When exploring the question, “Who am I?” I consider first a list of things I am not.
I’m not my body or my mind. I’m not my personality. I’m not my thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. I’m not the story I tell about my life. I’m not a list of chronological events that happened to me.
Let me clarify.
I seem to be (for now) “inhabiting” my body, but I am not arms, legs, a torso, and a head—I am the one within that house of flesh, bone, and blood.
I have a mind. It analyzes and dissects data (with the brain as its engine); but I am not simply a brain or even the data-sorter I call my mind. I’m the one who sees the mind’s activity.
I have a personality, which is largely a construct, a “face” I put on. This is who I want the world to see. Maybe it’s authentic, maybe it’s artifice; most likely, it’s an ever-shifting combination of the two. Subject to change. I am not that. I am the unchanging presence observing the machinations of the personality.
I have thoughts, feelings, and beliefs which arise from my personal narrative which includes the “history of me” from birth to today. Milestones. Trauma. Joy. Heartbreak. Ecstasy. Hurt. Loss. The good and the bad. All of these things matter, they have value—they should be examined, honored, evaluated, understood, felt, even cherished. They are the ways I experience being human. But they are not me. I am the one who thinks, feels, and interprets. I am the believer. I am the one who is aware of all these things. I am the one who is there, the witness.
Thoughts, feelings, beliefs—all the things I have listed—they are passing phenomenon, always in flux, varying in expression and intensity, they come and go like clouds or the weather.
The true “I” is like the unchanging sky, visited by clouds and weather.
Author and teacher Rupert Spira uses the metaphor of the movie screen and the movie to illustrate this concept.
The movie appears on the screen. In the movie, the image constantly changes. There’s a sunset. A bird soars across a darkening sky. Then, an explosion! No matter what the movie image is, the screen is unaffected. It is simply the medium upon which the images appear. The movie has a story. It’s happy. It’s sad. There are defeats and victories. Suffering and rapture. Life and death. The screen remains the same.
I am the screen. My life is the movie.
As the movie of my life unfolds, I will relish happy feelings and honor sad feelings; but I realize I don’t have to totally identify with them. They are not who I am. My thoughts and feelings very often aren’t entirely accurate and frequently they’re complete bullshit, arising out of fear, ignorance, and insecurity. They are subjective, confused, and biased—usually in a negative way. I don’t have to give them any real weight. I don’t have to be that bullshit story. I can question its legitimacy and relevance. I can get out from beneath the crushing negative narrative. I have a choice! I can find comfort in the pure being that is aware of my mind’s constructions.
Indian yoga guru Sadhguru puts it like this:
“There is a psychological reality in your head, and there is an existential reality which is life. Most people are mistaking their psychological reality to be existential.”
“Your thought and emotion,” he goes on to say, “have become more significant than the cosmos, isn’t it so?”
Yes! So often, we walk about totally immersed in the tiny drama we are generating inside our heads, as if it were somehow more real, more true, than the universe, than existence itself.
So often, it is this psychological drama that is causing our deepest suffering.
I know this has been true for me most of my adult life.
In the midst of heaven on Earth I have generated hell, simply by superimposing my primitive, messy, fucked up, hurt, lost, selfish, fearful, psychological drama over the simple, clear, beautiful reality of being a piece of life, given the profound privilege of watching the unfolding of God’s dream.
This doesn’t mean life can never be a nightmare. It can. But even when it is, I have a choice as to how much suffering I cause by getting caught up in the story I tell myself about it. Like the story about how unfair life is, how everything would be so much better “if only” this or that, and on and on with the never-ending self-pitying story my imagination is weaving, all about “poor me.”
May we shine more brightly in the light of the glorious beings we really are.