Who are you? It’s a strange question to answer. Usually we think of something we do, something we did, or a way we like to be seen. Anthony de Mello tells the story about a woman in a coma who has a near death experience. She hears a voice.
“Who are you?” the voice says
“I’m the wife of the mayor,” she replies.
“I did not ask whose wife you are but who you are.”
“I’m the mother of four children.”
“I did not ask whose mother you are, but who you are.”
“I’m a schoolteacher.”
“I did not ask what your profession is but who you are.”
And so it went. No matter what she replied, she couldn’t give any absolute answer to the question, “Who are you?”
“I’m a Christian.”
“I did not ask what your religion is but who you are.”
“I’m a volunteer at the local soup kitchen.”
“I did not ask what you do but who you are.”
Alan Watts said, ”Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”
In your truest moments, you don’t need to define yourself. Beyond the roles and labels and names, which are often ancient beliefs from the past, or expectations from society or the ego clawing for some fixed sense of importance, you know that you are more than any of the things you do, say or think. You are always evolving and growing, and open to experiencing each moment. You can’t so much talk ABOUT yourself, you can only BE yourself. This is the crucial distinction between a belief (or an idea) and an experience. A belief is an idea that so easily takes us out of the present moment because its talking about an experience. An experience is IN the moment.
Life is about experiencing yourself in relationship to all else, beyond the labels and judgments.
I love the Sufi story about experience and identity.
A man traveled to a large city and was confused by the number of people he saw everywhere. He felt disoriented and thought he was losing his mind. So he tied an identification tag to his ankle and lay down to sleep in a park. The trickster Nasrudin had been watching, and planned a trick. While the man slept, Nasrudin untied his identification tag and tied it on his own ankle, then lay down next to the man to sleep. When the man woke up, he saw Nasrudin and read the tag on his ankle. He screamed out, “If you are me, then who am I?”
We need tricksters in our life to wake us up, jolt us out of the conditioned ideas of who we are (ideas that came from parents, or teachers or wherever) and bring us back to a clear and present experience of being in the moment.
A Persian story describes the man who was knocking at the gates of heaven.
A voice from the other side said, “Who’s there?” He answered, “It is I!”
The voice replied, “In this house, there is no room for you and me.”
The man went away and pondered this answer for many years before returning. He knocked again. The voice said, “Who’s there?” He answered, “It’s me, Aban Habibi!”
The voice replied, “In this house, there is no room for Aban Habibi and me.”
Again he spent years contemplating this answer. Finally he understood. He went back and knocked on the door. The voice said, “Who’s there?” He answered, “It’s you!” The doors immediately opened.
Beyond the ideas we have about who we are, we wake up to an awareness (experience) of oneness. No you and me,no me and I, no me myself and Irene. All is one. One within, one awareness, awareness of oneness. All for one, and one is all.
Let me end with a challenge from Alan Watts,
As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.