I’ve been asking myself that question recently. Who am I? It’s a complicated thing it seems.
Last week I caused myself and others to suffer. Why? Because I forgot my practice and I forgot who I was. For a moment, I got caught up in lots of stressful human stuff and it completely took over my mind. Mindfulness training has enabled me to see quite quickly when I have been triggered and reacted to words or situations. On this occasion, within a very short time, I was asking myself “Wow, Who was that?”. It didn’t seem like ‘me’. But then, who am I anyway?
Lately I’m feeling we live in quite a negative world. Nothing is ever good enough and we often aren’t happy with how things are. I’m observing people just want more and more. And my mindfulness practice shows me when I have fallen into that trap too. I find it quite painful until my compassion practice allows me to offer myself some kindness for being part of the human condition.
Then, the priceless insight training I have received allows me to turn towards the difficulty. Often, I will suddenly observe the habitual behaviour of my subliminal mind and see everything differently. I also notice my programming. It feels a bit like a computer virus that needs anti-virus software.
For a couple of weeks now I have been using my practice to drop the question ‘who am I?’ into my practice. The insight that has been arising is that we human beings are so multi-faceted, that it is tricky to get to a real sense of our authentic self. I started by looking at all the roles I play in life. I am a mother, grandmother, daughter, aunt and niece. And that’s just in the family unit alone.
Then add a touch of what I do for a living. I am a designer, writer and a communications manager. I have been a pupil, undergraduate, graduate, carer, tax officer and senior manager. During my life I have been a friend, colleague, manager, employee, girlfriend, fiancée, wife, ex-wife and partner. Oh, and I have been a dog owner – which often comes with the title of master! Nowadays, I’m a practitioner and teacher of tai chi, yoga, Qigong, Mindfulness and Compassion.
Each of these roles, I notice comes with a mask, a language, reactions with others and some habitual behaviours thrown in for good measure. Do you remember the scene in the film Men in Black? One of the characters, Edgar, has adopted a disguise as a human farmer, when in fact he is an alien cockroach type creature. He is described as having an ‘Edgar suit’. In the film Edgar found it more and more uncomfortable wearing his ‘Edgar suit’ until he tore it off and his true self emerged.
I remember it really well as it resonated with me. I noticed at all the suits I wear. There’s a mum suit, a grandmother suit, a mindfulness teacher suit, a partner suit etc. etc.
When I spend too much time in any of these roles, or suddenly jump from one to another quite quickly, I notice my behaviour changing. I find this very uncomfortable and can easily get lost.
Then I have my emotions. Sometimes I can be happy, sad, lonely, overwhelmed, fearful, angry or jealous. With each of these emotions, and the many more I haven’t listed, comes another sense of me. Each one different.
In total, all these different roles, perceptions, emotions and behaviours programmed into my subconscious being are complex and cause me confusion. They seem to be me, or part of my ‘reified I’, the solid sense of myself. And yet, these parts of me are uncomfortable and often I find I want to escape from them.
In my quest to finding out ‘who I am’ I increasingly recognise how important my mindfulness, compassion and insight practice is. It is my computer’s anti-virus software. In the book, from Mindfulness to Insight, Nairn, Regan-Addis and Choden state that:
“The reason why insight is so important is because our assumption of who we are is at odds with how things really are – and we suffer greatly for this.”
Choden told the audience at the Mindful Living Show earlier this year, that ‘Mindfulness isn’t enough’. These words really stayed with me as I realise how true that is. I need compassion practice to be kind to myself when, sometimes, I am suffering in some way or catch myself behaving in a way I don’t like. Then I am fortunate that insights arise when I can see the habit, or the source of the behaviour. The benefit of that is that I catch myself faster and have a choice to respond rather than react from my subconscious mind.
So where am I on my journey to answering this seemingly impossible question of who I am?
I’m finding it in my practice. The moments when I sit, with whatever is going on, and lean in to it, allowing it to be there, surrounded by space, with compassion. Not engaging, not reacting, just watching.
I then get a sense of the ‘mere I’ – the one who is watching and flowing with life. It is then I get a sense of what equanimity is all about. Just being. Not doing. Then, that’s where I begin to get a sense of who I am underneath all the craziness of being in a human being suit.
It is my intention to gradually integrate that new understanding of my real presence into all my roles, my emotions and my life scenarios. Then I hope that I will experience a more authentic, integrated sense of self which I’m hoping will be less stressful.
Who are you? This week’s challenge is to ask yourself that question. I invite you to sit quietly with your practice, resting your mind on your chosen support. When you are settled, drop in the question – ‘who am I?’ and see what arises of its own accord. Is it possible to see beyond the roles, emotions and behaviours and get a sense of a calmer being inside?
I’d love to hear your experiences so please do leave a comment after this blog or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wish you well on your journey.
Jacky will be co-teaching Level 1 – Being Present with Alan Hughes at Samye Ling 13 – 15 March 2020 and on the Level 2 – Responding with Compassion with Heather Regan-Addis at Samye Ling starting 5-7 June 2020.
We’d love to see you there. If you can’t make it, how about taking the Level 1 course online.
Come Practice With Us.
Nairn, R., Choden., Regan-Addis, H., 2019. From Mindfulness to Insight. Shambala.