Tell me who I am. Discovering who you really are can change your life. Back in 1902, the great sage Ramana Maharshi suggested that his pupil should delve into the question "Who am I" to reach an "enduringly happy state, where there is no mind." That objective sounds a little vague, but it has profound meaning.
The Maharshi said the path was direct. Repeatedly ask yourself the question “Who am I?” Focus on the answer and do not allow your mind to wander. When the question is first asked, many “I” thoughts may rise in your mind.
But, if the question is persistently pursued, all other thoughts will get destroyed and finally, the “I” thought itself will vanish, leaving a non-dual Self. The Maharshi felt that all other disciplines, such as breath control and meditations were only supporting practices, which helped the mind to remain focused on this key question.
A devotee once went to Ramana Maharshi and said, “I’ve been with you for twenty-five years, asking 'Who am I?' and nothing has happened yet.” The Maharshi is reported to have replied, ‘Try it for another twenty-five and see what happens.” But, it is not that difficult. You just need to understand why the approach works.
Me Who I Am - Sense The Real "I"
Your mind has a built-in ability to answer questions. The association regions of your cortex recognize objects based on your sensory perceptions. The somesthetic association region processes the pressure stimuli on your fingers and grants you your knowledge that you are touching a pair of scissors. If that brain region is injured, you will not be able to recognize the object by touch, with your eyes closed. You will still be able to feel the scissors, but you will not know what it is. Similarly, an olfactory system enables you to recognize an object by its smell.
Tell Me Who I Am - Your Mind Senses Patterns
Your mind receives a vast array of sensory signals, including light, touch, sound, smell and taste. It separates these overlapping patterns of the universe and informs you of millions of objects. Your mind recognizes those patterns and will respond to your questions. Ask yourself “Did I have dinner last night?” Did you? You become aware of a reply. It will also answer your question “Who am I?” and identify you as a separate living entity. Initially, it will merely inform you that you exist as a distinct individual among millions of other human beings.
Tell Me Who I Am - Awareness And Prefrontal Activity
Science discovered that specific neural activity in your brain creates your awareness. These are the “neural correlates of consciousness.” You feel touch when one group of nerve cells fire. When others fire, you see a pixel of light. Your awareness includes a perception of the world, a recognition of its events, the recall of memories and the experience of feelings and emotions. Your awareness comes from the firing of a vast and identifiable group of neural "correlates" in the prefrontal regions of your brain. You remain unconscious of the firing of billions of other neurons in the nervous system. They manage many pattern sensing and motor control functions without your awareness. One region of your brain creates your awareness, just as concretely as the pixels of light on a TV screen create moving images.
Tell Me Who I Am - Repeated Questions Reach Deeper
At the first level of recognition, your mind replies that you are your body and mind. Your thoughts may often wander. But, as you keep asking and listening, the process will substantially increase your awareness. As you watch, you become aware of the warmth of the air and the hardness of your chair. You become more aware that you are an entity, which receives internal information of sensory inputs, as well as of your physical activities, like breathing and body movements.
Tell Me Who I Am - The Usual Mind Block
There is evidently a “ghost,” who receives all this data. You vaguely sense that you are more the entity, which observes the universe outside and the world within. More questions reveal your propensity to be often overwhelmed by anger and despair, or sadness and joy. Most people stop the questioning process here, concluding that they are just vulnerable ghosts occupying creaky bodies.
Tell Me Who I Am - Questioning Reveals Emotions
The next series of the “Who am I?” questions lead to some confusion. You cannot identify a whole personality within. Emotions transport you into vast conflicting worlds. Your viewpoints erratically shift between enthusiasm, anxiety and utter despair. Even the width and depth of your wisdom appears to vary. While anger makes you focus on a narrow vision, love appears to open up a world of kindly memories. Are you the angry person, or the loving person? Shifting between conflicting worlds, you appear to have no clear identity at all! But, even then, a developing awareness of your emotions carries you ever deeper into your mind.
Tell Me Who I Am - Discovering The Physical Symptoms
It is a stage in your journey of discovery, where, sadly, you could get stuck for 25 years. But, you could be lucky. You may note, incidentally that each emotion you feel is accompanied by a physical symptom. With your attention constantly focused on internal discovery, you may note that your emotion vanishes, whenever you observe its physical symptom. Eugene Gendlin would call this a “felt bodily sense.” This could happen a few times. Each time, strangely, the related emotion would just disappear. As you keep on “learning about yourself,” more emotions would disappear. You would come to occupy an increasingly still space in your mind.
