This is the last installment of my intentional engagement with David Schnarch and “Passionate Marriage.” (All that to say, since the book hasn’t been shelved and is still roaming about my house, I’m sure I’ll be dipping in here and there in the future.)
Here are the previous posts in this mini series:
This last excerpt is taken from Chapter 14, from the section Self Transcendence and Self-Dissolution. (bold is mine)
“Sebastian Moore says that our desire of fullness is, in essence, a ‘death wish’: life crises like falling in love, undergoing conversion, or suffering bereavement present the painful and bewildering demands that the ‘you’ whose desire brought this about must die. Boundary experiences arise from confronting the limits of what you can attain as the person you are currently. To fulfill your desires, you have to change in ways that make that fulfillment possible. This means that the smaller ‘you’ dies as a fuller ‘you,’ a more unique ‘you,’ is born. We desire our self to death in the most positive sense.
“We can consider the paradox from another perspective: throughout this book…we have explored the need to hold onto yourself. But holding onto yourself and becoming more differentiated actually leads to the loss of the self you’ve been holding onto. My clients begin to mourn their ‘old self’ dying in the process of a new self being born. (…) It’s the death that gives life, but they’re often wistful about it. They talk of not knowing who they are, but more accurately they mean who they are becoming. Ironically, they’ve never been more clear about who they are.
“This process of your ‘old’ self dying as your ‘new, larger’ self is born is how self-transcendence and self-dissolution go hand in hand…Self-dissolution is as much a part of this process as is self-transcendence.
“Herein lies an important point that is sometimes hard to grasp: many people who seek self-transcendence don’t want to give anything up, and they want the path safe and clearly mapped. However, our unwillingness to give up what no longer fits (i.e., self-dissolution) blocks us from self-transcendence.And once you recognize yourself…as the manifestation of Spirit seeking its own fulfillment, then your refusal to grow is not just a personal shortcoming but also a thwarting of Spirit. This is where sin fits in…
“Sin isn’t about unconfined desire–it’s our refusal to desire and grow, our refusal with denial or rejection of the pleasurable parts of life. But as Lama Yeshe, Tibetan master of Buddhist Tantra points out, religion often becomes a form of suppression instead of a method for transcending our limitations. Instead of viewing pleasure and desire as something to be avoided at all costs, Tantra recognizes the energy aroused by our desires to be an indispensable resource for spiritual enlightenment. This same view is expressed in the Talmud in the words of third-centruy Rabbi Arika, who said that we will have to account to God for all the good things our eyes beheld but which we refused to enjoy.
“It’s not hard to understand why we in this way (not pursuing our own potentials): self-transcendence is fraught with discontinuities–and self-dissolution. Wilber notes that nature progresses by sudden leaps and deep transformations, rather than through piecemeal adjustments. He cites evidence from many fields of science to illustrate that dynamic systems do not evolve smoothly and continuously over time, but, rather, in comparatively sudden leaps and bursts.
The overarching narrative Schnarch is playing with (the dissolution of self) is the death to self that is so common and familiar in Christianity. The death of self is emphasized from every quadrant of Christianity. I believe both men and women suffer under the burden of dying to self; but I believe women often suffer more. Specifically in evangelical Christianity, this is true. Though, I wasn’t raised Christian and was still fed enough bull to believe I was here to be as demure as possible, a substance barely person to make men happy. The “don’t disturb the waters” and “do whatever he wants” was loud and clear. In trying to achieve that standard (expectation?) women (not all, but most) learn the hard process of dying to themselves. The concept of having to die to self, for me, has, is, will never be foreign. I think most of you would agree with me.
What’s foreign to me is the emphasis on the reception of a new self or a self at all; Schnarch is on point to emphasize this aspect of the death to self. But, there’s something he’s wrong about that I want to address first.
