Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.-Carl Jung
We are of two natures in this life, sometimes called a lower self and a higher self, a false self and a true Self, an ego self and a Divine Self. These dualities in us run deep, and it often seems illogical or contradictory how we could be both. Here are a few of the ways we are of two natures:
- sinner and saint
- demon and angel
- human and Divine (God)
- dual and nondual
- mortal and immortal
- finite and infinite
- imperfect and perfect
- many and One
- separate and at-one
- imprisoned and liberated-free
- Satan and Christ
- ego and egoless
- broken and whole
- creature and Creator
- hell and heaven
- dead and alive
- time-bound and eternal
- impermanent and permanent
- void and pleroma
- dark and light
- son of perdition and Son of God
- self and no-self
- separate from God and at-one in God
- fallen and redeemed
- deterministic and free-willed
- nothing and everything
We usually think we are of one or the other, in a binary either-or way, but not both-and. But it seems to me that we are in a sense both at the very same time, a superposition of identities in life. And as Jung said in the quote above, becoming whole in life is not about cutting off part of our being, but the integration of the contraries, realizing a unity in the opposites of our nature, a coincidentia oppositorum which is perhaps Life itself.
Richard Rohr once noted this coincidence of opposites in the reality of Jesus’ life:
The Divine Mind transforms all human suffering by identifying completely with the human predicament and standing in full solidarity with it from beginning to end. This is the real meaning of the crucifixion. The cross is not just a singular event. It’s a statement from God that reality has a cruciform pattern. Jesus was killed in a collision of cross-purposes, conflicting interests, and half-truths, caught between the demands of an empire and the religious establishment of his day. The cross was the price Jesus paid for living in a “mixed” world, which is both human and divine, simultaneously broken and utterly whole. He hung between a good thief and a bad thief, between heaven and earth, inside of both humanity and divinity, a male body with a feminine soul, utterly whole and yet utterly disfigured—holding together all the primary opposites (see Colossians 1:15-20).
It was not only Jesus that was both human and divine, both broken and utterly whole, who hangs between good and bad, between heaven and earth, between male and female. He showed that we are what he is. We are also living in such a “mixed” world. Reality itself has this “cruciform pattern,” and we are part of reality. The day/night opposites of the Earth exist in us as much as they do in the world.
I’ve been intrigued by the following suggestion I found once in a Wikipedia article on the Book of Thomas the Contender:
The dialogue can also be read as an internal conversation between Jesus and his lower self, Judas Thomas, the twin (contender for supremacy of the soul). The New Testament’s “doubting” Thomas and Judas “the betrayer” could also be symbolic and descriptive of this internal battle between the Christ Self and ego identity.
In other words, the characters of Thomas and Judas might not be distinct individual persons in the gospel accounts, but different contending qualities within Jesus himself, between his doubting betraying lower self (Judas/Thomas) and his divine higher self (Christ). And even if they were separate people, Jesus identified himself with the lives of others, “inasmuch as you do it to them you do it to me,” and so the point may still hold true. Jesus’ life might have reflected this dualistic nature and identity, which was simultaneously both fully human and fully divine. And I perceive that this may be the nature of our lives too, and life isn’t necessarily about abandoning one for the other, but integrating both.
But how can we be both? It doesn’t seem logical in our minds. Let me describe how I think we may be both in a few of these qualities.
Mortal and Immortal
How could we both be mortal (subject to death) and also immortal (that which never dies)? It is perhaps because there are aspects of our nature which are mortal, and aspects that are immortal.
It seems clear what aspect of our nature is mortal. Our fleshy biological bodies die. These are mortal, they are born, they age, and they eventually pass away. The foreknowledge of our death is perhaps a unique quality of human consciousness. We know that we will one day die. The mortal body is not eternal. It was not meant to be. Everyone who has ever been born has also died. It is like a wave in the ocean, it arises, lasts for a time, and then subsides back into the ocean or crashes on the seashore, and comes to an end. The realization of our mortality should be a cause to cherish the preciousness of life while we have it, and to live every day to its fullest, because it is limited and finite.
