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Who Am I

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Who Am I

Are You Really Aware that You’re Taking Yourself to be the Body?

So we want to investigate what or who you are taking yourself to be at each moment and question it. Is that really who you are? At each moment there is an identification, there is, in a sense, a feeling of self: “I am watching,” or “I am sitting.” When you say “I,” that “I” is attached to something. Is what you’re attaching the “I” to really you? When you are meditating, for instance, who is meditating? Who is sitting at this moment? Be aware of your experience. See whether you can answer that question. What is it you attach the “I” to? Who am I that is sitting? Most likely you’ll see that you attach the “I” to your body. It’s the body that is sitting, so when you say “I am sitting,” aren’t you saying “I am the body”? You’re not taking yourself to be a feeling or a perception, because feelings don’t sit, the mind doesn’t walk. The only part that sits, walks, and moves is the body. We find that the identification with the body is powerful and consistent. It is much subtler and deeper than we usually imagine it to be. Of course, some people can’t imagine anything else—“What else could I be?” It’s not easy to disidentify from the body because all our lives we’ve been taking ourselves to be the body. I’m not saying that you need to do anything to change this; you just need to be aware that this is the case. Are you really aware that you’re taking yourself to be the body? When we say “my body,” what does the body belong to? Saying “myself” is more accurate, but what exactly does that mean? Who is it who has a body and has a self? Who are you referring to when you say “I have a body”? What is the “I”? It doesn’t make sense to say “I have an I” or “self has a self.” Is there a big self who has a small self?

Can You Look Objectively at Your Personal History Without Having to Identify with It?

Mysterious, isn’t it? Now you might say, “Wait a minute. If I am not the body, and I’m not my sense of personal history, who am I then? I’m on the verge of something.” When you say, “I’m on the verge of something,” you wonder: “Is it to be scared of or longed for? Should I hope for it; should I fear it? Should I go toward it, or resist it?” Well, who are you at this moment? Aren’t you identifying with your personal history? And doesn’t that personal history want to have one more experience to know for sure who it is? Suppose I could tell you who you really are. What difference would it make? What if I say, “Yes, you have a self, and it feels like such and such, and it does such and such.” So what? It is simply one more piece of information to put in your mind and add to your personal history. It’s not even an experience —it’s a memory that’s not even yours. Is it possible to look not only at your body and see your identification with it, but also to look objectively at your personal history without having to identify with it? Is it possible to look at the totality of your personality at once? Most of the time you identify with that totality; you are in the middle of it, as if in a medium like a cloud, and you let the atmosphere of that cloud define you. Is it possible to become aware that you are doing that? Can you look at your experience right now and see how you are identifying with your personal history? Are you aware of how hard it is to disengage from those thoughts and memories and ideas about yourself?

Ego Identity is an Imitation of the Identity of Essence, the True Self

This is understandable, for this sense of identity, like all other sectors of the personality, is an imitation of a certain specific aspect of essence. Ego identity is an imitation of the identity of essence, the true self. The Hindus call it the Atman. The sense of identity of the personality exists because there is an unconscious memory of this true self. The personality's sense of identity develops through the loss of the true self. The child had it to start with, but its loss led to the development, through internalizations and identifications, of the ego sense of identity coalesced around the vague memory of the true identity. A self-representation is felt as relating to self because of this vague memory of self. This is the reason for the vagueness about identity in everybody's experience. This true self, the spark of our life, the most alive and most brilliant aspect of essence, is, so to speak, the source of all essential aspects. It is like the star of Bethlehem, witnessing the birth of essence. Many work systems, many teachings, aim all of their efforts toward finally beholding and realizing the true self, our source, the brilliant point of it all. This true identity, this aspect of I-ness, is what Ramana Maharshi, for instance, wanted his disciples to reach when he exhorted them to contemplate the question Who am I?