Schnarch argues, “But holding onto yourself and becoming more differentiated actually leads to the loss of the self you’ve been holding onto.” (Again, as in previous posts, I’ll be using “I” to simplify my sentences and thoughts.) I’m not sure how I can hold onto myself, holding to my integrity while simultaneously dying to myself to allow the new self to emerge. I’m not very (as in: at all) sold that by pressing into myself more that I’m going to come to the death of myself (for how does this happen while I’m holding onto myself?), and also that from there transitioning through to a new self. I think the best we get there is a weird inside-out version of Lauren (*shudders), not necessarily a new self. Also, by focusing on the self (which I must do to hold onto myself), I would negate the processes by which I would die to myself.
(Side note: this is also a criticism I can use against Ayn Rand and Objectivism’s claim that I can be so selfish that I become other focused: I cannot be so self focused that somehow (miraculously?)–without any encounter with an other, an external event–I’m now caring for my neighbor.)
The dissolution of self is not predicated on the transcending of self; rather, the opposite is true. The transcended self emerges from the dissolution of self. Specifically, the transcended self, the new self is born out of the death that the old self has surrendered to. Thus, there is no “holding on” to the self but a letting go of the self, giving in to the dark pull of the abyss that is the event of the conflict encounter (usually with an other self). Holding on to the self would be a fighting against loss; surrender of the self to the event, to what is occurring and happening, is an embrace of the impending loss of self. So, as long as we are still holding on to self and fighting to be more transcended selves, the less likely the dissolution of self will happen and (with it) a transcended (a new) self is less likely to emerge if at all.
Jürgen Moltmann writes,
“It is much more the question of [a person’s] own personal identity and integrity, for every self-emptying in historical action is a venture, and a way into non-identity. A [person] abandons himself as he was and as he knew himself to be, and, by emptying himself, finds a new self. Jesus’s eschatological saying tells us that ‘Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loess his life will preserve it'” (The Crucified God 15).
What Moltmann refers to as both self-abandonment and self-emptying correspond to self-surrender as defined as a surrender not to the self but away from the self and to the event of the conflict encounter. Very much, I cannot hold onto myself in this equation, but I must lose myself entirely (no dependence on myself in any way shape or form).
So, what is missing from Schnarch is the surrendering (“self-abandonment”/”self-emptying”) to the event of the conflict encounter that results in the dissolution of self which then results in the transcended self. Dissolution precedes transendence because the dissolution begins with that sharp awareness that what was can be no longer and something most shift, change, be altered in the self. The surrender to this awareness and desire for change is (as described above by Schnarch) dramatic and sudden and rarely ordinary and lethargic. But just as quick is the birth of the new self, the transcended self. The self is either dead or alive and never a little bit of one or the other. Thus, the birth of the new self is and is suddenly.
Again, recourse to Motlmann,
“Only by self-emptying in encounter with what is alien, unknown and different does [a person] achieve selfhood…trust in the hidden and guaranteed identity with Christ in God (Col. 3:3) makes possible the self-abandonment, the road into non-identity and unidentifiability, which neither clings to ancient forms of identity, nor anxiously reaches out for the forms of identity of those one is fighting in common” (The Crucified God 16).
The fundamental component that is missing from Schnarch is the God-encounter. For the hearer who is encountered in the event of God’s self-disclosure in Christ and the conflict that ensues within the person in this event of encounter a demand is felt and that demand is to self-empty and to self-abandon and let go not into a dark abyss of nothingness but into God and God’s self. In other words, go ahead and let yo’self go, Boo; God very much got you.
“Becoming is never safe or secure, especially if we’re dependent on a reflected sense of self. We don’t get to stop when we’re scared or uncomfortable, because we grow by going into the unknown, including the Great Unknown” (Schnarch 399).
The letting go of self (not the holding on to self) that comprises the self-surrender, self-abandonment, self-emptying in the event of the conflict encounter with God’s self-disclosure in Christ is that death from which a transcended-self, a new self is born. This death and new life is far from safe and easy; it demands a beautiful desperation that has occurred by seeking our hope in everything but God and having that hope returned to us void, thus thrusting us deep into our own crucibles. The self’s last ditch effort to be an authentic self, a new self is counterintuitive to self-preservation: it lies in entering into that darkness, into death. But rather than the flat-line being the last thing the self hears as it enters into the darkness of death, it hears the trumpet summoning it awake, resurrecting it from death.