Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.
This is the man that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy.
My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God's will and God's love — outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion.
We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves — the ones we are born with and which feed the roots of sin. For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin.
All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge, and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.
But there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed. I am hollow, and my structure of pleasures and ambitions has no foundation. I am objectified in them. But they are all destined by their very contingency to be destroyed. And when they are gone there will be nothing left of me but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness, to tell me that I am my own mistake.
Father Thomas Merton "The False Selves of the Evil Tenants." from New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1961).
Copyright 1961 by The Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky. He is the author of over 70 books including The Seven Storey Mountain, New Seeds of Contemplation, and Wisdom of the Desert.Copyright © 1961 The Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc.
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