Investigating Our Beliefs About Our Identity

You may have had an experience in the past and felt, “That’s me.” Maybe you were right, maybe not. Even if it’s true that you recognized yourself then, perhaps now you have a different self. We want to know what you experience now. We want to be right here, right at this moment. Let’s investigate our beliefs, rather than taking them for granted. When you have experienced what you perceive as your true self, it’s not unusual to think, “I’ve experienced myself and that’s it, now I’ll be happy forever after.” Well, maybe, but we want to know right now. Can you answer the question definitely, you yourself at this very moment, when you say, “Who am I?” One thing that can help our investigation is to connect the feeling of “I,” the feeling of self, to what is called “identity” or “identification.” Finding out who you are is essentially finding your identity. You can see the connection between identity and identification, if you look at your experience of any moment, and see that at that very moment you are identifying with something, you’re taking yourself to be something in particular. You might not be consciously aware of what you are taking yourself to be, but at any moment you are taking yourself to be something, or someone. So we want to investigate what or who you are taking yourself to be at each moment and question it. Is that really who you are? At each moment there is an identification, there is, in a sense, a feeling of self: “I am watching,” or “I am sitting.” When you say “I,” that “I” is attached to something. Is what you’re attaching the “I” to really you?

Letting the Question Burn in You: "Who Am I?"

Knowing the answer to "Who am I?" happens only in the moment. The answer has nothing to do with the past. If the past determines the answer now, then it is obviously not a correct answer, since the past no longer exists. To really answer the question requires that we see that we don't know, and also that we don't know how to find out. Is it possible to let yourself see that you don't know the answer and don't know how to find out, and still let the question burn in you? "Who am I?"

Questioning "Who Am I?"

To summarize, this process is a matter of investigating your identity, at any level of identification, and your attachments to it. That’s why one of the most powerful techniques in spiritual traditions is to ask yourself, “Who am I?” and to keep asking. Every time you say, “That’s me,” investigate and continue asking, “Who am I?” until there is no one left to say it. It’s not a matter of trying to push or do something. There’s no need to do anything at all, all you need to do is understand what’s there. The moment you want to do anything your motivation is attachment. The awareness of exactly what’s there, whatever it is, without wanting or not wanting, is finally the void. So you can take this attitude from the beginning: simple awareness without ceasing is the understanding that leads to the final freedom. In fact, the means itself is the final freedom—bare objective awareness and understanding. All kinds of techniques exist to get to one or another of those levels, but the only technique, I believe, that will really bring the final freedom through all the levels is the technique of simply understanding, simply knowing, simple awareness. Any technique which involves doing something implies the existence of an identity who does it. It’s all right to let your ego work for you; it can go far. But at some point it must go.

Questioning Whether there is Such a Thing as an “I”

Some time ago I asked the question, “Why are you here?” On another occasion I asked, “Are you here?” I don’t know whether you’ve stayed with those questions and investigated them for yourself. Today I’m going to ask a third question which is a natural progression from those: “Who are you?” The answer to this question is not a statement, so if one is conjured up in your mind, disregard it. We are going to explore whether it is possible to answer the question, “Who am I?” I’m not going to give you answers, but I will help guide the exploration by asking you questions, and you can investigate while we are talking. You always say “I am . . .” and “I want. . . .” so we want to see what “I” is. We are not implying from the outset that there is such a thing as an “I.” We don’t want to begin with assumptions. So we are not assuming that there is an
answer, or that there is one answer, or that there is no answer. We are not assuming that if there is an answer, it can be said in words. We want to be open to all the possibilities. We want to ask the question in complete openness, in a complete absence of assumptions. This investigation will be based purely on our curiosity and on our interest in finding the truth. What is the truth that is here for you?

Realizing that What You are is not Different from Recognizing the Nature of Your Awareness, the Nature of Your Consciousness

So it is not a matter of having a succession of experiences while continuing to be the same person, simply adding on more and more interesting spiritual experiences. No: At some point you learn who you are, what you truly are; and the one who lives your life becomes a different person. There could be other possibilities; you might not even feel like a human being at times, but regardless of the particular form that your being might take at one time or another, you want to be you, as fully and completely as possible. For a long time, you don’t know who that one is. You say, “Me who?” At a certain point, you realize that what you are is not different from
recognizing the nature of your awareness, the nature of your consciousness. It is what you are. It is the essence of your Being. And the essence or nature of what we are can express itself in what we call spiritual qualities, or spiritual forms, or different kinds of subtle energies.

