The self reflection, ‘Who am I?’ is a 10,000 year old yogic meditation. And though it has a long Yogic tradition it’s also a universal contemplation on the meaning and purpose of life found in cultures and spiritual traditions spreading across our planet. Reflecting and wondering ‘who am I’ seems to be a universal part of human consciousness and is no doubt encoded in our dna.
Carl Rogers, the 20th Century renowned clinical psychologist and the father of modern humanistic psychology said that the fundamental question beneath all the problems that people brought to him was “who am I and what’s the purpose of my life.”
Ramana Maharshi, the ‘who am I’ Indian guru who lived in the first half of the 20th Century said that to “know your self, you know everything.’
During our Yoga Camel Trek retreat we experienced the two person exercise called a ‘relating exercise’ to support the self reflection, ‘who am I.’ The listening partner said to their contemplating and communicating partner, “Tell me who you are.” After five minutes the roles reversed and the listening partner became the contemplating partner and vice versa. This is a powerful process that teaches and supports good communication habits of non judgemental listening, honest communication within an interpersonal environment of non interruption.
Of course you can do this ‘who am I’ meditation on your own by staying open to the consciousness of who you are right here and right now. You can do this during your day by finding a moment (in fact, find many moments during your day) when you can take a little time to be open to directly knowing your self. It may be while you are walking down the street, or waiting in a queue or driving to work, exercising or washing the dishes. Just stay open as you reflect ‘who am I.’ It’s a meditation that can be like waking up from a dream.
The notion or metaphor of waking from a dream is not an uncommon way of expressing the reality of enlightenment. David Hawkins, a psychiatrist and modern spiritual adventurer has written several books on consciousness. In his book, The Eye of the I, he writes:
“It is as though one had forgotten and now awakened from a dream. All fears are revealed to be groundless; all sorrows are foolish imaginings. There is no future to fear nor past to regret. There is no errant ego self to admonish or correct. There is nothing that needs changing or bettering. there is nothing about which to feel ashamed or guilty. There is no 'other' from which one can be separated. No loss is possible. Nothing needs to be done, no effort is required, and one ifs free from the endless tug of desire and want."
The experience of a participant at an Enlightenment Intensive retreat that Gitesha and I regularly facilitate related this to us:
“Its slippery, this sense of myself. I chased it like a cat chasing a ball on a string. And when I grabbed it I realised that I AM HERE! I am here and there is no better company than my self! I had to giggle. My body moved automatically to show its gratitude to the world. My eyes widened. My mouth slipped into a smile. My muscles relaxed and I felt light. I felt a desire to give my love to others. To bring light to them. I felt like I could connect with any soul on the planet. And connect so deeply, that others would be injected with my wonderment and joy.”
And here’s another person describing their contemplation on ‘who am I’ during another Enlightenment Intensive:
“It’s like I’ve awoken from a dream. My life changed dramatically. I met ME, the true me, for the first time. Now I just enjoy every moment that I have and I am grateful to share the truth of me with all living things. And my relationships have improved, especially with my family.”
You can see by the words written above that awakening to ‘who you are’ or the state of enlightenment is a profound experience that puts you firmly on a path toward changing your life for the better. It inspires you to improve your life and the way you relate to the world and those around you.
The final step of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga is Samadhi or Enlightenment. This is the ultimate goal of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. It’s a state that sages, mystics and pursuers of Truth all agree can’t be described in words because it is beyond words. Zen Masters say, ‘Pointing at the moon is not the moon.’ Describing the ineffable is only pointing at It.