A Feature Review of
Immortal Diamond: Searching For Our True Self
Reviewed by David Nash
Country recording artist John Anderson once sang, “I’m just an old chunk of coal, but I’m gonna be a diamond some day.” Fr. Richard Rohr, in this book, describes the process by which one is transformed into a diamond.
Richard Rohr is becoming a spiritual guide for this generation. He is a Franciscan priest who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and serves as its Founding Director. He claims the spiritual master Thomas Merton, the Cistercian monk, as his mentor. In Immortal Diamond, Rohr follows and expands on Merton’s concept of the False Self and the True Self. It was Merton who first used the language of the “False Self” and “True Self.”
Rohr opens up the dynamic between the two by first casting the vision of living in the True Self in Chapter 1. In Chapter 2 he turns to the theme of the False Self and defines it in depth moving beyond his work in a previous book Falling Upward. There, he describe the ego self (or False Self), and how it functions to resist the growth of spiritual maturity in a person, especially as that person moves into the second half of life. Immortal Diamond continues to reveal the intra-personal dynamic between the False Self and the True Self. How this dynamic seeks its True Self by recognizing and moving beyond the False Self is the burden of this book.
Perhaps my own False Self prevented me in the past from getting a firmer grip on the reality and function of the False Self. Over the years I have struggled with the notion of the False Self. Primarily in graduate school and later in clinical work, the concept was loose and elusive for me. Although in retrospect, I dealt with it in therapy and in counseling others. In the process I discovered Merton and an outstanding Spiritual Director who led me into a deeper experience of discovery of what all of this means. It may be that the reader of this book will also confront one’s own False Self here, and in doing so, begin to experience resurrection.
It was not until I read Immortal Diamond that the fog began to lift. Rohr devotes Chapter 2 to describing the characteristics of the False Self, and how it functions in one’s life. (A summary and a diagram of these characteristics are placed in Appendix A. Note: also, there are eight helpful Appendices of Practice –Based Experience included in the book.)
Rohr sets out “four major splits from reality that we have all made, as follows: we split “from our shadow self and pretend to be our idealized self; our mind from our body and soul and live in our minds; life from death and try to live our life without any ‘death’; ourselves from other selves and try to live apart, superior, and separate.” (29)
How to view the False Self? It is what gets us started in life. The False Self is who you think you are. It is a social and cultural construct, the building blocks of your life, that enable you to get by, the identity that gets you started on your life journey. The False Self serves a grand purpose: it is how we define ourselves as opposed to others which gives us stability, like a chunk of coal.
The False Self is not to be condemned, as Rohr makes clear throughout the book, for it has its own purpose, like a chunk of coal. Rather, it is better to recognize the interplay between the False Self and the True Self, for the soul moves back and forth between them. In contrast, the True Self “is who you are in God and who God is in me.” It is resurrection living with God as the reference point in one’s life. It means becoming aware of one’s self (as opposed to judging one’s self) and living in the mind of Christ. (XII). The foundation of life becomes the resurrection, and the stresses and pressures between recognizing one’s False Self and choosing one’s True Self is what transforms one to an “immortal diamond.”
In moving toward one’s True Self, that is, one’s resurrection self, there is a dying and a becoming of life within one’s self. The False Self is relative, not absolute, and mortal. Eventually it will go the way of all that is mortal. The movement from the False Self to the True Self is similar to the “life-long dance of transformation.” Rohr asks: “What dies? Your False Self – and it is just a matter of WHEN, not IF. Who lives? The God Self that has always lived, but now includes YOU. And note that it is a WHAT that dies, and a WHO that lives.” (66)
Rohr begins Chapter 4 (The Knife Edge of Experience) with a brief essay on symbols and metaphors. He describes “the most effective symbol … the greatest and most beautiful (symbol) that the human heart seeks and desires” that of the resurrection, “A universal pattern of the undoing of death.” (77) Resurrection works under, in and through everything Rohr writes about in this book. I find Rohr’s discussion of resurrection throughout the book both enlightening and enlivening.