Who Am I? Who Are We?

In the last paragraph of the November 5 Shalom I wrote that Oneness with God or Union with God is the result of hard work in personal transformation in contemplative life. This statement needs some initial explanation for a start.

We start by answering the questions, “Who am I? Who are we?” And our answer is, I am thinking but I am not my thoughts; I can get emotional but I am not my emotion; I can feel the sensation in my body but I am not my body sensation. And why not?

Because I am a separate entity from my mental, emotional and sensory activities like thinking, having emotion and feeling sensation. In other words, I witness, I see, I am aware of these objects outside of me. In technical terms, my separate self is on another level of consciousness called transmental or transpersonal.

Thinking, feeling and sensing belong to that intersection of the “outer person”, “outer human nature” or “outer self” called the ego. Thoughts, emotions and sensations are called ego concerns. This is where the interests of the intellect, emotion, perception, memory and will intersect. And where our problems occur.

While the real I Am, the witness and seer who is simply aware, is what the Scriptures refer to as the “inner person”, “inner human nature” or “the inner Self” or more commonly as “the soul”. This is where God, according to the mystics, is experienced. Also called our true self or essential nature, this is what Dominican Meister Eckhart calls “spark of the soul”, the author of the Cloud of Unknowing terms “the Ground”, St. Teresa of Avila calls “the Interior Castle”, the same reality the gospels speak of: the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, and eternal life. How can I experience this? In the previous article I wrote that this is the result of “hard work in personal transformation in contemplative life.” What does this mean?

This “hard work” refers to “the dark night of the soul” in the symbolic words of the Spanish Carmelite mystic St. John of the Cross. This consists in the relentless struggle to control the negative or self-serving aspects of the ego concerns through the observance of such ascetical practices as fasting, self-control, long hours of silent contemplative prayer, etcetera, aided by a competent guide.

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