When we say “undoing the self,” what is meant is not a physical or material undoing, nor a mystical revelation of heretofore unglimpsed or uncharted realities, but rather that we are simply less wrong about what it means to be a self than before. That’s all.
It is a bit like when a child who has believed in Santa Claus for a long time no longer does. Nothing is really different – the same images of Santa will show up in songs, television shows, cards and so forth. Gifts will still appear under the tree. She’ll just have more clarity about what’s actually happening which in turn will allow for a more coherent engagement with the holiday.
In other words, to “undo the self” is basically to see – slowly, gently – what the self is not, which in turn allows for a more coherent and functional overall “seeing” to occur.
This concept – seeing the false reveals the true – is important. The truth is true and what impedes our knowledge of it are false ideas and beliefs, which include our insistence on a special personal prerogative with respect to reality.
We don’t create the truth or reality; we are part and parcel of it. It is what it is and we are, as the old song went, only passing through. We are “one with it” the way an eddy is one with the river – it has its own thing going on, but it’s really just the river.
It is possible, through meditation exercises or chemicals or other means, to experience this oneness. However, this is not an especially big deal – it’s just a sensual experience, like eating cheesecake or running uphill. It’s lovely and sweet when it shows up, but it doesn’t “mean” anything.
In truth, all experience points at oneness, not just the seemingly holy or mystical or supernatural experiences. In life, nothing is excluded. Inclusivity and equality are the law – a kind of radical neutrality – and they don’t bend.
“My life” is not more valuable than a blue jay’s. It is not more important than an earthworm’s. It is not more complex or mysterious than a rose bush or a black hole or the western wind.
And let’s not even get started on the notion that some people are more or less valuable/important/interesting than others. It can seem that way – and we certainly can perceive it that way and act according to our perception – but it is emphatically not that way.
Freedom cannot be learned by tyranny of any kind, and the perfect equality of all God’s Sons cannot be recognized through the dominion of one mind over another. God’s Sons are equal in will, all being the Will of their Father (T-8.IV.6:7-8).
Substitute “Creation” or “Life” for “God’s Sons” and “Father” and the sentences may resonate more clearly.
The point isn’t about bipeds, or masculine bipeds, or some discrete Divine Entity overseeing human affairs who also happens to be masculine.
It is simply about the natural experience that attends all life. Life recognizes itself as life.
Do you not think the world needs peace as much as you do? Do you not want to give it to the world as much as you want to receive it? (T-8.IV.4:1-2)
Don’t over analyze those questions! Just give the answer that is there to be given, and then let the resultant clarity – even if it’s not overwhelming – guide you through the day. How far a sincere yes will take us!
A more formal ACIM teacher would say that your “inner teacher” – Jesus, the Holy Spirit, et cetera – will be your guide.
But perhaps it is simpler and clearer than that. Your common sense and propensity for love will guide you. It is simultaneously no big thing and the biggest thing ever. And you are it.
So really, the work we are doing is not anything fancy. There is nothing mysterious or spiritual or supernatural about it. We don’t really need a teacher. It doesn’t cost anything. Nobody else “has” it or has “more” of it.
We are simply making contact with our inherent capacity for reason and love, and allowing that – rather than our fear and the insanity it inspires – to be the compass by which we steer ourselves.
There are a lot of ways to talk and write about this stuff. I tend to indulge – in my admittedly half-assed way – metaphysics and philosophy from a Christian perspective. There is nothing right about that, save that it happens to resonate for me and for some other folks. And there is nothing wrong with that, save that it has a tendency to obscure the inherent simplicity of being, and sometimes to privilege people whose skill sets lean towards that kind of writing and thinking.
So part of the work as well is to recognize that obscuration and – without demeaning the one behind it – to stay focused on the real work of being kind and clear and helpful. It is not easy! We are talking about a very radical kind of communication here, and we are talking about becoming the sort of people for whom such radical communication is natural.
Every step of the way we will want to privilege and indulge our inner feelings, our personal narrative drama, our apparent preferences. That’s okay! That, too, inheres in experience.
The suggestion is simply to notice it, and in noticing it, notice its origins in fear, guilt, exclusivity and specialness. When we see those origins clearly, we will begin to glimpse – to greater and greater degree – a transcendent love as well. It will be increasingly easy to avail ourselves of that love because – in truth – it inheres in the human observer.
Indeed, we learn that it is not hard to be loving because, in nontrivial ways, we are love. The joy and peace love brings to us is known primarily in and through extension to others. There is no other way because we are already what we seek: are already the very home in which we long to rest.
“The joy and peace love brings to us is known primarily in and through extension to others.” Therefore, I will reflect that back to you! That’s what I’ve wondered what “thanks” is, the extension of love but back in the same direction it came from. I imagine extension is spherical, but that means it can’t help but bounce back in the direction it was received from! And that “special personal prerogative with respect to reality” – as the mother of false beliefs – is age old and feisty, huh? In AA its emphasized that “it was self-reliance that had failed us” and “self-centeredness was the root of our troubles”. But without the “personal” inquiry into the “person”, to me it became about a blaming/shaming by/of the storied self. Really no different than how I bet original sin came about. Both probably were no different than your quote, but we keep re-discovering it for/in each self, the real value of being “centered” on the self experience. Including/especially finding no actual noun-self! Undoing the self in love is the greatest love of all! Go Team-Life!
Your comments always make me smile, Mike. Thank you for sharing them.
I have been having a fairly intense dialogue lately – partly with other writers, partly with myself, and partly with other folks who are thinking/inquiring along similar lines – as to whether the “storied self” goes away or transitions into something so light – like a lovely soap bubble in summer maybe – that it’s only noticed in its loveliness. There is some suggestion in the various literatures – theological, spiritual, psychological – that, yes, such levels of undoing are possible. It is a way of asking: just how happy can we be?
Thanks again, Mike. Love,