Who am I?

“What we generally call our “personality” is actually memory, a localization for the “I”-image, a shelter to preserve the ego. The moment you identify with the personality, it becomes static, crystallized, and loses all flexibility. But in stepping out of this identification, you take your position in spaceless awareness….”

~ Jean Klein (1916-1998),
French Advaita Vedanta master,
in Ease of Being

 

Who am I? It’s a question which many spiritual traditions suggest we ask as a spiritual practice. Were I to ask that question, I might answer, “Michael Nagel.” But that’s precisely why these traditions insist on asking the question over and over again.

Okay. Who am I? I’m a 62-year-old married man. I’m a counselor in private practice in Portland, OR.

Who am I?! I’m a progressive, middle classs, blah, blah, blah. Whatever I might tell myself, whatever I might tell you would be a thought, wouldn’t it? “Progressive” is a thought, as is “middle class”, “counselor,” “married,” etc.

Isn’t it true that whatever you might think or say about yourself would be a thought also?

But are we are thoughts? The brain produces 70,000 thoughts on average a day (wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_thoughts_do_people_have_each_day). That means over my life, I’ve thought more than 1.5 billion thoughts! Surely I’m more constant than this.

Who am I? Am I my feelings, my sensations? My experiences? In all, these are as inconstant as my thoughts. If I exclude my thoughts, feelings, sensations, and experiences from defining who I am, what is left? Consider this. If you refuse all thoughts, feelings, sensations, and experiences from giving definition to who you are… who are you?

As the contemplative traditions insist, again – who am I? Words are not left, thoughts gone, feelings no, so too sensations and experiences… What’s left no longer can be described with words. Yet it can be pointed to with symbols called “words”.

Who am I? An awareness, an awareness that experiences. Though beyond mind, through mind, through heart, through the body’s senses, this awareness peers out into many dimensions of living… and experiences. That awareness is not named, “Michael”. Really it’s not “mine”. It simply is. Experiencing. Before names. Before thought. Always there. And yet the sense of “I” seems sourced here in this wordless experiencing awareness.

I suspect that through your eyes, there also is just awareness experiencing. I’m uncertain as to whether that awareness through your eyes differs from the awareness peering through my eyes, through all eyes at this moment. The greats of contemplative traditions suggest not. They call that awareness the Self. Certainly the sense of “I” seems intrinsic to it.

Were you to ask yourSelf “Who am I?”, what might you encounter?

 

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