Being empty of oneself – the spiritual view

The previous post looked at the sense of being empty of oneself from the psychoanalytic view with the understanding that before we open ourselves and surrender to God there needs to be a robust sense of self in the first place. This then can be put to one side during times of contemplative prayer. We need our ego to function in the world and to help us set aside time for prayer as well. We need our ego to help us trust the experience of meditation. My suggestion is that also in order to trust what we are doing in contemplative prayer or meditation we need a sense of living an experience together with God – there needs to be a sense of a ‘more than ourselves’ or Presence or what has been called ‘divine assistance’.
In the patient seen by Enid Balint all those years ago the young woman felt she had not been seen or recognised. One of the things that can happen when we are alone with God is that we can feel known and recognised; in other words it is a personal relationship. This is clearly different from other non-Christian forms of meditation. We are told that Christ is in us and with us and around us and so as we set aside concerns and try to clear our minds faith encourages us to trust that in the emptiness and that in the void there is both meaning and companionship. We are ‘alone with the Alone’.
Generally we need to feel integrated enough to believe that this is in our best interests and for the good, however for some people healing of deep loss and trauma can take place through spiritual practice either alongside psychotherapy or after a period of therapy. And of course deep healing can take place through grace and there are a number of accounts of this type of breakthrough including the now famous account by Eckhart Tolle.
Integration does also happen through regular meditation; the sense of self that is developing is not the one linked to the persona or the person that we present to the world, but it is a strengthening of our essence and inner core, what Merton called the true self. He questioned ‘Who is this “I” that you imagine yourself to be?’ and saw it inevitable that as we meditate we come to see our alienated external self. The paradox is that as we shut down from the external world our inner world comes alive and this experience can then feed us as we go back out into the world. Merton thought that contemplation changed our relationship with our sense of self and also helped us with our relations with others and with nature through a growing sense of the interconnectedness of things. This is not the same as a blurring of boundaries and weak ego but comes from a recognition of our relationship with the Creator of all.