True Freedom, True Self: Engage the Spirit’s Restlessness
Dec 03, 2014 12:31AM
● By Kim Morey Feeney
Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and spiritual writer of the mid-20th century, defined a human existence that merely breathes, eats, sleeps and works without awareness, purpose and independent thought as not really a human being, but rather a life simply absent of physical death. For a human being to be truly and fully human, one must carry on the activities that Merton defines as “proper to one’s own specifically human kind of life.”
Therefore, he continues, for a human being to live authentically, he or she must think intelligently, directing one’s actions by free decisions made in the light of one’s independent thought; those decisions must cultivate one’s spiritual and intellectual growth, making one more aware of the capacity of his or her free will. These decisions must also expand one’s ability to love and to do good. Thus, in a few words, for a human being to be truly oneself, the person must be wholly alive, being all life in the body, senses, mind and will, explains Merton in No Man is an Island (Merton, 2002).
In a time of marked scientific and technological growth, it has become a societal norm to focus time and energy on attempting to make something of oneself; and so to just be oneself has become a challenge. Because of the ease with which one can acquire information, the human mind is often satisfied with verifiable fact, believing it keeps life simple. However, it also makes for a simple mind. Many human beings have become trapped in their own minds, seeing the world in positives and negatives, good and bad, myself versus the other.
The dualist perspective derives itself from an unconscious denial of the self as a divine creation; an inability to see oneself as a part of an inconceivable, interconnected being, and that one’s consciousness exists as consciousness itself, independent of one’s incarnate body. This dualism is what creates the individual mask, or false self, a self that we each create for ourselves to move through the world “safely.” When one allows values, priorities, material possessions, spirituality and decisions to simply reflect that of collective society, one buries the true self, the higher self, beneath the false self.
In allowing the false self to dictate thought and action, and therefore overshadow the true self, human beings create an awareness of themselves that tells them they can fulfill all of their own needs at any time. As technology seemingly allows communication to become simpler, we really become more disconnected. This is the essence of the power of collective thought. It is simple to promote a message, especially if it appears empowering. But empowerment really comes from within, from the true self that is divinely created and whole. Power equates to freedom, or so we are led to believe. The cheapest form of freedom, the power of choice, creates the illusion that one can fulfill one’s own needs at any time, and therefore that one is “powerful” and “in control” of his or her own life, his or her own fate. This feeds the illusion that we are autonomous beings, self-sufficient and free. But the stirring within one’s heart is telling a different story. It is freedom that really leads to empowerment.
There is a global awakening underway, marked by an increasing awareness in both individuals and communities, that true freedom comes from something profoundly deeper than the ability to choose from a list of consumer options. It is a stirring deep within, as the old standards by which one lived no longer apply to the shifting needs and concerns of the awakening soul. Out of this stirring arises a yearning for communion, for spiritual union with the Divine within ourselves and others. So the presence of this awakening is revealed in a greater inclination toward deeper freedom and a longing for connectedness. This stirring is what gives hope to the awakening soul as well as fuels its growth.
The soul’s preparation for this growth is often accompanied by some discomfort to the ego. Perhaps the challenge of this discomfort is that living a path that honors the soul’s integrity and engaging authentic relationship creates vulnerability, and subsequently to the ego’s fear of powerlessness. This powerlessness is illusion.
Human beings tend to misjudge powerlessness as weakness and frailty; rather, it is facing that sense of powerlessness that indeed makes us powerful, as divine creations and co-creators with God/the Divine. Facing our vulnerabilities, which may be as simple as asking others for help and support, and challenging the ego, is what paves the path to wholeness and integration with the Divine within oneself and within the greater human community.
A human being’s true power lies hidden in the restlessness of living a life that isn’t true to one’s deepest self. Because it is in this discomfort and sense of powerlessness that we reach out to the Divine and seek connection with others. It is in calling out for God and reaching for our fellow human beings that we shift into that place of truth within each of us, the place inside that longs for connectedness; that longing is real and it is holy, and it is so by the very nature of who and what we are as human beings.
“Rescue me from the mire, and do not let me sink. Rescue me from those who hate me and from the watery depths.
Do not let the flood waters overwhelm me, nor the deep swallow me, nor the pit close its mouth over me.”
~ Psalm 69
This is not to say that the false self is bad or negative; rather, the false self is in itself false because it lacks fullness of being. As illusory as the false self is, the false self that is individually fabricated to be pleasing to others does so for the purpose of seeking human connection. One projects a self that is lacking fullness of being, but at its core, the false self exists as a distorted attempt at seeking acceptance and love and to be in relationship. We see a reflection of the true self in our outward actions. It is not the true self, but a reflection. The true self seeks connectedness; the false self, in its own erroneous way, tries to make that connection happen.
Paul Lehmann in The Decalogue and a Human Future asserts, “Responsibility is the nexus of freedom and power in the experience of being and doing what is human in the world.” Our responsibility is to use our knowledge to avoid causing suffering and to find the true purpose of our own life. So long as we live and breathe, the knowledge of our very humanness tells us that life has meaning and we are responsible for its never-ending search. The process of living and growing, of accepting more responsibility, tells us that life must have meaning, that we must discover it, live according to it and live for it. In growing, there is a gradual, increasing awareness of what we live for.
Merton, as a Catholic priest and Trappist monk in the 1950s and 1960s, embraced the concept of zen, because its very existence points to direct, unadulterated experience, free from distraction. He encouraged its use of silence, contemplation and solitude to sustain one’s mindfulness of the one interconnected world.
The restlessness of the spirit tells us openly and honestly that here and now is the time for an integration of mind, body and spirit; to live in such a way that our outward actions and decisions reflect our desire for interconnectedness and communion. Facing the restlessness will bring forth a peace that is both holy and profound.
Kim Morey Feeney is the founder and owner of Lantern House, a spiritual learning and healing center and gift shop in Wilton. She studied at the Union Theological Seminary of Columbia University, graduating with an M.A. in systematic theology. She is an intuitive consultant and spiritual director, and serves as a meditation facilitator at Lantern House and throughout Fairfield County. For more information, visit LanternHouseLiving.com.