What Are You?

This last Saturday about 85 hardy souls gathered to inquire into the question, “What Am I?” This practice is not for the feint of heart.

It’s maddening.

But in a good way.

Inquiry is a technique for turning the mind to that which can only be experienced.

Ramana Maharshi, the great sage of inquiry, claimed constant inquiry into two questions can reveal one’s true nature.

Who am ?

What do I really want?

These are cathartic questions.  The mind grasps for linear, logical answers.  If you can stay in the process it can feel like you are unpeeling an onion.

The challenge is to keep going.  That’s where the brilliance of the dyad process comes in.  Your partner gives you the following instructions:

“Please tell me what you are.”

You then, with all sincerity, bring your attention to the question, sense what arises and try to get across to your partner as best as you can what you feel and notice.

Oftentimes your words can sound like utter nonsense, filled with circular, vague meanderings.  The point of focus is not getting the answer right, but in directing your attention to the point of inquiry with true sincerity.

Your partner is a mirror. They are not smiling or nodding or encouraging or frowning or looking away, but listening as best as they can with open, non-judgmental attention.

The mutual listening is what can deepen the inquiry and help to stay present through the inevitable confusion and frustration. Their effort and words can oftentimes contribute to your own exploration.  It helps you keep going.

There’s a phrase in yoga that says, “Where the attention goes, the energy flows.”

By focusing again and again on this question, we are training the mind to open it’s frame of reference.

Some have asked, “Why do we use ‘what’ am I rather than ‘who’ am I?”

Any question can be used, but I’ve found the inquiry “Who am ?” to imply there’s some personality in there I am trying to uncover.

“What am I?” has a way of more thoroughly deconstructing the false sense of self.

There is a story about the Buddha on this topic.  He was reportedly stopped on the road and someone demanded an answer.

“Is there or is there not a self?,” this person demanded.

The Buddha allegedly responded, “I will not say there is a self.  I will not say there is not a self.  I will say that I can’t find one.”


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