The purifying goal of mysticism and contemplative prayer is nothing less than divine union—union with what is, with the moment, with yourself, with the divine, which means with everything. Healing, growth, and happiness are admittedly wonderful byproducts of prayer, but they must not be our primary concern. The goal must be kept simple and clear—love of God and neighbor, union with God and neighbor. Our common word for this state of union is heaven. Wherever there is union, there is a little bit of heaven.
Much of common religion is well-disguised self-interest—high premium fire insurance for the afterlife—instead of self-emptying love.
.. Most of the official Catholic liturgical prayers ask in some form, “That I or we might go to heaven.” (This is not a guess. I have counted!) Is there no other priority than my personal salvation? If it is true that lex orandi est lex credendi, “the way you pray is the way you believe,” then it is no wonder Christians have such a poor record of caring for the suffering of the world and for the planet itself, and the Church has fully participated in so many wars and injustices. We have been allowed to pray in a rather self-centered way, and that fouled the Christian agenda, in my opinion.
.. Jesus talked much more about how to live on earth now than about how to get to heaven later.
.. But many Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, pushed the goal into the future, making religion into a petty reward/punishment system inside a frame of retributive justice. (The major prophets—and Jesus himself—teach restorative justice instead.) Once Christianity became a simplistic win/lose morality contest, we lost most of the practical, transformative power of the Gospel for the individual and for society.
.. The branch that imagines itself to be separate from the Vine (John 15:1-8), acts as if it is separate from God. We call the result sin, but the real sin is the imagined state of separation. It is our own delusion and decision!
Your “false” self is how you define yourself outside of love, relationship, or divine union.
.. To move beyond this privately concocted identity naturally feels like losing or dying. Perhaps you have noticed that master teachers like Jesus and the Buddha, all the “Teresas” (Ávila, Lisieux, and Calcutta), and the mystical poets Hafiz, Kabir, and Rumi talk about dying much more than we are comfortable with. They all know that if you do not learn the art of dying and letting go early, you will miss out on the peace, contentment, and liberation of life lived in your Larger and Lasting Identity, which most of us call God.
.. Christians are much more disciples of Plato (body and soul are at odds) than we are of Jesus in whom “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), where body and soul are willing partners. Jesus even returned to the “flesh” after the Resurrection, as all accounts make very clear, so flesh cannot be bad for us. Our bodies are, in fact, the hiding place for our divinity. (This is why I believe in the necessary physical resurrection of Jesus, admittedly in a new form of physicality.)