Making the ‘who am I’ contemplation practical

Making the ‘who am I’ contemplation practical

By Desmond Yeoh

Most of us have heard about the ‘Who am I?’ contemplation.  We may have read Ramana Maharishi’s Nanyar (‘Who am I’) and found it to be profound and probably contemplated the question but may not have benefited much from it. Why?

This contemplation becomes powerful only when we do not allow ourselves to end with the easy answers such as; I am the mind-body complex or I am the decision maker or I am consciousness or I am part of God. These answers are mental concepts that cannot help us. When we settle for the easy answers, the contemplation loses its power and do not lead us to its true purpose.

The ‘Who am I’ contemplation is powerful because there is no easy answer. When we try to go deeper into our answers, we will arrive at the point where we become stuck. At that point, we experience a profound silence similar to a situation when we are at the brink of finding the answer to a puzzle or when we are trying to recall a name.

When we ask ourselves, “Who am I?” and the answer comes back as I am consciousness; do not stop there. We need to go deeper. For example, we may contemplate; when I am in deep sleep, I am not conscious of anything. At that point, there is no consciousness. Have I disappeared? The ‘I’ cannot just disappear and reappear. Therefore, the ‘I’ cannot be my consciousness. But the Masters say that I am pure consciousness. What is this pure consciousness then? So, we go on analysing.

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We may say, “I am the decision maker”. Then we think; Do I really make all my decisions or are my decisions conditioned by others? There are some things that I would not do because I was taught that it was bad when I was growing up. Would I make the same decisions today if I grew up in a different culture or country?

Deep reflections can lead us to a profound understanding of the ego but only if we do not settle for the easy answers. The ‘Who am I’ contemplation is only effective if we are willing to go all the way to the peak of the highest mountain and the deepest valley in order to find an answer which can truly satisfy us. We must be willing to delve deeper and deeper into our superficial answers.

Eventually, the ‘Who am I’ contemplation will become an effective balm to heal our suffering. Whenever, we face a problem and say “I am suffering,”; we can immediately ask, “Who is this ‘I’ who is suffering”. We will immediately let go of that suffering. Most of the time, we suffer because of our habitual thinking patterns. We refuse to let go of our negative thinking patterns because we are so used to it. Asking ‘Who am I’ causes a break in that thinking pattern. The suffering appears to be a ‘process’ instead of an existential monster. We temporarily let go of the load and we are given the opportunity to decide whether or not to pick up the load again. If we do pick it up again out of habit; no problem, just ask ‘Who am I?’ again.

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