We are not stories! Yet when we ask the question “Who am I?” we most commonly answer by giving a story, i.e. “I am a good person,” “I am shy,” “I am different than others.”
We are not our attachments! “My relationship gives me meaning,” “My children make my life worthwhile,” “My work gives me purpose,” “I can’t live without you.” We are not somebody in comparison to someone else! “I am less intelligent than you,” “My life is more interesting than yours,” “You are more talented than I.”
We are not our defenses! “I won’t let you in because you might hurt me,” “I won’t show how much I care because I might cry,” “I can’t bear to feel your heartache,” “I can’t forgive what they did.”
The egoic mind both efforts and delights in labeling, categorizing, and judging. From these workings of the mind we develop stories about how things are. We then superimpose identity onto our stories, believing the activity of the mind is who we are. From our focus on the creations of the mind we become distracted from realizing the truth of who we are.
Spiritual inquiry is a way to bring about profound change of heart, it helps us to recognize the attempts of the mind to categorize us as autonomous. Inquiry also helps us to recognize the truth that we are inescapably united to “what is.”
Spiritual inquiry helps us to recognize our ultimate identity without the labels that make us distinct.We know we are alive when we reside in the present moment—breathing, feeling, experiencing, allowing, and being intimate with “what is.”
The immediacy is here now, as we experience life as it arises, when it arises. Our mind clings to its efforts to define who we are and reacts to immediate experience with thought. Thought orients us to the future and the past. In doing so, it acts as a filter from what is real and diminishes our inner peace.
The mind shrinks from “what is” by comparing it to the past. It notes that life is not as it was a moment or a year ago. It has preferences and likes some experiences better than others. So it screens life experiences as better or worse, compared to what was previously. The very act of the mind doing so disconnects us from “the now” and we lose our experience of contentedness.
The mind draws away from “what is” by contrasting it to some imaginary future. It notes that life is not as it desires it to be. It says “I will be happy when things are the way I want them to be!” In doing so, the mind distances us from “the present.”
Identified in egoic stories we are a step ahead (or a step behind) of ourselves in some illusory state of being and are detached from “the present” moment. Inner peace comes from utterly accepting the movement of life as it flows through us. This includes the radical acceptance of our body sensations, our emotional currents and the events around us.
When there is no disconnect there is no mental-made suffering caused by the reactions of the mind. When we see through the mind we become less reactive to life as it is, we remain aware and know who we are.
We are vastly more than who we think we are. Our minds simply cannot conceive of our essential nature. As we mature from child to adult we form our sense of self around stories and experiences.
During these formative years, these stories become the structure of our identity. The process of identity formation is natural, but unconscious, causing us to wander through life assuming that the core stories we tell ourselves are true.
Unwittingly, we believe falsehoods, inaccuracies and lies to be who we are! This is what is referred to as egoic identity, or the false self.Any story that we create to describe who we are is only a story, not the truth. The ego clings to its stories desperately, presuming, that if it lets go, our lives will collapse into chaos.
The ego fears if we relax the mental structures that control our lives we will fall apart. So the ego clings to the old ways of being that have held life in place. In reality, when we surrender; letting go of trying to control, letting go of the shoulds, the expectations, the aversions, and desires—we are left with the essence of being.
When we let go of trying to prove ourselves and trying to support the stories of identity, we are liberated from the false sense of self and are left with a felt sense of deep inner peace, kindness and compassion.
When we let go of the story of identity we reside in the “now” of reality, feeling aliveness and presence. Examining the essence of “who we are” and “who we are not” requires courage.
The burning, yearning desire to know who we are provides the courage to face the fear that we will disintegrate, die or dissolve. Ironically, it is the same fear that keeps us from living fully in the present.
Letting go, at first, usually brings up tremendous anxiety and fear. Breathing and trusting the mystery of life, we find a way to allow fear and surrender into “what is.”
When we let go, a change of heart happens and everything becomes profoundly different than it was before, life becomes infused with the experience of freedom and joy.
One of the ways to move toward “letting go” is by inquiry into questions like “Who am I?” One of the easiest ways to approach this question is to explore who we are not.
We are not the core stories we unconsciously form identity around. By making the core stories more conscious something softens and we begin to sense into the presence and spaciousness of who we truly are.
Core stories are developed early in life. They are formed around two themes; Am I loveable? Am I competent? Or, I am “Not quite good enough,” “Not lovable,” “Not worthy,” “Not belonging” as if we are inherently flawed.
Believing we are “Not right” we inevitably go about trying to control, contain, prove, earn, master, please, keep safe and attempt to control ourselves and others through our ideas.