Looking for the I Am

Posted: June 2, 2015 in Observations on Life

For those of you who are interested in discovering who it is that you truly are, here is a basic exercise to play with.

As with all such things, your mileage may vary. Different methods work in different ways for different people. This particular method is aligned with the school of self-enquiry, which digs deeply into the concept of ‘I am’ with diligent questioning and concentrated awareness.

Take out a sheet of paper and number it from 1 to 10. Now ask yourself ‘Who am I?’ and begin providing an answer on each one of the 10 numbered lines. Keep your focus on a specific aspect of your identity – simple, honest answers will work the best. You aren’t writing a biography, you are just asking some basic questions about yourself.

For instance, if I were to do a list that expressed who I thought I was prior to my awakening, my list might look something like this:

Who am I ?
1. I am Brad
2. I am a man
3. I am white
4. I am educated
5. I am a security consultant
6. I am an atheist
7. I am a progressive liberal
8. I am angry a lot
9. I am depressed a lot
10. I am selfish

Once you have your list, take a good hard look at it. Are you these things? Let’s step through the list.

1. [I am Brad]. No, I am not Brad. My name is Brad. My name is a label, an identifier that was bestowed upon me by my parents. It does not say anything at all about who I am, it is just what people call me in order to get my attention. There are many people in the world named Brad and we are all different people. I am not my name.

2. [I am a man]. No, my body is a male body. The incarnation that holds my essence came into this world with a particular set of genitals that we identify as ‘male’. But to say that I am a man is to open up a series of questions regarding ‘what is a man’ within the construction of this society – for instance, men must be strong, cannot cry, are the dominant sex, etc. To identify myself as a man is to lose myself in the narrative of what it means to be male, and what it means to not be male. I am not my sex.

3. [I am white]. No, my skin color is of a light complexion. The incarnation that holds my essence came into this world with a particular skin tone that we identify as ‘white’. But to say that I am white is to open up a series of questions regarding what being white means within this society. It then creates separation from all those that are not white. Suddenly we are caught up in racial identification and racial biases. To identify myself as white is to lose myself in the narrative of what it means to be white, and what it means to not be white. I am not my skin color.

4. [I am educated]. No, I have participated in certain educational activities. The concept of education is subjective, relative, and contextual. I know certain things through study, through training, through experience, through inference, and so on. A degree is just a piece of paper saying you’ve completed a particular course of study. None of these things makes me educated. If I think of myself as educated now I put myself on a continuum of more educated and less educated, and I judge myself according to this scale. I also judge others according to this scale. My education is just a part of my conditioning. I am not my education.

5. [I am a security consultant]. No, I have chosen to earn my living engaging in activities related to a particular professional discipline within the field of information technology that we call ‘security’. I’ve decided to do it from an outside perspective as a consultant. This is how I earn money, nothing more and nothing less. By making my career choice an aspect of my identification, I am also dividing the world into those who do what I do – those who do it better, those who do it worse; those who don’t do what I do; and those who do nothing at all. Now I am biased in multiple directions, letting my ego reign. I am not my job.

6. [I am an atheist]. No, I just want to understand why I am here and I’m confused by the myriad of conflicting answers. I studied religion and science, along with a number of other subjects to try and get a better understanding of things. No matter how many things I explored with my intellect, I could not find any answers that appealed to my rational mind, so I gave up on the idea of God entirely. No matter what I believed at certain times, I was creating division between myself and anyone who believed something differently. And of course others were more than happy to tell me how wrong I was for not agreeing with them. I am not my beliefs.

7. [I am a progressive liberal]. No, I am a human being who wants to see other human beings treated like human beings. As a society we have divided ourselves into multiple political, philosophical, and economic groups that align with a particular set of beliefs or doctrines. In each case we look at our group as being right and all other groups as being wrong. Everyone thinks their answer is the best answer for society and since none of us can agree all we do is argue over opposing points of view. No one is right and no one is wrong, every group is just the sum of its views and the conditioning of its members. I am not my views.

8. [I am angry a lot]. No, I experience the emotion of anger on a frequent basis because I do not understand the nature or anger. Anger is nothing more than a state of mind that arises when one cannot accept things as they are. It is a sense of self-righteousness or selfishness or me’ness that is used to justify and rationalize inappropriate responses to situations that I am not in control of. To say that I am angry a lot creates its own layer of conditioned identity – it becomes its own relational for my anger – I am angry a lot, so anger is normal for me. I am not my mind states, so I am not angry.

9. [I am depressed a lot]. No, I experience the emotion of depression on a frequent basis because I do not understand the nature of depression. Depression is nothing more than a state of mind that arises when one cannot accept things as they are. It is a sense of ‘poor me’ that allows me to wallow in sad self-pity because I am unable to orient myself in the direction of accepting things as they are. To say that I am depressed a lot creates its own layer of conditioned identity – it becomes its own relational for my depression – I am depressed a lot, so depression is normal for me. I am not my mind states, so I am not depressed.

10. [I am selfish]. No, I engage in selfish acts because I do not understand the nature of my connection to others. I am so wrapped up in my concept of me and how important I think I am that I forget there are other people in the world who are just like me. We are all human beings; all struggling to do our best in the world, but my ego wants to elevate me over everyone else, as if it has all the answers.  To say that I am selfish creates its own layer of conditioned identity – it becomes its own relational for my selfishness – I am selfish a lot, so selfishness is normal for me. I am not my acts, so I am not selfish.

In each case we are able to deconstruct the ‘I am’ thought and look more deeply at the nature of our identity, beliefs, and actions. One could argue that we are the sum total of all of these things, but if that were true then we would need a longer list, because this list is only a partial list of the identifiers that we’d need to keep track of in order to come up with a complete picture of who the ‘self’ is.

By the time we were done putting the list together we’d have to start all over again, because it would be hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of data points long; and by the time we finished it, we would have changed on a number of levels, needing to go back and update our current understanding for each particular data point. This is the essence of the problem in and of itself.

We are not our conditioned patterns of thinking, no matter what those patterns of thinking may be or how strongly we may identify ourselves with them. You are not your name, your job, your religion, your political view, your opinions, your emotional states, etc. All of this is manifested within the ego – the constructed self. It is the sum total of all of your conditioning that brings about the I am that is not.

So look deeply, with honesty and intensity – with full awareness. Pay attention to your thoughts and look for the ‘I am’ that exists within them. Look at how they govern your perception of yourself and look at how your perceptions govern your orientation to the world around you. Dig and dig and dig, until you arrive at the truth. There is no you in there – not really. You are just the awareness.

You are the awareness of a set of physical and mental states associated with the body you have manifested in. The body has a lot going on – and these physical and mental states can be very distracting. It’s easy to get caught up in them, and lost in them. But this is the entire nature of the spiritual journey. To see these things for what they are and become the awareness; to just be.

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