“…For Thomas Merton the “… 'False self' has primarily [an] ontological meaning… We are dealing with a self that is real, but only at a very limited level of reality. The false self keeps us on the surface of reality: both its fears and its joys are superficial. It is limited by time and space and to time and space: it has a biography and a history, both of which we write by the actions we perform and the roles we play and both of which are destined to cease with death. That is why Merton calls it 'the evanescent self' or the 'smoke self' that will disappear like smoke up a chimney. Its well-being needs constantly to be fed by accomplishments and by the admiration of others. It is the ego self, the self as object or, in Merton's words:
…the self which we observe as it goes about its biological business, the machine which we regulate and tune up and feed with all kinds of stimulants and sedatives, constantly trying to make it run more and more smoothly, to fit the patterns prescribed by the salesman of pleasure-giving and anxiety-laden commodities.
What must we do to move beyond this empirical ego, which alienates us from our true being, and recover that true and substantial self which is beyond and above the level of mere empirical individuality with its superficial enjoyments and fears? The Christian answer (and there are similar answers in other religions) is that there must be death and rebirth. To quote Merton again:
[I]n order to become one's true self, the false self must die. In order for the inner self to appear the outer self must disappear: or at least become secondary, unimportant . . . True Christianity is growth in the life of the Spirit, a deepening of the new life, a continuous rebirth, in which the exterior and superficial life of the ego-self is discarded like an old snake skin and the mysterious invisible self of the Spirit becomes more present and more active.
This growth involves an on-going transformation, whereby we are liberated from selfishness and grow in love so that, in some sense, we become love or, in the words of our basic text, we are 'at one with everything in that hidden ground of love', which we can only experience but never explain. We die to selfishness and come alive in love…”
- William H. Shannon, Original Blessing: The Gift of the True Self (PDF copy attached below). Source, The Way: A Journal of Contemporary Spirituality published by the British Jesuits.