No-Self, the Anatomy of the Journey

Originally the subject matter of this series was planned to be included in our previous one, The Doctrine of the Void, but it was evident that the riches contained therein were just too many and therefore justified its own run.  Bernadette’s contemplative acumen began at an early age, but later coalesced into the monastic Carmelite tradition, one whose goal was centered in Absolute Union with the Godhead. It was within this framework that “loss of self” is automatically configured into the total transformation of personhood into the majesty of the transcendent. Throughout this process the self always maintains its unique identity and never once “loses its ontological sense of personal selfhood.” She later awoke to the fact that there was being revealed a form of a “permanent state in which there was no self, not even a higher self, a true self, or anything that could be called a self.” It needs to be unequivocally stated that this realization is not satori-like in fashion, but one which is slowly revealed in two distinct movements:

The first movement is toward self’s union with God which runs parallel with the psychological process of integration, wherein the emphasis is on interior trials and dark nights by which the self is established in a permanent union with God — the still-point and axis of its being. In this process we discover that the self is not lost; rather a new self has been found that now functions as an undivided unit from its deepest, innermost center.

Following this first movement is an interval (twenty years in my case) during which this union is tested by a variety of exterior trials whereby this oneness is revealed in all its enduring depths of stability and toughness against all forces that would move, fragment, or disturb its center…

Bernadette bemoaned the fact that these “intervening years” between movements is greatly ignored in contemplative literature. In point of fact the literature’s usual emphases is exclusively on the major transitions and just bypasses those gaps which are, in reality, prominent pointers to what transpires in the cocoon stages that must be endured before the metamorphosis explodes into transcendent beingness. The magnificent second stage culminates in a falling away of selfhood itself.

The onset of this second movement is characterized by the falling away of the self and a coming upon of “that” which remains when it is gone. But this going-out is an upheaval, a complete turnabout of such proportions it cannot possibly be missed, under-emphasized, or sufficiently stressed as a major landmark in the contemplative life. It is far more than the discovery of life without a self. The immediate, inevitable result is a change of consciousness, an emergence into a new way of knowing that entails a tremendous readjustment when the self can no longer be an object of awareness. The reflexive mechanism of the mind — or whatever it is that allows us to be self-conscious — is cut off or permanently suspended so the mind is ever after held in a fixed now-moment, out of which it cannot move in its uninterrupted gaze upon the Unknown.

We covered these movements in our varied series on John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. The journey of transformation indicates a new-from of mystical “seeing” into the Great Beyond where selflessness resides and reveals only THAT which remains. Bernadette rightly asserts that this journey is definitely not for the faint of heart:

This is not a journey for those who expect love and bliss; rather, it is for the hardy who have been tried in fire and have come to rest in the tough, immovable trust in “that” which lies beyond the known, beyond the self, beyond union, and even beyond love and trust itself.

This then “begins the journey beyond union, beyond self and God, a journey into the silent and still regions of the Unknown.” Yea, a journey beyond the beyond itself.

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