Re-Centering of the Self: Seeing Christianity through a New Lens
What is a “spiritual life”? I didn’t have a good answer to that until recently. My road to a deeper spirituality was a long, arduous, and somewhat surprising one. It didn’t come through religion, church, Scripture, meditation, prayer, or any type of spiritual practice. Not that those things can’t get one there, I’m sure they can. It began with an examination of the self, one which revealed to me a small-false-ego-self that had to be stripped of all the detritus surrounding it so that it could be confronted in full light. This process was aided by liberators, or educators who taught me what it means to be freed of one’s false self.
The process was not an enjoyable one. My false sense of self, the inflated ego, had to be torn down layer-by-layer, humiliated, drug through the mud to the point where hardly anything seemed left that I could call my own. All idols and ideologies this ego had become attached to had to fall in order for me to begin anew, in freedom. My teachers could be ruthless in their methods, but I now realize this was necessary. For there is no other way to bring about real change than through suffering and shocks of disillusionment.
I was fortunate enough to have a personal mentor, but many of my teachers were philosophers, psychologists, and artists of the past who were relentless critics of conformity and “mass man”: Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Emerson, Thoreau, Gauguin, Melville, and Jung. These men were the great preachers of the individual, of finding one’s genius within and speaking truth through one’s own unique voice. They valued authenticity, spontaneity, self-trust, and at the heart of it all, freedom.
I heeded the wisdom of these teachers, and upon my false self being torn down, I also became connected to an inner self; a voice within that felt more genuine and authentic, something true. Listening to this voice had brought my values into sharper focus, and I was working hard to align my actions with these values. I no longer felt I was drifting through life, being pushed around by societal and unconscious forces driving me in various undesirable directions. I was becoming a self-directed being, aligned with a true self within that gave me a sense of purpose and direction, moving toward what I viewed as “the Good”.
But then, something unexpected happened. I became aware, or perhaps awakened to the fact that this true self with whom I felt a connection actually had nothing to do with “me”. I had merely discovered it. It simply was. This inner voice of wisdom that I had spent years becoming acquainted was a manifestation of something beyond myself. It had come from whatever was behind the divine and mysterious force of all creation and Being, hiding in the background my entire life, just beyond my conscious purview.
It was a strange and powerful realization, which did not come to me as a “rational thought,” but through what I can only describe as a “spiritual experience,” accompanied by feelings of overwhelming fascination and awe. It was a Job-like moment in which I came to understand and appreciate the full weight of the question, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” I realized my smallness and ignorance in the face of all creation and Being, and I was humbled.
This experience piqued an interest in revisiting Scripture and the Christian mystics, and it gave me a lens into Christianity that was different from the Christianity I knew in my youth. The themes of suffering-death-resurrection and being “in Christ” were applicable in terms of personal transformation of the self. The Bible and the words of Jesus now seemed more than just a moral teaching or a prescription for salvation in the afterlife. They spoke to me of a spiritual transformation into a new identity beyond the small, ego-driven self, one that is aligned with and serving of a higher power in selfless, universal love. This is the divine indwelling in which we must center ourselves if we are to attain the gift of true peace and freedom, the “Kingdom of Heaven within” of which Jesus spoke and knew was available to all.
There are numerous paths to spiritual awakening, and I can’t say mine was any better than any other; just that mine was right for me. In looking back, I see that this was the path I had to take, the only one that would work for me given my misgivings about the Christianity of my youth: God’s plan, so to speak. My false-ego-self had to be brought to ruin in order to create the space for something beautiful and divine to enter and work through me. Through this experience, I developed an understanding of what it means to enter into a “new life,” a spiritual life in which there has been a re-centering of self into the heart of that spirit—into the Divine center.
Brad Benson is the Founder and Chairman of HEF Solutions, a healthcare IT company based in Elgin, IL. His primary interests outside of work and family include psychology, philosophy, art, and religion, and he seeks to discover parallels and similarities within these disciplines that can help lead one towards spiritual growth and development. Brad lives in Sycamore, IL with his wife Julie and their three children Nolan (16), Leah (13), and Nora (8).