True Self and False Self: Freedom to Be Our True Self
Guest writer and CAC faculty member James Finley continues exploring insights on the true self and false self that he gleaned from Thomas Merton.
Merton quotes Meister Eckhart as saying, “For God to be is to give being, and for man to be is to receive being.”  Our true self is a received self. At each moment, we exist to the extent we receive existence from God who is existence.
Our deepest freedom rests not in our freedom to do what we want to do but rather in our freedom to become who God wills us to be. This person, this ultimate self God wills us to be, is not a predetermined, static mold to which we must conform. Rather, it is an infinite possibility of growth. It is our true self; that is, a secret self hidden in and one with the divine freedom. In obeying God, in turning to do God’s will, God wills us to be free. God created us for freedom; that is to say, God created us for God’s self.
Phrased differently, we can say that God cannot hear the prayer of someone who does not exist. The self constructed of ideologies and social principles, the self that defines itself and proclaims its own worthiness is most unworthy of the claim to reality before God. Our freedom from the prison of our own illusions comes in realizing that in the end everything is a gift. Above all, we ourselves are gifts that we must first accept before we can become who we are by returning who we are to the Father. This is accomplished in a daily death to self, in a compassionate reaching out to those in need, and in a detached desire for the silent, ineffable surrender of contemplative prayer. It is accomplished in making Jesus’ prayer our own: “Father, . . . not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
We must break free from the lie that we are separate from God and the misguided desire to lay hold of God as a possession. In Merton’s words:
Only when we are able to “let go” of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire inner life. 
This letting-go in the moral order is the living out of the Beatitudes. In the order of prayer, it is in-depth kenosis, an emptying out of the contents of awareness so that one becomes oneself an empty vessel, a broken vessel, a void that lies open before God and finds itself filled with God’s own life. This gift of God is revealed to be the ground and root of our very existence. It is our own true self.
~Adapted from James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God through Awareness of the True Self (Ave Maria Press: 1978), 72,73, 78.
 Thomas Merton, “Obstacles to Union with God,” tape.
 Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (Image Books: 1996, ©1969), 67.