Monday, January 11, 2016

A Spirituality Of Subtraction

I have occasionally mentioned something called the “Spirituality of Subtraction”.  This is an idea that is difficult for the young.  It should be.  When one is young it is a time to build up and to accumulate.  You acquire an education.  You begin a career and perhaps start a family.  You buy a house and fill it with stuff.  Youth is a time of building and gathering.  This is the point of the first half of life.  More often than not, while we are doing all this building and gathering, we are also creating the illusion of who we think we are.  This illusion is what some people call the “false self”.  The second half of life is very different.  One begins to de-construct and let go.  Sometimes, despite whatever education you have acquired, you may feel like you don’t know anything at all, but, hopefully, your knowledge has turned into wisdom.   When you were young and thought that you were smart and knew everything, that was an illusion of your false self.  The career that you spent your entire life acquiring may be slipping away.  You may be losing interest in it or it may be losing interest in you.  If you’re lucky you have some good relationships with people you love and who love you in return.  As you are growing older your children are growing up.  They leave your nest and continue their own journey of life.  The changes you are going through will also happen to them eventually.  At some point you will realize that you no longer need that big house or the BMW in the driveway.  This is not totally for practical reasons.  It is that such status seeking possessions have lost their meaning.  Your priorities change.  When you begin to de-construct and let go, many of your illusions are exposed and your “true self” begins to emerge.  Most of you who are young will read this and think “What is he talking about”?  Those of you past 50 probably understand me.  None of this is good or bad.  It is a natural process that we will all participate in with different degrees of satisfaction and pain.  My thoughts and knowledge about the false self/true self, the “Spirituality of Subtraction”, and the idea of the two halves of life have been acquired from the teachings and writings of two major influences in my life.  One is Thomas Merton and the other is Richard Rohr.  Merton lived in the same monastery where I once lived, although not at the same time, and Richard Rohr was my teacher and is still my friend.  Both of these men continue to influence me in my thinking and approach to life.

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