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Always ask "Who Am I?"

The "Who Am I?" Meditation

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Dear Friends,

The practice of simple meditation leads to control over the mind. That is, we can observe the mind introducing anxiety-laden thoughts, and we can choose not to be affected by them. The process is similar to watching actors on the stage or screen. Like the audience in the theatre, we are the witness to the play of thoughts, feelings and actions involving this body we inhabit. The advice of the Indian Sage Sankaracharya is pertinent here. He says:

“Cease to identify yourself with race, clan, name, form and walk of life. These belong to the body, the garment of decay. Abandon, also, the idea that you are the doer of actions or the thinker of thoughts. These belong to the ego, the subtle covering. Realise that you are that Being which is eternal happiness.”

So, how do we begin to realise our true nature, the Witness who has observed this body being born and who will observe its dying?  There is a simple meditation called, “Who am I?”  There are many variations of this approach. The one I’ll introduce you to is simply a beginning.

 

When we think of the objects that belong to us, we can readily say “I am not any of these objects. I own them, they are mine”. So now we can ask, “Who is this ‘I’ which owns the objects?”  Is this ‘I’ the body? We say, “My body. I have a body.” We cannot be both the owner of the body as well as the body being owned. So we can say, “I am not this body.” In the same way, we can go on to reason that we are not our thoughts nor our feelings, for they too belong to ‘I’. In fact, anything which we can say is ‘mine’, anything we can observe, all this we can clearly assert is not ‘I’. So who am ‘I’?

We can say with full assurance that ‘I’ am the eternal witness, for ‘I’ am always present and ‘I’ observe everything. We can say that ‘I’ am the changeless Self, for ‘I’ observe all changes and am therefore unchanging. Such reasoning allows us to see that we are not who we think we are, nor what others think we are. In fact we can assert with true conviction, “I am I only and nothing else”.

The enquiry of “Am I this?” and its reply “I am not this”, can be useful in our everyday lives. For example, if we are feeling unloved we can ask, “Am I this feeling of being unloved?” A reply naturally occurs: “How can I be that feeling which I am observing? Further, I was present well before the feeling first arrived. I am not this feeling of being unloved.” According to our understanding we can add, “I am love itself. When I seek to be loved, this is but a yearning to experience the ‘I’, my true Self, which is infinite love.”

The ‘Who am I?’ question is powerful at times; it can be like drenching rain on a runaway forest fire. I’ll give one example of its effectiveness in a time of crisis:

I had seen Jennifer on just two occasions in the previous month, seeking to dissolve the panic attacks that were consuming her life. Little progress, if any, had been made even though she had listened at home to the Self Help Therapy CDs I’d given her on ‘Mastering Fear’ and ‘Simple Meditation’. Then one day I got a phone call from her in which she was hysterical with fear.

My attempts at reassurance went unheard, lost amidst her loud sobbing and pleadings for help. After about ten minutes of listening, I changed tactics and began asking in a voice much louder than hers, “Who is it observing the fear? Who is it observing the fear?”, repeating it over and over until she paused to listen. Then in a softer tone I reminded her:

You are not this fear. When you are observing something, you are separate from it. So you are not the fear. Even when the fear is at its worst, ‘you’ are not frightened. ‘You’ are not frightened now. ‘You’ are still observing some fear.  ‘You’ are recalling the memory of high-level fear; ‘you’ have been observing the fear reducing as you listen to me. The fear is going, but ‘you’ are not going. ‘You’ are not changing. ‘You’ never change. ‘You’ are always content, observing the fear and discontent come and then go. Fear can never enter ‘you’. Be patient, a new dawn always follows even the darkest night.

Jennifer had been listening intently, her fast laboured breathing slowing down as I said a few words, paused, and then spoke some more. Then I said to her:

Remember what we practised in our last session? We’ll do that now. Each time you breathe out, say to yourself, “I am not this body and mind with its fear.” Each time you say it, get a sense of this ‘I-ness’ which is not the body and mind.
Keep saying, “I am not this body and mind with its fear,” each time you breathe out. Now add something to that. Each time you breathe in, silently ask the question “Who am I?”  Then, before you breathe out, hold the breath for a few seconds and reply to your question with, “I am I”.

I repeated these reminders a few times until she was calm again. We finished our conversation on a good note.

Jennifer rang a few days later to tell me some interesting news. She said, “I’ve just realized something. I have to leave this house (in a country town) and live near my family and friends again. And this sort of work I’ve been doing is not good for me.”

I wonder now whether her fear was a signal that she had been going against the conscience, her ‘inner voice’. Standing back from her fear, identifying for a while with her true Self and not with ‘Jennifer’, she could now access her inner wisdom.

Her recovery was rapid after that powerful phone-call, and within a few weeks she was back in Sydney amongst familiar faces. I suggested that she continue practising the ‘Who am I?’ meditation remembering that it would allow her to stay connected with who she really was, the ‘I’, who already knows the way.

