In the last 40+ years I’ve asked myself this question, Who Am I?" countless times. Sometimes when I hear it I see the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, smoking his hookah and looking sagely down at Alice. He pointedly and stiltedly inquires, “whoooo are youuuuu?”
Sometimes I hear Roger Daltrey’s voice belting it out “tell me who, who, who are you...”
When you’re asked, "who are you?" what’s the answer?
Is it an automatic default with responses like: “I’m a woman (man), a wife (husband), a daughter (son), a mother (father), a student… “
It’s pretty common to identify with roles we play in our lives because, to a large extent, they define us or we allow them to define us.
Once I really committed to a spiritual path though, this question seemed to haunt me. I say this because it was like I had to go deeper with it, deeper than the external roles I play and that I thought defined me.
I am a body- a female, blonde, tallish… or am I?
Am I really a body, separate from everything? But I am more than just a body.
I’m a soul, a part of the one-ness of the Uni-verse.
I’ve been tricked into thinking I’m a body. But who I am, my soul, is eternal, never dies.
There’s a famous Indian saint named Sri Ramana Maharshi who is often quoted as asking his students that question, “Who Are you?"
I used to imagine him asking me that question and staring at him blankly, feeling completely empty and void of a single idea.
Apparently, though his goal in asking the question wasn’t necessarily to get an answer but to encourage self-reflection.
In other words, to go deeper.
Not to have it be a ‘mind’ exercise but to really contemplate our basic consciousness, our true nature or essential being. And as we do this, we see that we are not a role, not a body, that we are part of the whole, infinite one-ness or God, the Uni-verse or whatever word you like.
In fact, it isn’t actually a question at all but a statement, “I am…”
And therein lies its power.
If we know that we are part of God, that we co-create our world, then “I am” becomes how we define the vastness and greatness of who we are. The limits, definitions or roles are simply ways we make ourselves smaller, not believing that we are indeed capable of greatness.
As Marianne Williamson so eloquently stated in A Return to Love:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.