Perhaps you’ve never asked yourself this question. Modern-day hectic lives don’t allow any quiet space for the eternal questions. Or maybe you have stared up into the night sky in some remote place, and with all those stars up there… this question has arisen. It’s the most natural question… who am I? And the next question is of course, why am I here?
Now, if someone asks, who are you? Well there’s a tailor made ready-answer for that. It begins with a name, followed perhaps by an occupation, then possibly a racial or cultural heritage, a religious or political affiliation, and maybe a word about where home is. Each of us has a personal story that is ranked in the sequence of what we identify with – most important to least. Let’s step through this from early childhood. The first thing a baby learns is that it has a body, so the infant begins self-identifying with the body. And of course, there’s the identification with parents and other family members. Next the young child learns his or her gender and that kicks off a whole new world of identification, so adeptly pre-defined by our society and parental upbringing. And it goes from there – what the child is good at, what toys or sports they like, what grade they are in, what other people say about them, how they are treated, and on and on. All of this and more is integrated into an adolescent’s self-image. From primary school to middle school to high school… the ingredients of self-identification come and go as required. For instance, religious and political upbringing, the social environment, the environmental landscape… all of these become added layers of self-identification. As young adults grow up and join the work force, another set of identifications are added. And of course, as one grows, certain of these identifications drop off. A young professional no longer describes themselves as a college freshman, even though just a few years prior, they certainly would have. These days we are even taught to create a personal brand, in order to distinguish ourselves and be more successful. People are always trying to enhance their self-identity.
But let’s get back to the star-filled night sky, out in the country side. When that question first arose… Who am I? Really ask yourself deeply – were any of the standard answers above satisfactory? Deep down, didn’t it feel like there was a more fundamental answer beyond all these characterizations? And at least some of these labels seem superficial, don’t they? We must admit – the labels change; if we define ourselves by these portrayals then are we not a completely different person than we were a decade ago? Examine this honestly – do you carry the same set of self-representations than you did ten years ago? Even five years ago? No – because people change, so how can we be these things? How can we be these descriptors we’ve gathered and dropped as circumstances have shifted around us?
The mind changes constantly. The body changes too. This mind and body we carry – they are always in transition. How can we be something that is always changing? In those quiet, introspective times, look deeply inside and see that you are something ever-unchanging. What is that? Who am I really?
Mystics and sages have always told us, we are more than these accumulations. Defining ourselves by our body, mind, traits, characteristics, possessions, conquests, likes, dislikes, etc. actually limits us. Fear of death limits us. We are already unlimited and eternal. The rare few experience this as conscious awakening where they suddenly realize we are all One. Maybe you have heard, “I Am That.” This awakening is sometimes called enlightenment. But whether this experience has dawned in you or not, the reality is that we are all super-consciousness manifesting in all manner of life, all manner of creation.
This realization must be experienced, it cannot be described in words, it is not a mental construct. But even without this experience, just the knowledge that we are more than how we define ourselves already gives us greater context. It gives us a greater perspective with which to live. Life tastes a little sweeter and things are such big issues any more. That’s what spirituality is all about – awakening to the divinity within ourselves, and then minimizing our false self-identity so that the divine can shine from within. It’s so ironic that while we’re busily trying to add accomplishments and accolades to our self-identity in order to feel bigger, all we are doing to adding to the thick veil that shrouds the Eternal Self which already is infinite. Spirituality is the work of melting away one’s own self so that The One Self can be revealed and experienced.
Once this sinks in and ever-present ego-less being-ness is our present moment awareness of, then that second question of “Why am I here?” evaporates (as, in fact, do all questions). As Ramana Maharshi said, “The question ‘Who am I?’ is not really meant to get an answer, the question ‘Who am I?’ is meant to dissolve the questioner.”
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