Rebirth and transformation of consciousness

Thomas Merton saw the renewal of the self and the new creation in Christ – in other words the idea of rebirth ‘as a central fact of Christian existence’ and ‘fundamental to Christian theology and practice.’ As he tells us in ‘Rebirth and the New Man’ in Christianity this is not merely a ritual affair or result of exterior acts it is rather an ‘inner revolution’ involving complete self-transcendence and transcendence of the usual cultural norms and attitudes, where all are seen as created, redeemed and loved – ‘one in Christ.’ The insistent voice which tells us ‘you must be born again’ is in part about a recovery of something and some quality of being that is still deep within us: it is to become ourselves.

Merton saw this as the search for inner truth and as an inner transformation of consciousness, and importantly as both a psychological and spiritual rebirth, and it is this that is the goal of authentic maturity. Resurrection for Merton is in part a metaphor for contemplation involving an inner revolution: ‘It is the obscure but insistent demand of [a person’s] own nature to transcend itself in the freedom of a fully integrated, autonomous, personal identity.’ He sees this as a deep spiritual instinct, an urge for inner truth that can be found, as in the poem, through interior silence and contemplative prayer: it is ‘a continuous dynamic of inner renewal.’

‘Emphasis is placed on the call to fulfil certain obscure yet urgent potentialities in the ground of one’s being, to ‘become someone’ that one already (potentially) is, the person one is truly meant to be. Zen calls this awakening a recognition of ‘your original face before you were born.’

Rebirth involves a death, and so the dynamic of resurrection consciousness is a continuous earthly transformational pattern of dying and rising. The Franciscan Richard Rohr says that we need to deeply trust this pattern and if we do we are indestructible. Rather than the death and resurrection of Jesus as some kind of heavenly transaction it is instead an earthly transformation on his and our part that can only be achieved by deep trust but that in the end saves us from meaninglessness, cynicism, hatred and violence – which is indeed death. For it seems as if the process is not one of ascent, but rather descent, and this involves going into the darkness to see the light. This it seems is what is required, and through it we will be known.

And we know this from meeting and coming to terms with our shadow in analytic work…not a pleasant task and sometimes humiliating to find that what one dislikes so much in others is in fact a strong but previously repressed part of oneself. In my personal experience it has taken years to uncover and look at some of this stuff – often easier to be the victim than to accept the inner bully and so on. Yet the ideal is to integrate and so become a whole or real person…warts and all.