But there is also an aspect of our being that is immortal, that is unborn, and which will never die. We might call this the spiritual nature, the divine nature, the Christ nature, the life of God, consciousness, the “I am.” But those can get wrapped up in a lot of theological concepts. There is at least one aspect of our nature that seems to be clearly immortal, and that is the energy/matter that makes up the elements of our bodies and which flows through us giving us life, breath, and consciousness. As is found in the first law of thermodynamics (aka the law of conservation of energy), energy cannot be created or destroyed. It only changes form from one kind to another. It is never created or born. It is never destroyed or dies. It is eternal in nature. The same energy that was here in the very beginning of the universe will still be here at the very “end,” it has just changed form innumerable times. It is even now taking form in our bodies, flowing through us as the heat-energy of our metabolisms, and radiating into the environment around us. This perhaps brings new meaning to Jesus statement that we are the “light of the kosmos” (Matthew 5:14). Those fundamental energies and elements that make up the totality of our bodies and minds is immortal.
Broken and Whole
Many of these qualities are related to each other. Take this one, that we are both broken and whole, at the same time. We often think we are broken, cut off from the presence of God, sinful in nature, fallen, and our desire is to be whole again, to be returned to God’s presence, to be redeemed from sin and the Fall. The truth may be that we are both, simultaneously.
The dualistic nature of our minds makes us think that we are a “subject” separate from all other “objects” in existence, our “self” seems to begin and end at the border of our skin, and all other things in the cosmos are not me but “other.” This has a tendency to make us feel separated from the rest of reality, small in comparison to the totality of the cosmos, apart, disconnected, broken off from that whole, a mere drop in the ocean that is the universe. Our identity has contracted into the individual person that we usually identify ourselves to be. This contraction of identity into a singular finite person I have suggested before is what the symbolism of the Fall of humanity is pointing towards. It is the emergence of this particular personality, this particular body-mind, this particular “ego” or individual “self” separate and distinct from all other beings in nature. The “original sin” is perhaps the thought that we were separate, and “sin” is perhaps that which continues to separates us from one another, divide us, make us feel that we are disconnected and apart. The “separate self” is “sin” in this sense. It does not feel like it is in the presence of God, but is cut off from that presence. This is the “natural man” and “carnal mind.”
But deeper within us we are not broken, we are not separate. As Thomas Keating once noted, “The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from God.” The apparent separation is perhaps a product of our everyday state of consciousness in this body-mind, which constructs the subject-object duality of our perceptions, such that we can experience the world from a finite localized point of view. But just because our consciousness perceives reality from a finite perspective in reality does not mean it is not more deeply connected to the whole of reality.
This might be compared to a regular dream at night. The dreamed world is all part of the dreamer’s mind, but the mind must reduce itself to a finite character in the dream, a finite point of view, in order to experience the dreamed world. The character in the dream might think that it is limited to only its finite being in the dream, and the rest of the dreamed world is a separate “other,” but when they wake up they realize that it was all part of the dream, the character as well as the totality of the dreamed world.
So it is with our deepest being. It is whole, at-one with the totality of reality, even at-one in God, being an emergent being of reality, like the leaves on a tree, or a wave in the ocean. The leaf is not separate from the tree, nor is the wave separate from the ocean. The leaf is an expression of the tree, the wave is a manifestation of the ocean. We think we have become separate from God or Ultimate Reality because of the emergence of self-awareness in our psyche which localizes the “self” to our particular person, but this is a kind of illusion of the mind as Einstein realized. We are redeemed from this “sin” of separateness, from this “Fall,” and returned to God’s Presence when we transcend the duality of our everyday state of consciousness and the “self.” We realize we are Whole, and have always been Whole and at-one with all of reality, but our dualistic state of consciousness was like a veil over this truth, hiding it from our knowledge.
Human and Divine
One last one, which gets to the heart of the matter, but includes the above points. We are both fully human and fully divine, at the same time, just as Jesus was. How is this possible? We certainly don’t feel divine most of the time. We feel quite mortal, imperfect, limited, and small. How could we also be divine?
