Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Who Am I?

A cursory take on the question “Who am I?” leads us to believe that we are our personality, the sum of our typical patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting. A more careful and perceptive look, however, reveals that the question is not so readily answerable. Indeed, the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi made contemplation of this question a central practice in his teaching, because for him it had opened the door to a deep spiritual transformation and he saw that it had the power to do the same for others.

Asking ourselves “Who am I?” can guide us in contemplating our true nature, in backtracking through our experience, beyond sensory impressions, beyond emotions, beyond thoughts and mental images, beyond the energy body, even beyond consciousness, toward our source. The question “Who Am I?” followed persistently and honestly, brings contact with the one in us who decides, who directs our attention, who intends, chooses and commits, the one who is present when we are present. That I is not physical, not a place, not our personality, not an energy and not even our consciousness. It is our will. It is who we really are. We cannot see our I, because our I, when present, when we act with intention, is the one who sees, the one who does what we do, the one who thinks, the one who feels, the one who looks for him- or herself, and the only one who can truthfully say “I.” That I can direct our attention, effectively choosing what we will be conscious of. This fact shows that our I is deeper than our consciousness.

Asking “Who Am I?” creates an inner mirror that we hold up to look for our I. But look as we might, we find the mirror empty. We cannot touch or see our I, but we can become it, become our self fully, and “embody” it. To do so, however, our inner mirror must indeed be empty. When the false I of egoism shows up in that mirror, our true I recedes to await our next opening. Presence, by seeing truly, weakens the ego, makes it porous, and permits our authentic I to shine through.

Although it may sound far away and difficult to attain, it is not. It is simply and directly being oneself: undistracted, natural, and now. It is who we are without our baggage, without our thoughts and feelings about who we are, without our attitudes, opinions, and indulgences, without our desires and fears. It is our unique, individual wholeness. This I is who we are when we say “here I am” and mean it. We cannot manufacture or develop it, for it is already here in us. To be in contact with it, all we need to do is to really be ourselves more often, to be in our own center.

Yet although our I is our disarmingly simple core, it is also unfathomable, because it opens out into our participation in, and ultimately our unity with, the Divine will. That is why a clear conscience is so important: when we willingly engage in inappropriate, unbecoming actions, we distort and pollute our will, centering ourselves in egoism rather than opening toward the higher. The distortions of egoism effectively bar us from contact with the sacred. Thus we see the emphasis on morality in all the great religions.

So we can answer the question “Who am I?” by saying “I am,” by being the one who is present enough to be able to say “I am” truthfully. This is not a mystery; it is simply and wholly being oneself here and now. We can directly see the difference between saying “I am” when it is just words and saying “I am” when it has the fullness our intention and presence behind it, our will-to-be, our will-to-act. This difference shows us the direction our inner work needs to follow to become more fully ourselves.

Our response to the question “Who am I?” shows us our current level in terms of identification with the patterns of our personality, of integration of our disparate impulses, of wholeness of our presence, and of submission to the Divine. First we seek to become ourselves, then to let God become us.

What to do about this? Again and again we ask ourselves “Who am I?” Again and again we return to be that central core of ourselves to which the question directs us. Persistently returning to our center, we find our true home of wholeness, joy, and meaning.

See Also: Stages of Inner Unity: I


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