea. Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) said it this way in “The Prophet”: “But your god-self dwells not alone in your being. Much in you is still man, and much in you is not yet man, but a shapeless pigmy that walks asleep in the mist searching for its own awakening.”
Modern psychology points to this same necessary journey with words such as psychological development, individuation, differentiation, etc. C.G. Jung said the archetype of The Self must be “mined” from the unconscious. Mined? This must be why Rohr used the metaphor of the “immortal diamond.” Wanna find your true self? Get ready to dig for a long time in the dark. There will be some harrowing moments, I assure you.
All major world religions come down to this necessary journey: that the False Self is discarded, relinquished or torn from our grasp by suffering, humiliation or eventually mortality so that this deeper, True Self might emerge. Jesus, for example, kept returning to this admonition of paradox: “If you want to find yourself, then you must lose yourself.”
Sometimes I think spirituality, whatever its “brand name,” comes down to this: deciding to be conscious and intentional (that is, to participate actively) in a process of transformation that’s going to beset you sooner or later anyway. I’ve worked in hospice. Not a lot of False Selves lying in those beds. Though I wouldn’t recommend waiting until the last two weeks of your life to begin the work of selfhood, I’ve met folks who do. It’s … not pretty.
Every time I see Richard Rohr, he says something that makes me wince, blush, say “yikes,” then I’m filled with relief. This time Rohr says, “When you get your feelings hurt, it almost always means you’re struggling with your False Self.”
And I wince. And blush. And I say “yikes.” I get my feelings hurt a lot. I suddenly see a world with everyone held hostage, walking on eggshells lest they hurt Steven’s feelings. And I see and feel the absurdity of my self-importance in that equation. And then I start to giggle with the relief of knowing. The laughter is healing. Yep, it’s a wonder I have any friends at all!
But I do. And I give thanks for the people who refuse to crumple before the onslaught of my False Self. For now I see my True Self but in a mirror dimly. But the real me is in there somewhere. And I’m not giving up.
I keep on digging in the dark.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.