We notice every now and then that the question “Who am I?” awakens in us. It can come in moments of great shock or suffering; it can also come in moments of true wonder and joy; or it can arise as a result of the conscious efforts we make in our lives to live more honestly. Sometimes it just seems to arise by itself, as a gift from the unknown.
When the question does arise in a serious way, one way to support its flowering is to check in on your breathing and allow your awareness to move inward with your breath–to begin to experience yourself as a breathing being. The process of breathing is a living metaphor for understanding how to expand our narrow sense of ourselves and be present not just to the miraculous energies of life that are both in and around us but also to the deep silence and spaciousness out of which these energies arise. By checking in on your breathing, by noticing all the inner and outer movements of your breath as they take place, you are actually getting in touch with a deeper, more-conscious dimension of your own being.
Allowing your breath to take you deeper inside yourself, however, takes practice. So check in on your breathing right now. Allow all the sensations of your breath, all the internal and external movements related to how you are breathing now, to enter your awareness. See if you can discover a quiet, non-judgmental place in yourself from which you can discern which parts of your body your breathing engages. Just be aware, without any attempt to manipulate your breathing, of what your breath feels like and how this awareness influences your sensation of yourself. How do you feel right now? What, if any, new perceptions are arising? Without coming to any conclusions, what does this experience tell you about who you are? And, perhaps even more important, who or what is aware of all this? Who or what is able to see and listen to what is actually happening?
As you continue to explore yourself in this way, you may notice, though it will probably seem somewhat uncomfortable at the beginning, that the question “Who am I,” a heart-felt question that opens you to the unknown, releases, at least temporarily, the constricting egoic prison of habitual thoughts, beliefs, feelings, perceptions, and sensations that you identify with and take to be yourself. And, if you remain quietly alert, simply following the many movements of your breath, you may notice the precise moment when identification with your ego consciousness–your self-image–returns again, instantaneously shutting out any sense of the unknown. It usually comes in the form of mental or emotional judgments, such as “I’ve done this long enough,” “I think this is silly,” “I’m not learning anything new,” “I’ve got something very important to do now,” and so on. In the name of what you refer to as “I,” all exploration ceases. Catching a glimpse of this process of identification (or attachment) is a moment of real freedom. And once you have seen your own form of identification clearly, and allowed the significance of your inner slavery to your thoughts and emotions to penetrate into your consciousness, you will begin to notice “identification” more and more often in your life. It is this “noticing” that will help you awaken to your real nature–pure welcoming awareness, pure love.