The Practice that Can Lead to Increasing Disidentification with the More Superficial Aspects of the Self

We have noted that the usual feeling of identity is a vague sense of self-recognition with which we are always identified. But we rarely isolate or directly contemplate it. Doing so actually tends to precipitate the experience of the Essential Identity, as is demonstrated by the results of the traditional spiritual practice of constantly asking oneself the question, “Who am I?” This practice can lead to increasing disidentification with the more superficial aspects of the self, particularly the self-images, until one’s experience of self shifts to the dimension of Essence, with the true identity as the center of the self. One feels simply, “I am present, this is me.” This sense cannot be completely described, but it can be recognized. The Essential Identity is the purest, most specific, and most differentiated form of essential experience. This complete definiteness and delineation of perception is not possible in the conventional dimension of experience; it is specific to the intrinsic discriminating property of the domain of Essence.

The Soul is What Experiences and It is the Lived Experience itself

Being manifests itself to itself through us, as human beings. In us, Being beholds its beauty and celebrates its majesty. Our experience of ourselves in our totality and our tangibility is what in the Diamond Approach we mean by the term soul. The soul is what experiences, and it is the lived experience itself. It is the inner, psychic organism, the individual consciousness that is the site of all experience. The human soul is pure potentiality, the potentiality of Being. It is also the way that Being, in all its magnificence, opens up and manifests its richness. To experience the richness of our Being, the potential of our soul, we must allow our experience to become more and more open, and increasingly question what we assume we are. Usually we identify with a very limited part of our potential, what we call the ego or personality. Some call it the small self. But this identity is actually a distortion of what we really are, which is a completely open flow out of the mystery of Being. A human being is a universe of experience, multifaceted and multidimensional. Each of us is a soul, a dynamic consciousness, a magical organ of experience and action. And each of us is in a constant state of transformation—of one experience opening up to another, one action leading to another, one perception multiplying into many others; of perception growing into knowledge, knowledge leading to action, and action creating more experience. This unfolding is constant, dynamic, and full of energy. This is the very nature of what we call life.

What Dawns on You Little by Little is that those Essential and Subtle Realities Really are You

In the course of coming to understand reality, we confront increasingly deeper concepts about who we are, concepts that form the foundations of our suffering. Our belief that our body is the same body as the one we had in childhood generates all kinds of suffering. But the deeper problem is that we take ourselves to be our body at all. You think you are your body. Or you think, “If I am not my body, at least I am inside my body”; or “I am the mind that goes with the body”; or “I am a soul inside the body. It is my body, nobody else is in it, so don’t tell me I am not my body.” But as you approach actualization of the deeper aspects of being, this idea will be challenged. If you are essence, what does that mean about your body and your mind? You will have to slowly, perhaps even begrudgingly, come to know that you are not a body that has essence. You are the essence that has a body. Most people don’t like that. You will want to be the body that has essence. You will want to be the self that sometimes has good experiences. What dawns on you little by little is that those essential and subtle realities really are you. And you begin to see that the long stretches of time when you believe yourself to be the body, or a separate individual self, are the transitory experiences. The belief that you are contained within the body, bounded by the body, related to the body, part of the body will be wholly challenged. You will come to see that belief as one of the major sources of suffering. At some point in our work we realize that our true nature doesn’t have boundaries, that who we are is not bounded by physical partitions.

Who You Are Changes, Flows and Transforms from Moment to Moment

I don’t like to look at the work we do as some kind of spiritual therapy, or a path to enlightenment, or any of those things that give people strange ideas about what’s supposed to be happening. We are not trying to live according to someone’s ideal. I like to look at what we do as finding out who we are and what this world we are living in is. Who are we? What is this world? How do we live? We find out simply by examining what is here now. From that perspective, there is no end to knowing the truth. Who you are changes, flows, and transforms from moment to moment. Your body changes. Your environment changes. Everything changes at each moment. What we see is the changing surface. When we perceive only the changes on the skin of Being, we are not yet looking at the totality of Being. When we realize Being and see its totality rather than just the outermost layer, we realize that Being is change all the way down.

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