With love,
Ron and Su Farmer

Practice

The ‘Who am I?’ Meditation (excerpted from the CD, ‘Simple Meditation’ by Dr. Ron Farmer).

First the preparation. Let’s look at how we sit.

You might like to sit in a yoga posture with crossed legs. However, it is not essential. You can sit upright in an ordinary chair, with both feet flat upon the floor. Choose one that is lower than average. Rest your hands on your thighs with palms open and upwards, or in your lap with right palm in front of the left. Do not intertwine the fingers.

So, let’s begin. Relax the body….  Head….  Neck….  Shoulders….  Arms…. Back…. Chest….  Abdomen….  Pelvis….  Thighs… . Legs….. Feet….. Allow the breathing to become slower and deeper….

Now begin to ask, silently in your mind, “Who am I?”

The thought comes, “If I lose all my hair, all my teeth, will any of me be gone? Who is it that observes the loss? It is I, the Witness. I am not this body.”

The thought comes, “If I change my job, lose all of my friends, and when this body dies, do I change too? Who is observing the change? It is I, the eternal changeless I. I am not this body.”

Remember a time when you were sad....  Remember a time when there was joy….  The thought comes, “Am I the sadness? Am I the joy?”

Remember a time when you were angry….  Remember a time when you were afraid….  Allow a thought to come. “Am I the anger? Am I the fear? If I am these emotions and now they are gone, where am I now?”

You reply, “I am not these emotions. I am the Witness, the one who observes the emotions. I am, abiding Peace.”

Allow any thought to come into the mind now. Ask yourself, “Who am I? Am I the thought?”…. Now allow the thought, “I am the Witness. I am that which is aware of all thoughts.”

Allow the thought, “I am not this body. This body is like a house that I live in, like a car I drive around in, like a suit of clothes that I wear. This body changes and will die. I do not change. I do not die. I observe the change. I observe the dying.”

Allow the thought, “I am not these emotions. Emotions are like waves. I can watch them disappear into the distance. I do not disappear. I am eternal peace, stillness and happiness.”

Allow the thought, “I am not these passing thoughts. I observe the mind holding on to this thought and that. I observe the passing of each thought. I am not these thoughts. I am not this mind.”

Now let’s combine the question, “Who am I?” with the breath. Just listen to me before you start. Each time you breathe out,  say to yourself, “I am not this body.”….. As you breathe in, ask the question, “Who am I?”….  Then, holding the breath in for a second or two, give the reply, “So-Hum.”

“So-Hum” means ‘I’ am the Witness, awareness, eternal peace and pure, lasting unsullied happiness. So-Hum means that which remains when all else is gone, that which was never born and will never die. Don’t try to think about what it means while doing the meditation.

So, to continue, each time you breathe out, say to yourself, “I am not this body.”….  Each time you breathe in, ask “Who am I?”…. Before you breathe out, allow the reply, “So-Hum.”….  Keep doing that for a while.

ff 

Sources for further study and exploration:

These are the relevant CD titles from the Self Help Therapy catalogue

  • Mastering Fear
  • Simple Meditation

‘The Mind and its Mysteries’  A compilation of discourses delivered by Sathya Sai Baba in 1976. Available from Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust, India. Email: enquiry@sssbpt.org

‘Who Dies?’  A beautiful book by Steven Levine which cogently outlines the commonsense reasoning that ‘we’ (the ‘I’ in each of us) do not die. Many useful meditation sequences are included. Relevant websites are  www.stephenlevine.com   www.spiritsite.com

‘The Power of Now’  by Eckhart Tolle, and later, ‘Practising the Power of Now’. Up until his thirtieth year, Eckhart Tolle “lived in a state of almost continuous anxiety interspersed with periods of suicidal depression.” One night, soon after turning twenty-nine, he was plagued by the recurring despairing thought, “I cannot live with myself any longer.” Then, suddenly, he realized that, “If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me; the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with. Maybe only one of them is real.” At that moment he went through a profound spiritual transformation. Eckhart awakened to the continuing realization that he was the Self, the Being that is not separate from the Being in each one of us and all of creation. His meditation exercises are very helpful for many people. Relevant websites are www.eckharttolle.com   www.holisticpage.com.au

 Sri Ramana Maharshi: regarded as one of the greatest saints of India, Ramana lived on and near Mount Arunachala, where he released the ‘Who am I?” meditative technique to the West through the writers Paul Brunton (‘A Search in Secret India’) and Arthur Osborne (‘Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge’).
Although mostly silent, he also gave many guidelines to visitors on the art of ‘self-enquiry’. These ‘talks’ were recorded in detail during the 1930’s and are published as ‘Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi’.
Relevant website for ordering is: www.ramana-maharshi.org
Another excellent sourcebook is ‘Essence of enquiry’ recorded between 1900 and 1902. Relevant website is: www.ramanacentre.org

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