What Am I?

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The question “What am I?” is the fundamental seed of inquiry in many spiritual traditions.  If you are really willing to live with this question, to offer your whole self up to this investigation, if you bring all of reality to bear upon it, it will offer abundant fruit of realization.

The first answers that often come when we ask ourselves this question, or someone else asks us, is to describe the circumstances of our life: I am a woman. I am a man. I am this nationality and come from this family. I do this kind of work and have this political affiliation. And we think of our personality: I am kind or not kind, a loner or socialite, elite or average, cool or warm. Whatever it is, our race or temperament or body type, we cling to it as the sum of what we are.

Some of these ideas we have of ourselves we like and some we don’t.  If life circumstances or another person highlights a part we like and feel attached to we are happy, and if a part of ourselves we dislike is brought forward, discussed, given attention, we are unhappy. Or if someone questions a cherished belief we have—we feel threatened and wish they would go away.  Or we make them go away. It is here we begin to know violence.

But is all of this true? Is it what we are fundamentally? To deeply ask ourselves, “What am I?” is often to attend our own demise (so you can see why we might get edgy), as we begin to strip away the layers of story, idea, belief, and form of our apparently separate life.  It can be a very scary question to be with. If I’m not all that I thought I was, if what I thought was most important about my identity isn’t even necessarily real, what is left?  You have to listen and discover for yourself.  While you are at it, listen to the birds, the breeze, the cat scratching on the post. Listen to the forest floor and the canopy of leaves overhead. Listen to your feet and the floor under your feet.

In this way a moment may come, or be here already, where there is nothing else left except this listening, moving, humming, still, wild life.

How does this question live in you?

This post is part of the series Planting the Seeds of Listening and includes the post What is Most Important? and Marrying the Heart.

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