Tell Me Who I Am - Discovering RB, The Rational Brain
A long practice of such observation of your mind leads to a situation, where your mind becomes more and more quiet. When you lie down quietly in the dark with a still mind, worries of tomorrow, or guilt about yesterday's outburst do not disturb you. You ignore your awareness of your bed and the feedback your body sends you about your posture in bed. You ask yourself “Who am I?” and there is only silence. At this moment, you could have a sudden insight. You discover a presence, watching, waiting for an answer. All your powers of recognition are focused on a deadly silence. You are like a closed circuit camera, with a powerful capacity to recognize all inputs, staring into the darkness. That is RB, your rational brain, free from manipulation by emotions, watching and waiting.
Tell Me Who I Am - RB Silences Its Noisy Counterparts
Every time you ask “Who am I?” you are activating the prefrontal intelligence - the investigative part of the brain, occupying the apex of your triune brain. Evolved over millions of years, the prefrontal brain competes with the powerful feelings and emotions of your coexisting mammalian and reptilian brains.
The constant search within enables this superior brain to comprehend the wily foibles of its primitive colleagues. Its superior wisdom silences them and guides your life. After you discover this entity, it helps you to know the scale and power of its wisdom.
Tell Me Who I Am - Know The Wisdom Of RB
Your mind carries unimaginably large stores of inherited and acquired wisdom. As an example, the DNA codes in your body contain codes, which instruct your living cells to build your eyelid, or your fingernail. Scientists reported that if those codes were packed into 500 page books, those books will fill the 450 kilometer long Grand Canyon fifty times over! From millions of years of evolution and from a lifetime of experiences, your system has acquired an immense trove of knowledge. Similarly, massive stores of inherited wisdom within your nerve cells manage your life. When not blinkered by the restraints of your emotions, your RB can flow with this wisdom to manage your life.
Tell Me Who I Am - The Question Leads To Your Freedom
The deep insight of Sri Ramana Maharshi was that his repetition of the words "I am, I am, I am, ...", led to his discovery of the truth that "I am not." He emerged into a state of consciousness without any I or self at all, a state of pure consciousness. In a mystic insight, he discovered an awareness, backed by an enormous wisdom, which could perceive the unity of the universe. He discovered the power of untrammeled consciousness. Such journeys into the highest worlds of the mind may not be accessible to the common man. Even if they discover RB, ordinary people may remain troubled by the passions and interruptions of their lower level brains. But, they too can achieve a modicum of peace by following the simple question “Who am I?” with persistence and understanding.
This page was last updated on 06-Sep-2016
For my peace of mind, I earmarked 20 minutes for meditation on the terrace. With my eyes closed, I sense my hands on the chair and feel the numbness in my feet.
I feel my breath flowing through my nose, my throat, my chest and my stomach. I can hear the chirping of birds, the phut phut of auto rickshaws, the occasional roar of a truck and the insistent hooting of horns.
The wide sky and the treetops come to my attention, when I open my eyes, I see a pale moon over two hundred thousand miles away. I see the nuclear fires, blazing for millions of years in the pale globe of the setting sun. I see a single star millions of miles away in space.
I can see green shoots coming up on a tree, watch the dives and swoops of birds, the great circles of the hawks and flocks of birds flying home for the night.
Diffused light from the sun reflects off a parrot on the tree and enters my eye through a pinhole opening. I sense the bustling mood of the bird, even though it is smaller than a drop of water in my eyes.
All these things are seen and felt by me in a few brief minutes. In the distance, is the head of a man seeming to be no bigger than a pea. Yet, that head too sees and feels such things. Ten million people in this great city see and feel in ten million ways.
My mind wanders to a misty view of postwar London; an exciting glimpse of Disneyland. An awed view of Tiananmen Square. The looming Himalayan ranges. My mind takes me to distant galaxies.
It carries me into the heart of millions of invisible neurons, where electrical charges flash thousands of times a second powering my contemplation. I see the campaigns of Julius Caesar and Alexander. I feel the longings of Jehangir.
Already my mind has taken me to palaces, battlefields and even the stars. If I lost everything, but can just see and feel, in just a few brief minutes, my mind can travel the world, or imagine the cosmos.
While my thoughts wandered far and near, the thought "20 minutes is a long time" also kept floating in. And yet, life has already blessed me with over twenty million waking minutes! I have an infinity of time on my hands. Have I a right to expect more from life?
I really loved the self improvement plan post. Its great food for thought and the steps are actually actionable as compared to many other self help sites out there.
Joe Glen USA.
As a clinical therapist, I have found your site very useful!
I love it. ...
Andrew Montgomery USA.