Who Am I?

You may have heard one time from some guy with a long white beard that ‘all is oneness’. Or perhaps that your very nature is peace. Or that you are not who you think you are, as you are given a mystical glance. 

That’s great. But so what? Diving into or realising these things isn’t particularly practical for day-to-day living, right? “Enlightenment” is for hermits in a cave, not for people with regular lives.

The truth is, many of us either don’t have the time, don’t have the interest or think we already know who we are. So why bother? I am so-and-so, I am this age, I have these interests, I have these memories, I have these goals, I have these possessions, I have this family. 

Everything is recorded inside of us and it becomes a conglomeration of thoughts, memories, desires and relationships. This big bundle of ideas is who, generally, we believe ourselves to be. 

The story of ourselves seems to become and be ourselves, which is why many spend a lifetime trying to build the best story, or create the greatest legacy. This is why when a part of ‘our story’ is attacked, we feel personally attacked. Such is the degree of our investment of our identity in our stories. And is the process in which the ego or false self is formed. 

However, there is nothing more practical, or worthwhile, than finding out who you essentially are. When everything is thrown away; when everything not essential to you – anything that has been added – is removed. Something can only be considered essential to you if it is always present, not if it comes and goes – otherwise ‘you’ would come and go with it.

If you were to close your eyes right now for a few moments, and if you were asked “whatever you are, are you here, present, now?” The obvious answer would be “yes”. You wouldn’t need to refer to your past experiences or memory to say yes. You would only need to refer to your immediate, direct experience. So already, you are able to establish that your past, your history, or memories aren’t part of who you essentially are.

Likewise, in meditation we can say that other aspects like our behaviour patterns and personality aren’t present. If we look closely at our experience, they also come and go, but we do not. So naturally, we can conclude they aren’t part of who we essentially are either.

This line of exploration can be considered part of the neti neti approach. It is a direct enquiry into the nature of our existence that dates back at least 8000 years. From Sanskrit, it translates as “not this, not that”. By process of negation – highlighting what comes and goes in our experience – we come to a better understanding of who or what we actually are. 

What is always present in my experience?

It is a great complement to standard meditation practices. And it also restores meditation to its original purpose of inquiring into the nature of ourselves and experience, rather than a token activity to boost concentration or productivity as it is often attributed today.

Every single one of our troubles in life comes from a crisis of mistaken identity. We aren’t clear about who we actually are, and as a consequence can spend an entire lifetime serving and defending a phantom self.

Surely there is nothing more worthwhile or practical than breaking free from this spell.