Yes. I mean that.
Who are you?
Most people have no idea what to say when asked that question. In fact, most people have no idea even of what to think when asked that question. It’s a show-stopper.
And Byron Katie ( www.thework.com ) adds an additional layer of confusion and exponentially-explosive possibility when she asks that question in a marvelously expanded way, “Who are you without your story?”
You want to cause trouble, ask THAT question. It’s a sure-fire way to stir things up. Works every time.
One of the deepest and most troubling curses of the modern age – and I suspect with a few rare exceptions this has been true of humans for millennia, at least since that moment when we left our lives as foragers and took up agriculture – is this mis-identification of self (identity) as form or content. In other words, we believe we are our story: our thoughts, our feelings, our roles, our beliefs, our doctrine and dogma, our jobs, our cars, our relationships, our wounds, our bodies, our history and so on.
We have come to believe we are the construct – that survival-driven, painfully and carefully-built assemblage of identification-with. We have lost touch with the magnificent experience of being (in the moment and in the felt-sense experience of our bodies) and have come to believe we are the story about the doing and having of our day-to-day lives. The relentless machinery of our survival mind now identifies content as self and self as content, and our survival is dependent upon the persistence of our point of view. We are completely convinced that this is THE WAY IT IS! And sadly, that conviction leaves us utterly powerless.
Additionally, the machine mind (ego) believes that its content – our story – all those thoughts, interpretations, assumptions, beliefs, identities, and perspectives – are true and real, and that we MUST act on whatever feelings come up connected to those thoughts. Because the survival mind machinery cannot differentiate between our thoughts and feelings in the story – between what is real and what is in our heads – that toxic confusion of thoughts and feelings becomes hypnotic and compelling drivers of words and actions based in fear, disconnection and otherness. And all that is amplified because our limbic system cannot differentiate between a real threat and a perceived threat. Our biology cannot distinguish between a co-worker throwing a tantrum and a hungry bear.
This is a problem.
Every example of what we consider to be real evil in the human world (other than the presence and behavior of true psychopaths, malignant narcissists, and others with Cluster-B disorders and their related identity disturbances ) is a result of this confusion of identity (self as content) and the resulting disconnection from being and presence (authentic self). As a result of the imprinting, constraints and distractions of the overculture, the machine mind, its thoughts, perceptions, assumptions, interpretations and conclusions are profoundly disordered. We have no access to the present moment, and the felt-sense of the feeling body is numbed. We are disconnected from the real world as it is and dwell almost entirely in the fictional world in our heads – our story.
This state of spiritual unconsciousness has truly disastrous consequences for all of planet earth, every being and every species, globally. As a species we humans are the planetary apex predator. We consume everything and we really need to own that about ourselves. We must either grow through this numb unconsciousness and disconnection from our being in the natural world or we will die off, taking nearly all of the planetary biome with us.
Well, all of that still leaves us with the primary question – who are you? Perhaps we now have a bit more clarity about what we are not, but how do we answer the question of who we are?
This reminds me of the zen lesson embodied inside one of the most famous koans of all time:
The zen master sat in stillness with the student for the entire morning. Then, without preamble he said, “The two hands, when brought together quickly will produce the sound of two hands clapping.” and he demonstrated this by clapping his two hands together loudly. Then he held out only one hand and posed the question, “What is the sound of the one hand clapping?”
Now, this is where it gets really tricky, because you see – there is only one true, correct answer to that zen riddle and it’s not possible to figure it out. You can’t think your way to it. You can’t use logic, reason, science, math, art, music, past experience or serendipity – nothing in our culture prepares us for that question. It is intended to actively confound the mind. You can only get there through genuine insight. The masters know this, and every time you respond with an answer from the mind, they know it. They can tell exactly where you are in your mind by hearing what you have to say in response to any of those hundreds of koans. It’s like the punchline of a great joke told by a cosmic comedian. Understanding is not the same as getting it. You know you got it when you are sitting there trying not to wet yourself because you are laughing so hard. When you get it, you get it and you know you got it. The direct experience of being is the same way. Understanding may come later and actually isn’t all that useful, but the moment of awakening is unique to itself. You just can’t fake authenticity.
The sound of the one hand is like that. So is the answer to the question, “Who are you?”
Now, I can tell you who I am, and while this comes directly from my experience, my telling you isn’t going to do you any good unless you can be in the direct experience of being for yourself – without the filters of the mind. Part of the challenge in this is that my speaking of being reduces into language something that words cannot contain. As Mikhail Naimy so famously said in “The Book of Mirdad” – “Words are, at best, honest lies.” Or spoken another way, “The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.” The most I can hope for in my coaching work with clients is to point at the moon. The rest is up to the client. We get out what we put in.
So – things that make you go hmmm – here’s one:
Who I am is the witness – an aware, compassionate, presence of attention – an empty space in which experience occurs.
The trouble is, that’s just bullshit. Self is an illusion. If I can say it, that’s not it. Who I am is not any thing. As someone famous may have said – not this, not that. To be more precise, who I am is no thing. Nothing.
See? I just delivered my punchline and it’s useless to you. And I warned you it wouldn’t do you any good. All you have is a bunch of words describing something that happened to someone else. Perhaps if you are lucky, it’s a finger pointing at the moon. But that’s my experience and you’ve gotta get yours for yourself. Figuring it out and understanding it will not work here.
It’s kinda funny though. Hysterical in fact. That’s exactly the point. There’s nowhere to go, nothing to to do, and nothing to get.
You got it.
And as they say, when you really get it, the truth will set you free. It will also royally piss you off. And then you’ll giggle like a five-year-old who just heard the preacher fart.
Go ahead. Wet yourself laughing. It’ll be awesome.
Thank you, now I have more to think about and I’ve only just begun thinking.
It has made me ask: When am I?
I remember yesterday; live today; imagine tomorrow. It’s all in my mind.
I must go now to the wild-wood and listen. Perhaps tomorrow is there, chatting with yesterday and today.
I look forward to the next big stone you throw from here into my murky pond.
This made me smile. Thank you, Carmine.
Most welcome Amy.
I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post…
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Yep – that’s my partner’s blog site – her take on the issue. We talk about this stuff all the time, over breakfast, in bed, in the car, on our daily walks. There is very little of my work that doesn’t show up in her writing one way or another, as see through her lens of being female, curious, brilliant, and very thoughtful. 🙂