We usually consider ourselves merely human. We are of the species Homo sapiens sapiens. We are born human, we live very messy human lives, and we die human. Never do we seem to become divine during our lifetime. We are full of errors, delusions, misunderstandings, faults, brokenness, imperfection, blind spots, shadow, suffering. We don’t appear to be full of love, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, immortality, wholeness (holiness). We bleed, we break bones, we injure our bodies, we get diseases, and we die. We are mortal, and we are often tragically immoral, acting either consciously or unconsciously contrary to what we know is good and right. We “sin.” We are finite, limited, imprisoned in our small sense of self. How could we be divine as well? That seems to make no sense.
As I described above, while often feeling like we are broken, in a deeper sense we are whole. While feeling like we are mortal, there is a deeper essence in us that is immortal and will never “die,” but will be “reborn” continually in new forms, new lives, new bodies. The “problem” is perhaps that we identify ourselves with only the particular body-mind, the “subject” in the consciousness that is arising in this particular form, the ego of this particular “self.” Consciousness seems to have reduced itself to only the finite limited form of the individual person, and everything else in the world and cosmos seems to be something apart from it, something else, some “other.” The leaf on the tree can only see itself as the leaf. The wave in the ocean only knows itself as the wave.
But when we transcend this egoic self, when that construction of “self” falls away from consciousness, when we enter into a higher contemplation of our being, we come to see and know directly that what we are is non-dual, it is not separate from anyone or anything else. We realize we are One in God, and we are that One its Self. We are at-one with all beings, all forms, everything in the totality of the cosmos. And this is not seen as some kind of delusion of the mind, but it is the annihilation of all delusion, and it strikes one with the force and truth of a billion suns. It is the realization of our redemption from all limitations, all boundaries, all walls, all divisions, all separateness, all distinctions, all differentiation, all temporal identities, all finite identities, all brokenness, all errors, all illusions, all mortality, all ego. The ego has died to save the true Self, or said another way, the true Self has saved its Self from the “false” identity of ego. We realize ourselves in the heart of God or Ultimate Reality, as God its Self, this infinite Love, this Oneness, this Truth, this Eternity, this Ground of Being, knowing this as our deepest fundamental true essence.
As St. Catherine of Genoa realized, and shouted it in the streets:
My deepest me is God!
We come to the mystical realization that God is living its Life in us, through the manifestation of our flesh, through the incarnation of our bodies, through the expression of energy in our lives. God is not a separate omnipotent being apart from us, but is the deepest omnipresent being in the heart of all Reality, and we are all an unfolding of that Divine nature of the cosmos itself.
When we realize this directly in consciousness, it doesn’t mean that our particular body-mind has become fully God, that its particular expression is the totality of the God-Self, but rather that God is expressing its Self in all bodies, minds, life, and forms everywhere and in everything. It is all a manifestation of God. All of it, although some things may have more God in it than others. Some parts of this manifestation may be more unconscious than other parts, and therefore do things in that ignorance which are contrary to its deepest nature. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
So we are simultaneously fully human, and also fully an expression of God, sometimes also called a “child of God,” or a “Son of God.” This is our Christic nature, our Buddha-nature, the Nirmanakaya as a manifestation of the Dharmakaya, the Atman in us that is one in Brahman. It is the al-Insan al-Kamil. It is the Tao of our deepest nature; our nature is at-one in that Nature.
Our lives are a collision of opposites, a duality of natures, but these dualities find ultimate union in One that surpasses all understanding. All opposites are reconciled in that One. We are part of that Holy (Wholly) One, even if we don’t know it. The practices of contemplative prayer or meditation are some of the traditional means of coming into that knowledge space, of realizing that mystical union, of recognizing this deepest of insights, to know it truly in yourself, for yourself, and by so doing realizing one’s fundamental oneness with all other beings in reality, which is also called Love.
Those who realize this insight become Zion, a people of one heart and one mind, and who live their lives in the embodiment of these dual natures, at the crossroads of this cruciform pattern of reality, this unity of opposites. They have transcended and included all cultural systemic notions of good and bad, such that they are at-one in that Source of all morals and ethics, the Good its Self, even Love.
Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. And between the two my life flows.-Nisargadatta Maharaj