Becoming who we already are

Becoming who we already are
Mindful Living

These articles on meditation each month are written to point towards a contemplative way of being in the world and to nourish in readers an awareness of who they are at the deepest level of their being. It is not particularly helpful for anyone to take a single article and to draw inferences that are unwarranted. But neither is it helpful if my message is open to misinterpretation, so let me clarify a few things.

Christian churches

It has been a recurring theme in these articles that the Christian churches, or should I say denominations, have placed an inordinate emphasis on doctrine and dogma, on scripture and tradition at the expense of personal experience. They inform one another and together they inform our understanding of our faith and our appreciation of who we truly are. But in the absence of personal experience, dogma and doctrine lose their intrinsic meaning. As the renowned theologian, the late Fr Michael Gallagher SJ wrote “Spirituality comes before theology: If faith is not an experience of encounter, we have little to reflect on except the words of others. And they will ring hollow unless touched by personal fire”.

Meditation, as a daily practice, creates an ongoing opportunity for rich personal spiritual experience. Of course, just as dogma and doctrine need to be informed by personal spiritual experience, such experience needs to be considered and interpreted in the light of scripture and tradition.

The contemplative tradition of our Faith, as articulated by saints and mystics down through the centuries, assures us that in the quiet of meditation, as we let go of our thoughts, we begin to encounter that which lies beneath – we begin to apprehend the deep, mysterious silence beneath the noise. I deliberately use the word apprehend rather than comprehend because we never fully understand it. And, what is it that we apprehend? We apprehend that we are loved and have always been loved by God – not for our talents or our achievements, not for our ego or our performance – but that we are loved for who we truly are, that we were created as love by Love and remain intimately connected to the ground of all being. We discover, as Thomas Merton described it, that “underlying the subjective experience of the individual self there is an immediate experience of being… [which] is totally different from the experience of self-consciousness”. Merton described this discovery, this growing awareness, as the discovery of our true-self, which is love.

This kind of knowing is experiential knowing, it is trans-rational spiritual knowing that arises from personal spiritual experience. And, because the Church doesn’t often talk about personal spiritual experience, we may not have the capacity to recognise it when it happens. So it is important that we create opportunities for contemplative practices and also occasions for exploring them in light of contemplative writings, scripture and tradition. Christian Meditation Ireland does this on a regular basis.

For centuries, the word sin has been associated with personal wrongdoing, with individual moral unworthiness – in other words, in terms of personal transgression. But, from a contemplative perspective, sin is grounded in the illusion that we are separate, not that we need to be saved because of what has been conceived as ‘original sin’. We do need to be saved, but what we need to be saved from is that foundational illusion of separateness because when that fundamental untruth guides us, our actions become grounded in the egoic desire for power, prestige and possessions.

What most people understand by sin is, of course, a consequence of that illusion. From a contemplative perspective, the essence of the Good News of the Gospels is this revelation of who we already are. The Gospel message then, is not about atonement for sin, but about ‘at-one-ment’, about shattering the illusion of separation and living life from that new perspective. This may be a reframing of the concept of sin from the traditional approach but it does not ignore, downplay or deny sin.


Nor is there anything in this perspective that reduces Jesus to a Buddha-like figure or sees him merely as a teacher of spiritual enlightenment. As Christians we believe in a Trinitarian God. John Main taught that when we come into the silence of meditation we enter the flow of love between the Father and Son and he described that flow as the Spirit. Christian meditation is grounded in this understanding and our intention in meditation is to leave ourselves open to such a graced encounter so that it transforms us; so that we might see and help others to realise that, as Thomas Merton described it: “We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and God is shining through it all the time.”

Meditation is not a practice for personal salvation, but for awakening fully to the God-filled present moment. As we come to appreciate the truth that the Spirit dwells within us, we find we are no longer motivated by any outside reward or punishment but our motivation and compassion come from the knowledge that we are participating in the mystery itself. Hopefully, we find we no longer engage in mere rule-following behaviour; instead, it is our awareness of our actual identity in God that drives our actions so that we become truly responsive. As meditation transforms our relationship with the divine, we find ourselves naturally drawn to live our lives out of that understanding, informed by the spirit within us growing ever more in harmony with the Holy Spirit.

The fruit of meditation is contemplative, compassionate action in the world. As John Main wrote: “The all-important aim in Christian meditation is to allow God’s mysterious and silent presence within us to become more and more not only a reality, but the reality in our lives; to let it become that reality which gives meaning, shape and purpose to everything we do, to everything we are.”