Other Writings the real self

Thomas Merton on the ‘real self’

I consider that the spiritual life is the life of [one’s] real self, the life of that interior self whose flame is so often allowed to be smothered under the ashes of anxiety and futile concern.

— Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

In these few words Merton has spelled out the scope of this blog:

  • the ‘real self’ God made us to be;
  • how to find it;
  • and how to fan it aflame amid the ashes of our lives.

It boils down to what I have come to believe is the good news of the Gospel:

Following Jesus leads us from our fake selves to our real selves,

from living in our heads to living from our hearts,

from advancing our own agenda to receiving the gift of His,

from thirsting for the next transient thrill to drinking deeply of eternal life.

  • What do you think of the notion that each of us has a ‘real self’ that God loves and nurtures?
  • To what extent do you feel in touch with your real self?
  • What are the ashes in your life that hinder your real self from emerging and thriving?

I encourage you to consider writing out your answers, either in a journal or in the comments section (as others have done).

Grace and peace to you…


7 replies on “Thomas Merton on the ‘real self’”

I equate the real self with the true self.

Here is a line I remember from when I first read it 50 years ago:

“I only wanted to live in accord with the promptings that came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?” – Herman Hesse

My ashes tend to be ego-based. When I refuse to get out of myself, to empty myself, to consider all possibilities. I like that the Dalai Lama talks about he is but one of 7 billion other humans walking the face of the earth, today. That is humbling, that is real, and I ask, why should should I of all of those other 7 billion be right? Why not instead of being in community and a part of those 7 billion of the total creation?


Hi Robert,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Do you remember which of Hesse’s books that quote is from?

I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on community. I know you have posted on that topic at times – maybe this would be fodder for a future post? My experience with ‘community’ is that people seem to long for it, they have the impression that other people have it, but when it gets down to the nitty gritty of it, it’s messier than most of us can handle and we want out.

My ashes, at least the layer of them I can see now, seem to be at least partly about letting my desire to please others get in the way of being myself…or letting my desire to be myself get in the way of actually serving and sacrificing for others…or trying to figure out a proper balance.

I’m glad to have this discussion with you; I think we are ‘community building’ through our blogging.

Grace and peace to you…



The Hesse quote is from the epigraph to Demian.

Here is an example of how I find community works for me. Two very important “communities” for me are my Wednesday morning centering prayer/book discussion as a part of the School for Contemplative Living here in New Orleans and my Sunday morning worship and Sunday school. This past summer I was in Peru for eight weeks and physically separated from these two communities. In advance of leaving I made arrangements to continue participating from afar in some capacity. For my Wednesday morning group, I committed to “practice” centering prayer from Peru at the same time as my fellow community members did as a group back in Louisiana. I also emailed comments about the week’s reading back to the group in advance. For my second community, each Sunday morning I played sacred music for a while and listened to the taped version of the previous Sunday sermon posted to the internet.

After the first couple of weeks the novelty of the experience began to wear thin. Though I continued the practices for the entire time I was gone, and I had a strong sense of connection, I quickly came to understand that what was missing was being in physical community. The chatting before, after, and during. The greetings, the hugs, the visuals – it was very much so not the same.

Here is another example. In the first week of this past December I participated in a two-day event that hosted the Richard Rohr author of the Divine Dance, a book our Wednesday morning group had read and discussed earlier in the year. There were 1400 people who attended the event. I very much felt a oneness with the entire community though I knew very few of those attending. About mid-December I attended a Saturday Advent workshop with about 15 other people at a nearby church. I knew very few of the people attending, but as I looked around the room before the workshop began, I thought if I ran into these people on the street, I would not strike up a discussion on spirituality with them. However, as the event progressed, nearly every person in the room made reference to their attending the Richard Rohr event or having read some of his books. I thought how my own stereotyping and profiling of people prevented me from immediately feeling a part of this community as well.

In the past couple of years I have come to appreciate community much more than every before.

Blessings and Peace to you.


Thank you for sharing more about your own experience of community. I’m curious…where would you place yourself on the Introvert/Extrovert continuum?


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