Who Am I?
Who am I? While this seems like a simple question, it is vastly more complex than it appears. In the book, The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, he explored this question in great detail.
Here is my summation of the primary points: when asked, “Who am I” the typical response is to reference the current (or past) occupation. Certainly, that cannot be who I am because I have not always been in an occupation. If I had won an Oscar (which seems to be the best chance of getting a ticket to the ceremony), I may say I am an Oscar winning actor. But that’s not really who I am either because I have not always been an Oscar winner. Does that mean I didn’t exist prior to the award? Of course not! Well, maybe I’d attempt to answer with a physical description to trace the contours of who I am. But then again, I wasn’t always this height, weight or hair color (Oy! ain’t that the truth – LOL). So clearly that is not an accurate description either. Even if I say I am the person who lives in California at XYZ address, it’s just a location still, not who I am.
“I am not anything in the outside world and I am not the emotions. The outer and inner objects come and go and I experience them. I am not the thoughts, they can be noisy, quiet, happy, or sad. Thoughts are just something else I am aware of. But who am I?” --The Untethered Soul – Michael Singer
Unity author, Imelda Shanklin asked the question a little differently. In her book, What Are You? she makes a distinction between the personal and impersonal self.
“The personal is the seen, the impersonal is unseen… The personal can be changed the impersonal is not affected. …Knowing the personal only, you have but superficial knowledge of yourself.” What Are You? – Imelda Shanklin
I believe Michael Singer and Imelda Shanklin were coming to the same conclusion; if we think the “who” of who we are is definable by the outer or inner objects of our awareness we are mistaken. We have multiple personas: there is the work persona, the home persona, the one with friends and with family, etc. Each is a mask we retrieve and remove. So it’s not about deciding which persona is truly me. It’s about realizing we aren’t any of them. Herein is what I believe Imelda means when she says we are not the personal self.
What then is the impersonal self? Most often, we’ve heard it called the Witness; the one who is watching the voice of the mind!
“I am the one who sees. From back in here somewhere I look out and I am aware of the events, thoughts and emotions that pass before me.” The Untethered Soul – Michael Singer
How do I connect with that which is unchanging? Meditation and awareness are time honored traditions and tools. Meditation is used to quiet the mind and awareness to witness it in action. When we can witness the mind we start to realize that we are not the mind. Adyashanti, a modern day mystic says this about this concept of being a witness.
Our nature is literally beyond all imagination. What we are, is that which is watching- that consciousness which is watching us pretending to be a separate person. The End of your World – Adyshanti
With that said, how do I answer the question, Who Am I? I believe arriving at a satisfactory answer is multi-faceted. First, we have to realize who we are not. We are not any of our personas, titles, accomplishments, emotions or thoughts. Realizing this is no easy task! Through these various means, the physical world seems to be all about separating ourselves from other human beings.
Next we need to understand that our poor mind is at work doing an impossible job trying to protect us from anything that could call into question any of our cherished ideals. The mind also tries to control the world so that it insulates us from any potential anxiety producing situation, circumstance or event. We get lost in this inner mind created world and forget we are not what we are trying so hard to protect. To me, this is the equivalent of experiencing Hell.
In addition to meditation and awareness, the practice of Non-Resistance can help connect us with who we really are. Give this a try: spend a day observing how much of life you resist. I believe it will be quite revealing how attached we are, to that which, we are not. It can be something as simple as getting wound up after being cut off in traffic or perhaps criticism from others or the most harsh, self-criticism. We can then ask ourselves why we are resisting life? Most likely it’s because on some level who we think we are or how we think life should work is threatened. I speculate if we can be non resistant to life as it unfolds (whether we like what’s happening or not), we would be more connected to our higher self. We would be a witness to what emerges without thinking we are defined by it in any way.
Imagine the energy we would have available to bring about positive change in the world. We have to get our world straight by knowing who we are and who we are not. I believe this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Seek first kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well.”
Love & Blessings,