Dying to the Self

Featured image: The Ego Eclipsed,
(Photo by Adam McCoid)

Before I married Dick, I had a vivid dream. In it, we spoke these vows: “I marry this no-one.” Those words have a koan-like quality. But what did they mean?

            Decades later, I could recall the dream’s scenes—our solemn pace upon a mountain path, the spare chapel, the friends, flowers, and festivities—but not our dream-vows. They were an unraveled riddle that I’d set aside, then forgotten. The no-one of those vows came to mind during Dick’s moments of unselfing.

            Unself is a curious word. It’s rarely used. Some dictionaries, including mine, omit it, although I did find columns of words beginning with the prefix un-. Most are adjectives or nouns describing a state of negation, with un- signifying not: unaware, uncharted, unknown.

            However, the un- of unself denotes action. It’s a prefix that indicates alteration, removal, reversal, release. Some un- verbs, such as undo and unravel, hint at the fears that unselfing can engender.

            To unself sounds ominous, like plummeting into the void of a dreamless sleep. It seems like a death. In a way, it is. Many spiritual traditions speak of a “dying to the self.” It’s a reminder that we are more than our ego-selves.

            But who are we when unmoored from the ego-self? Who are we when the self’s familiar shores recede?

Anne-Marie Erickson

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