I’m Not a Who. I’m a What.
The primary question in Yogic Philosophy is, “Who am I?” This is meant to encourage students to look within and to move past identifying themselves with the superficiality of the ego. However, the more I consider this question, I see that the more pointed question is “What am I?” While it is certainly viable to ask, “Who am I?”, I have been wondering if this line of questioning has a tendency to simply shift our identity to another version of ourselves. Does it cause one to seek a “new and improved” version of “me”? The danger of this “Who am I?” avenue of exploration is that one may have the inclination to lean toward merely adopting another personality or another iteration of “Who.” Perhaps a deeper and more insightful “Who”, but a “Who” nevertheless.
If you view this transformation of identity as being the pathway toward the truth of who you are, then you run the risk of not going deep enough in your exploration. The human tendency toward ego identification is so incredibly strong that the ego may elbow its way into grabbing a hold of you even as you convince yourself that you have transcended the ego by identifying with what many may call the “Higher Self.” Then we fall into the delusion of thought that divides self into different categories of higher and lower. “This is the higher me and this is the lower me” we might be tempted to say, But, in the end it is still a “me”. Actually, what may be the most ultimately satisfying path in Self Inquiry is the elimination of higher and lower categories into the recognition that the concepts of higher and lower are irrelevant to the activity of Self Inquiry. A greater understanding arises when we see that these apparent differences continue to perpetuate a divide within ourselves.
We can never be free from the tumult of the mind as long as our understanding of ourselves is still contained within the framework of an “I.”
And, wherever there is an “I” there is an ego, and wherever there is an ego there is an internal struggle that will continue to plague you with confusion, doubt or with an inflated idea of yourself.
Perhaps we need to dispense with this question of “Who am I?” and ask instead, “What am I?” Of course it could be said that What is just as much of a constriction as Who because they are both objects that one may be drawn to identify with. Yet, it seems that What offers us a much broader experience. When we disentangle ourselves from that simple word, “who” we have a much more expansive opportunity to move toward what the True Self really is. Even though the phrase, “True Self”, employs the word “Self” the True Self is not a Who. The True Self is a non-objective understanding that anything that adheres to any kind of identity at all keeps one stuck in the realm of “I”, of ego, and of personality. You do not want to limit yourself, do you?
So, what is a What? What is not a person, either real or mythic. It is not a particular thing. It has no adherence to any thing-ness. What-ness is no-thing-ness. The very fact of asking, “What am I?”, takes you out of the trap of personality and out of the “I” identity. That which you call, “my body” is a temporary state. The body changes from moment to moment. The brain is a bunch of neurons sending signals to a bunch of other neurons creating changing states called thought. Emotional states come and go. The mind, the body, and the emotions are all states A state is a temporary condition . Here today and gone tomorrow. What is that which is beyond body, mind, and emotion and yet includes body, mind, and emotion. Your humanness flows together with OM, the eternal. What is the paradoxical mystery of the unchanging presence that lives with great vibrancy within you. It is real and you know it is real because you can feel it.
Of course, you will, throughout your life, continue to think, to feel the emotions, and to experience the sensations of the body. The awareness that leads to your understanding of yourself lies in your ability to integrate these very human experiences with the equally compelling experience of the vast spaciousness of the transcendent. It is all within you.
No experience is an isolated, separate experience. You can not separate the moving clouds from the spaciousness of the sky or from your experience of the clouds and sky. Clouds and sky are eternally integrated with one another and with you. The moving body, the moving thoughts, and the moving emotions are exactly like the moving clouds that pass through the vast, blue sky. What is like the sky. You are like the sky through which body, mind, and emotions are passing like the clouds. And it’s all You. You need not limit or separate yourself from the totality of What you are. It is nothing less than reality.
The knowledge of this unified reality can come in a flash. It can also come when you are still for a long time, as in meditation or just sitting on the couch looking at the wall. To see what is real, what is reality, is realizing. You begin to realize that all objects, whether or not you are referring to “my body,” or “my thoughts,” or even the sun and the stars – these are all simply things that are happening, moving, coming and going in this great, open spaciousness of a beingness that is completely untethered to any state. When you realize this personality that you call “me” is simply another thing that is moving through this spaciousness and when you experience the innate expansiveness that exists beyond any transitory states that you call “me,” you discover the essence of freedom, of realizing your True Self. And, everything that seemed so important before this experience, (such as being caught in a traffic jam, someone’s opinion of you, or their judgement of the choice of books you read) is revealed to be completely unimportant. The true What of you is everything and no-thing at the same time. When you come to this awareness you are no longer living at the behest of states and things.The transitory you that you thought yourself to be falls away as the apprehension of your eternal True Self (your What-ness) comes to consciousness. In this realization there is liberation. Welcome home!