When I ask people the question "Who are you?" I'm usually greeted with silence. People are not sure; in fact, some have never even stopped to think about it. Can you imagine living all your life without knowing who you really are?
Once people recover from the initial surprise of the question they respond with all kinds of definitions, most of which are based on their character or abilities. "I am Anna, I am a teacher, I am a mother, I am good-natured, I am artistic, I am a driven individual, I like helping others," and so on.
Would you agree that who you are is a collection of your experiences, memories, thoughts, feelings and beliefs? Most people tend to agree with that.
Let's examine this deeper. Are we our experiences and memories or are these only events that we have encountered no more? Are we our thoughts?
If you answered yes, then let me ask you this: Can we change a thought? Of course we can. So who then is changing the thought? Is there someone "bigger" than the thoughts who can change them if he or she wishes to? The thought cannot change itself, the same way a book cannot turn its own pages, or a car start its own engine. So who inside can do it? You may say: "I do. I can change my thought." So in that case you are not your thoughts, are you?
Are you your feelings?As with thoughts, you can say that you have feelings but not that you are them. And what about beliefs? Are you your belief system? Many assume that they are, but we need to use the same rationale: we can change or update a belief or an attitude. It may be hard to do, but it can be done. You may have beliefs and attitudes but you are not them, wouldn't you agree?
In that case who is this person who is having thoughts, memories, feelings and beliefs? You may say it is the PERSONALITY. Many psychologists would agree with that, but who was there before you developed a personality? Who is the entity who has the personality?
You may answer again, "I do." In that case, who are you? We are back to square one, but at least we know, at this point, who we are not. We are not, at least not totally, our thoughts, feelings, or personalities.
The word person comes from the Latin word persona which means a mask. Indeed, people wear all kinds of masks that enable them to play all kinds of dramas. But even if you wear a thousand different masks, there is a face behind the mask. I call it CoreSelf.
We present many selves including the self that we would like others to think we are, the self we actually think we are, the self we are afraid we are, and then, of course, the core essence that we really are. When you take off the masks, you find the true face of who you are.
In his famous statement, Descartes declared, "I think, therefore, I am." From a spiritual perspective, the more appropriate statement would be, I think, therefore I THINK I am. Who we think we are is nothing but a bunch of thoughts! Who we really are is beyond thought.
Try this awareness exercise for a moment: take a few deep breaths in, suspend all thoughts, perceptions and feelings? Who remains after you pushed away everything?
Our CoreSelf is indeed the spiritual essence that we are really made of. Below our egos and excessive mental processing it lays waiting for us to discover it. When we learn to recognize it and deepen our awareness of it, good things happen, automatically, without the need for goals or use of will power. We are then in sync with who we truly are. Therefore, to be more of who we are, we have to reduce our pre-occupation with thoughts and feelings and become more aware of our surrounding, without criticizing, judging, blaming and complaining.
To live life more fully, a life that is purposeful, we first need to know who we are and make choices based on this inner wisdom. Then, we can begin to experience a strong sense of freedom, joy and inner peace and we can heal our life. Healing is a process that happens naturally when we are connected to our spirituality. This takes place when we are in alignment with who are. Take a deep breath in, exhale slowly, suspend all mental processing for a while. Who are you?
"Surely, we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience."
--Pierre Teilhard De Chardin
About this Contributor: Bob Gottfried Ph.D. is a psychotherapist and a Neuro-cognitive specialist practicing in Toronto, Canada. He is the clinical director of Advanced Wellness Programs and Advanced Cognitive Enhancement (ACE) clinics, and a consultant for the Canadian Centre for Integrative Medicine and Global Health Management. He is the originator of an innovative therapy called Core Integration Therapy (CIT), and developer of advanced programs for enhancing memory and concentration. (Shortcut to Spirituality: Mastering the Art of Inner Peace - ISBN: 0973418907)