Who am I? What come to mind when you ask this of yourself? How many different memories, ideas, and things seem like a part of you? What do you identify with? Does this process of identification help you, or just cause suffering?
Perhaps when your favorite basketball team loses, you suffer as though YOU lost. When your car is damaged it feels like YOU are hurt. When somebody attacks who they think you are, it seems as though they actually reach inside and poke at your true self. How can you escape this unecessary drama and pain?
Perhaps by seeing who and what you are not. Seeing the process of identification clearly can free you from the ego attachments that cause you to suffer. There is a simple meditation that can help you with this.
Who Am I – A Meditation On Self Identity
Sit or lay comfortably in a quiet place. Relax, close your eyes, and take several deep breaths. Breath through your nose, eventually letting your breathing fall into a natural pattern. Pay attention to your breath, to the air moving in and out of your lungs and nose. Let the tension drain from your body.
Ask the question in your mind, “Where am I?” Then ask, “What am I?” and “Who am I?” Just let these questions sit for a moment in your mind.
Become aware of your body, and consider your leg. Would you cease to exist if you lost it? Are you your leg? Continue through the parts of your body, asking of each part, “Am I here?” and “Is this what I am?”
Then open your eyes and look around. Are you any of these things? You might feel pain when your favorite chair breaks, as though it were you, but you are not that chair. Which of these things you own are you? Ask these questions. Ask, “Am I this?”
Now close your eyes again and say your name in your mind. Is there a sense of identity? And if you had no name? Ask yourself “Am I really…” and say your name again. Consider what the most honest answer is. Try saying “I am…” and insert any other name. Note how, when you call yourself by another name, you feel differently. You have a name-identity that is a collection of ideas, something seen differently by you and others.
Let feelings arise, and ask “Am I this fear?… this pain, sadness, desire, pleasure, or anger? You can see that your feelings are not you – they just pass through you. Clothes, body, reputation – none of it is your true self-identity, is it?
Continue this meditation for twenty minutes or so. Take a deep breath and get up, noticing if you feel different – maybe less worried or less attached to things, feelings and thoughts. Repeat the meditation as often as necessary, to remind you of what you are not. Oh, and you really don’t need to answer the question, “Who am I?”