Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tangled Up in Self

"Know thyself." This aphorism was inscribed in the forecourt of the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Marcus Aurelius said, "Look well into thyself." It is good advice. Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."

The daily examen is an ancient Christian spiritual discipline. The apostle Paul advises us to examine ourselves regularly to see whether we are in the faith, especially before partaking of the Lord's Supper.

Self-examination is an important part of my spiritual practice. But I find that when I examine myself that my self is elusive. As soon as I look at myself, my self shuts up and hides, as if afraid of being seen. He hides in the background and goes silent, fearful of the spotlight of self-examination.

When I try to identify the characteristics of my self, all the candidates for selfhood are found to be not my self. "No, that is not me, and that is not me... neither is that." They are fictions, stories I tell myself about myself to keep myself from knowing myself. After peeling away the layers of the proverbial onion, there is nothing that I can identify as my self.

The only self I can find is the unexaminable self that is looking for self. Even that self is not a being but a process. I am "selfing." I create my self and then identify myself with my self in an endless loop. Tangled up in self.

I have created a lot of selves over the decades. I am continually in the process of recreating myself.  I am the process of creating temporary selves. As they wear out I create a new selves, like a lizard growing a new tail. I am good selfer. I never run out of selves. I am so good that I even convince myself that I am the new self ... until I need a newer self.

It is the uncreated selfing that is my true self. That is who I am; not the self. To examine this not-self self is to be examined by God. As Meister Eckhart says, "The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love."

As the psalmist said, "Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; Try my mind and my heart. For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes."
Art is "Self Portrait" by Pablo Picasso, 1972.

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