Inner Work – Asking Who am I Really?

Like most post-modern western Americans, I have spent a lot of time figuring out who I am and how I should change myself and do better. Entire industries are built around this examination, and vast collections of books are available that give us the down and dirty steps for change.  I have tried to change myself. It doesn’t work.

Acknowledging the framework for life as existing because of and through God’s love places me in a different relationship with the natural world, history, and the communities and people around me [1]. I can ask myself questions without judging. What do I identify with because of the country, the region of that country, race, family, and religious structures I have experienced? How does this new framework change those beliefs?

Experiencing myself from within the framework of God’s love gives me the confidence to look honestly at myself. Who am I really? What are the parts of myself that I try to disown but need to bring into the light of God’s love with compassion? Knowing how God loves gives me the courage to engage those aspects of myself and others with that same love.

In his book, Call to the Center The Gospel’s Invitation to Deeper Prayer, Basil Pennington states that the “kingdom of heaven” is within us [2]. The kingdom of God was always something communal and out there for me. The coming of the kingdom would only happen in life after death, in heaven, not in the world of everyday life. I was taught that God’s Spirit lived within us, but Pennington talks about “God’s own Spirit” being “given to us to be our spirit.” This combining of God’s spirit with my own is an even more intimate image of the divine being with each of us [3].”

How I define my identity has changed. My true self is not a kingdom within with a God who rules over me. I have a new understanding of the real me as part of, joined with, a God whose identity is love. Cynthia Bourgeault, in her book Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, describes this view of identity as “the innermost point of truth” that shares the likeness and substance of God’s own being [4].” I can relax and live in the mystery that my being is flowing from God’s.

Thinking about God’s spirit and mine as one opens up a pathway to allowing myself to act from that true self instead of from personas I present to the world. My true self lives in harmony with God. When I acknowledge this new relationship, the focus of life changes. I focus less on what other people are doing and how it affects me and more on my internal connection with God and acting in concert with God in the world [5]. The emphasis moves away from how others might perceive my actions to creative freedom. Surrendering to God changes from giving up what I want or trying harder to do something different from in the past. Surrender becomes what Thomas Keating describes as openness and “consent to the presence and action of God within us [6].”

I could stay theoretical and in my head about this, which is an old habit and one I rely on easily. I have to make the conscious choice to allow God’s love to move down into my body and change my heart, letting new actions flow. I have to be willing to embrace all the parts of myself, my humanness, as well as “embracing the world just as it is [7].” Buddhists call this the Samaya Vow, where we see that “we are bound to reality, bound to everything we perceive in every moment [8].” I become more aware of how I am connected to everything through God’s Spirit, which moves within everything.

My culture didn’t teach me how to stay with reality or how to have compassion for my human failures. Human nature puts us at the center of our universe. When the world was not to my liking, I learned that my choices, when I didn’t see how to change things, were to protect myself from blame, blame others or distract myself. Being grounded in the knowledge that God loves the people around me as well as me, I can let those old patterns of response fade. I can return my mind, heart, and body to that “kingdom of God” within me and offer the love I find there to myself and others.

Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.

Romans 8:11 (The Message)

[1] Center for Action and Contemplation. “‘Our Story,’” January 26, 2021.
[2] M. Basil Pennington OCOS, Call to the Center The Gospel’s Invitation to Deeper Prayer, Kindle (New York: An Image Book Doubleday, 1990), 46.
[3} Pennington, 30.
[4] Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening – Kindle Edition by Bourgeault, Kindle (Lanham, MD: Cowley Publications, 2004), 14.
[5] Pennington, 59.
[6] Bourgaulat, 24.
[7] Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change, Kindle (Boston, MA: Shambala, 2012)., 101.
[8] Chodron, 108.

Photo by Bradley Dunn on Unsplash

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