If you have ever sat down and seriously asked, “Who am I?” you’ve done something few people ever get around to. To seriously ask the question implies that you don’t already know the answer, and everyone does—or thinks they do. We use the word “I” all the time without finding any mystery to it. ‘I” is the identity that points to you, the individual. ‘I” is the skin-enclosed ego in the body you see in the mirror. “I” is the separate mind that makes you uniquely different from all the other people who walk around with their own version of “I.”
There are quite a few things that complicate the situation, however. In ancient Greece “Know thyself” was considered the ultimate wisdom. The Hebrew Bible contains a dictum, “Be still and know that I am God.” Oldest of all, in Vedic India the notion arose that each individual mind is actually part of cosmic mind, the way an individual wave is part of the ocean. In every instance, the same thing is happening— “I” becomes part of a mystery, and by solving the mystery, the reward is either deep knowledge, contact with the divine, or access to all-embracing consciousness.
This brief sketch opens up a choice that is as simple as it is profound. You can continue to accept that “I” is the same separate identity enclosed in a physical body that you, like everyone else, have taken for granted all your life. Or you can heed the hint that “I” might need to be explored for its hidden possibilities. If you look down the road far enough, “Who am I?” leads all the way to Einstein’s assertion that either nothing is a miracle or everything is a miracle.
At first there doesn’t seem to be a connection between “I” and miracles. But a miracle, simply defined, is a supernatural event. “Super” is the Latin prefix for over or above. That’s precisely the issue with the mystery of “I.” Does it point us to something above or beyond Nature? Clearly ancient wisdom, religion, and philosophy believed it did. The whole point of having a human identity is that it is a conscious identity. Every time you use the word “I,” you affirm that you are a conscious being, not a mechanical robot or a brain puppet.
It is possible to be born as a mathematical genius who doesn’t pursue math, a musical genius who doesn’t play music, or an artistic genius who never paints a picture. Potential isn’t the same as achievement. So it is possible to possess the potential for cosmic consciousness and still turn your back on it. The temptation to do just that is why wisdom, religion, and philosophy arose—to urge people to ignore the temptation. It is the easiest thing in the world to remain ignorant of your status as a conscious being. All around us we see how this works.
Think the same way everyone else thinks.
Follow old habits and conditioning.
Accept society’s collective beliefs.
Conform in order to remain safe.
Cling to your story as your identity.
Protect your self-image.
Look out for number one.
There are powerful forces at work on this list, and none is new. It doesn’t matter what age you are born into. In fact, if you stand back, it’s amazing that the counterforces known as wisdom, religion, and philosophy ever came on the scene. They are pitifully weak compared with the drives and demands of society and the ego-personality that everyone obeys without a second thought.
Even if you begin to have doubts about the whole scheme, there is no villain to blame. All the forces just named have the same origin: the human mind. You cannot have society, ego, self-image, conditioning, habits, or a personal story without a mind to create these things. How can you escape them? The mind would have to turn on itself, with all the perils, risks, and fears this implies.
This is where you have to take the supernatural literally. To escape the powerful forces set in motion by the mind, it is necessary to go beyond nature, in this case human nature. As we all experience it, what is human nature? It is not one thing. Inside us is good and evil, reason and unreason, pain and pleasure. In other words, human nature expresses a divided self, and from this divided self arises all the confusion and conflict that life presents every day. There is always Mozart but always war and violence. There is always Buddha, but there is always the next violent dictator and tyrant.
Once you see the situation created by the mind, you are actually on the threshold of the solution. It lies in the axiom, “clear away your illusions, and what remains will be real.” In reality, contrary to everything you have accepted as “I,” you are already supernatural. You are designed to go beyond human nature. No struggle, journey, quest, or massive challenge is demanded. The minute you see how the illusion works, it drops away.
Let the mind drop away, which is the maker of illusion, and what remains is awareness itself. Here a second axiom, this one from ancient India, helps us break free: “Know that one thing by which all else is known.” That one thing is awareness. Wrapped inside the simple fact that you are aware is an untold capacity for all the highest values that the mind never created through thinking. Look at the following things we all value: love, compassion, intelligence, creativity, insight, empathy, joy, and inspiration. None of them exist because somebody thought them up.
They are the potential enclosed in awareness. Not that the mind is the enemy of awareness, either. Mind, with all its constant buzz of activity, is also a potential that awareness possesses in and of itself. What wisdom, religion, and philosophy try to say is that you are wise, divine, and the way to truth. This isn’t blasphemy or abstract idealism. “I” is the outlet that infinite consciousness uses to bring you into the world and the world into you. Ask “who am I?” and you open a window into infinity. It is worth considering such a vision, especially as the world stands today, in dire need of rescuing from the horrors we created ourselves.
Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle with permission
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