In the ninth century, the Vedic sage Adi Shankara was also asking this question, and he came up with an elegant description of the three primary layers of life that mask our essential spiritual nature: 1.) the physical realm, encompassing our environment, our energetic body, and our physical body; 2.) the subtle realm containing our mind, intellect, and ego; and 3.) the causal realm, which includes our personal soul, our collective soul, and our spirit.
Each of us carries around a virtual résumé or CV that contains all the many ways in which we identify ourselves. For example, we may say, “I’m a mother, father, sibling, or child. I’m a fan of this movie star, teacher, author, or sports team. I’m a believer in this philosophy or that one. I eat this kind of food and drive this kind of car. I wear this style of clothing and I speak this way. I respond to life in this way or that. I communicate in this style. I love these certain things and I’m not fond of these other things.”
In every moment we are defining ourselves . . . and at the same time limiting ourselves. If we want to experience expansion, we need to broaden our understanding of all the things we are and everything we are capable of doing. Any time say to ourselves or others, “I am ___,” we can pause for a moment and ask ourselves, “Is that really true?” It’s particularly important to question our limiting self-definitions, such as “I am a couch potato” or “I am just not good with numbers” or “I could never be that brave or adventurous or . . . ” In reality, we are much more than we can imagine. As the poet Walt Whitman wrote, “I am not contained between my hat and boots. . . . I am large. I contain multitudes.”
Sometimes when we ask the question Who am I? before we meditate, the answers will flow; and at other times, no answers will come. And often weeks may go without a clear response and suddenly we’ll have an aha! moment when we least expect it.
So ask yourself right now Who am I? Ask the question and live the answer. When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Who do you see? What would you like to see? What do you wish you didn’t see? Who are you? Keep asking the question. As long as you continue to meditate, the answers will flow.