THE SMALL SELF REDEEMED

I’d like to continue considering the concept of the ‘small self.’ In psychology which has been borrowing from Buddhism since the Mindfulness movement began, the small self is the ‘I’ you identify and talk about with others. It’s your identity or the thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and positions you hold that contribute to your sense of self as separate or unique from others around you. In Buddhism the main point is to escape the small self and so to realize that you are one with the universal. Christian thought takes us in a different direction. Rather than escaping the self, Christian spirituality advocates for a surrender of the self to God and leads away from a blending with the universe and instead identifies a unique personal relationship that God and the individual can enjoy. This is a defining element of Christianity. The small self can be small and noticed and loved. Experiences of awe that leave us feeling small can be healing. Mystical experiences that focus on the present moment as the Mindfulness movement has popularized, can also bring us to an acceptance of self as small and cherished without the need for inflating self regard. This distinctive teaching of Jesus is the foundation of Christian contemplative practice and can offer deep psychological and emotional healing.

Neuroscience has taught us that our brains use memory-based information far more than we realize. We predict what will happen in the future by what we have learned in the past. This means we can remain mired in old experience rather than taking in new experience. Research suggests that 80 percent or more of what we perceive is based in this memory-based view of self, or the small self, rather than in current information coming in through our eyes and ears. So the small self can constrain our ability to respond freely and authentically in the moment. We’re too busy feeling old fears and defending against them. The Mindfulness movement in psychology based in Buddhist philosophy would say we need to learn to escape the small self. I would suggest that Christian practice can help us transform the small self, redeem the true self that is hidden within. We’ll keep exploring this together in the coming weeks.

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