Tag Archives: contemplation

The seminarian’s unexpected experience

It’s been five years since I went back to school. The goal was to finish up my undergrad so I could attend seminary. Now, three years into seminary and only 6 classes left, I have experienced some major shifts.

CST

I chose Claremont School of Theology (CST) for several reasons. First, I was attending a Methodist Church so it made sense. Second, I was attracted to Process Theology. Third, I wanted to attend a progressive seminary that was not only open but also inclusive of LGBTQ person’s. Fourth, I saw that CST was engaged in interreligious dialogue and education and felt this was important for any spiritual leader in the future.

The biggest part of that decision was attending a place that was open, diverse, and liberal leaning. I wanted to find a place where I could explore, question, and feel free to challenge and/or change any beliefs I needed to. I know this should be the goal of any religious education, but sadly it is not.

I have gone through a major theological shift since I first went back to complete my Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies five years ago. It seems like an eternity ago, but in the scheme of things five years is not all that long.

Yet, the theological shift has not been the most surprising to me. I had been on a journey for quite some time, and even though I was raised in a more conservative tradition, I had been drawn to people who were pushing the boundaries, asking tough questions, and inviting dialogue. Engaging in theology was not new.

The most surprising experience has been an introduction to contemplative spirituality and the idea and importance of spiritual formation. I had spent several years wrestling through many beliefs and views (my embedded theology) and had largely lived in my head. I think that was necessary for a time, as many of the beliefs I was given as a child no longer made sense to me. I grasped for something that worked and eventually realized that my beliefs, views, and ways of seeing the world will always be changing, evolving, and growing.  I think I’m coming to a point where I’m ok with that, and I think that is largely due to contemplative spirituality.

One of the first classes I took at CST was a class called Spiritual Practices. We engaged in different forms of prayer, meditation, and ways of engaging with Scripture that I had not done before. This opened up a lot for me. I always felt that meditation was for the few “elite” or those monks, and was never all that interested. Then I realized that true formation comes much more from surrender, from mystery, from experiencing wonder, and from releasing my attachment to all things (including my beliefs), than from developing a clear and systematic theology. My spiritual formation classes have become the one’s I have most enjoyed so far, and I look forward to taking a couple more before the end.

I understand that everything forms us. Education forms us deeply, and that has been a large part of my spiritual formation, one I am very grateful for at CST. How one is educated is a part of spiritual formation, and I have been educated alongside of those with diverse views, diverse ethnic and geographic areas, as well as people of different religions than mine. Surely this has all shaped me deeply. My beliefs have shaped me, my experiences have shaped me, my lifestyle (including diet) has shaped me, my friendships have shaped me and the list goes on and on. Yet, at the center of all this is contemplative spirituality, and I am becoming more convinced that this is perhaps the most needed thing in our polarized world of conservative/liberal, religious/non-religious, republican/democrat, etc. At the very least, it is what I seem to most need.

The idea of trying to “convert” others to my way of thinking is less and less interesting. The idea of arguing or debating about the correct doctrine, belief, or religion is less and less interesting. Sure, I still think there are destructive views out there that should be exposed, but what I am finding even more interesting is the idea of becoming a more healthy, whole, and compassionate human and helping others do the same. Instead of seeing different religions as either right or wrong, I see within each system either healthy or unhealthy – mature or immature – ways of being. The healthy or mature ways bring about a more loving, whole, and compassionate human…no matter what religion, belief, or world view they come from. My experience also suggests this to be true. I have met plenty of prickly, judgemental, and self-righteous Christians and some loving and compassionate people who are not Christian.

So, despite a theological shift, the thing that has most surprised me has been a curiosity and formational experience with contemplative spirituality. I went to an education center to realize that education, while being a part of formation, is not the only part or even the main part of spiritual formation.

I plan to write in the near future why I believe contemplative spirituality is so important.

The False Self

We all have both a True Self and a False Self.

Being able to tell the difference is everything.

Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves…There is an irreducible opposition between the deep transcendent self that awakens only in contemplation, and the superficial, external self which we commonly identify with the first person singular. Our reality, our true self, is hidden in what appears to us to be nothingness.               – Thomas Merton

falseself

My spiritual journey has lead me to contemplation, which seems to be the best route (the only route I have found) that exposes the False Self and helps you walk into your True Self – the core of spirituality.

According to one of my favorite authors, Fr. Richard Rohr, In contemplative prayer we move beyond language to experience God as Mystery. We let go of our need to judge, defend, or evaluate…During contemplation we come to know that there is no separation between sacred and secular. All is one with Divine Reality.

The spiritual journey is meant to be a pathway to discover our True Self – that self that is hidden within, often behind the mask of our False Self. The False Self is that part of us that we prop up that makes us look good to others, hence the image of a mask. It is not actually who we are (our True Self), it is something we hide behind, but it is something we unconsciously fight to keep propped up so we don’t have to deal with all the junk within. If I can’t be as good, smart, or successful as I want to be, I at least want others to think that I am.

The path to uncovering the False Self means we have to be honest and vulnerable in order to expose the weak part of us – no one likes this!

In The Gift of Being Yourself, Psychologist David Benner writes Our false self is built on an inordinate attachment to an image of our self that we think makes us special…Initially the masks we adopt reflect how we want others to see us…Few things are more difficult to discern and dismantle than our most cherished illusions. And none of our illusions are harder to identify than those that lie at the heart of our false self. The false self is like the air we breathe. We have become so accustomed to its presence that we are no longer aware of it.”

The False Self is an illusion, an illusion that is prevalent in every person, and is largely unrecognized. While many non religious people are unaware, religion can actually be a place that bolsters the False Self. I think this happens more times than not.

Immature or lower levels of religion prop up the False Self by creating more labels, divisions, doctrines, and dual (either/or) ways of thinking. Contemplation slowly breaks down these walls and divisions and brings a non dual (both/and) awareness. Often the False Self is that part that feeds off certainty and security. No wonder the False Self is well fed in the religious mind!

  • How do you expose the False Self?

Ask yourself what you feel the need to constantly defend and there you will find the False Self.

Those things, ideas, beliefs, images we are attached to are sure signs of our False Self, hidden within. Dr. Benner writes, “the false self needs constant bolstering. Touchiness dependably points us to false ways of being. And the more prickly a person you are, the more you are investing in the defense of a false self.”

Do you feel the need to consistently defend your own self-importance, self-worth, intelligence, success, views, or beliefs?

Those things we are attached to  are obstacles to finding our True Self – that part that doesn’t need to defend, compare, divide, or fight against. These attachments keep us from becoming vulnerable and keep us from dealing with our own shame, insecurities, and feelings of inadequacy.

My own journey as lead me to uncover my False Self in unexpected ways – in my own insecurities and feelings of inadequacies. I want so badly to appear smart, intelligent, accomplished, and put together. I constantly, and most often unconsciously, compare myself to others who are smarter than I, more charismatic than I, and the list can go on and on.

One of the most helpful tools I have discovered along the way is something called the Enneagram (I will share more about this in the future). I will also share steps to take to enter more fully into your True Self, or at least the path I am on, which is largely a path of knowing and accepting.

Stay tuned!