Deprogramming the Cultural Conditioning of the False Self

words & photo by Brian Thompson.

For many years I was “trying to find my self”. But to tell you the truth, I had no idea what I was actually looking for, so I never found anything other than endless headaches and infinite questions.

I scrambled around and made a mess of things, inside and out, all while trying to find myself as if I had somehow been lost (which it turns out, I was). I was like a dog chasing my tail.

I suppose I was trying to figure out what the true nature of my personality was, what my passions were, what my beliefs were, and what I stood for (whatever that means), and what is the meaning of life? Everything was just so confusing.

None of these led me to finding my "true self" however, which is why my existential search always left me feeling so empty and emotionally drained. Little did I know at the time, I just simply wasn’t asking myself the proper question. No wonder I couldn't find the answers I was looking for.

So here I am many years later and the one single question I was always looking for has found me — the one question that can reveal the Truth. As it turns out, it’s an incredibly simple one too — "Who am I?"

Now, I don't mean where do you live, what do you do, what are your hobbies, who are your family and friends, or who is your favourite band. Go deeper than that. Much deeper. It’s time to get abstract, metaphysical and quantum.

Who am I? This is the only prompt you need to awaken to your true Self. With this one question, the truth of the entire cosmos awaits you.

Answering this question requires a heady mix of quiet contemplation and persistent self-inquiry. It’s one that isn't easily answered. It takes considerable time, patience, and an unwavering commitment to the task. But as you embark on this mission of self-inquiry, the untruths you’ve believed in your entire life will begin to fall away, one by one.

Who are you?

You’ll first realize that you are not your body. For example, if you lose a finger or a limb, you are still you. If you become paralyzed, you are still you. If you have an organ transplant, you are still you. Your body undergoes changes throughout your entire life, yet you are still you. You are not your body.

So, who are you?

You are not your mind. Yes, you have a mind — but you are not it. Nor are you the contents of your thoughts. They are merely mental perceptions. They are projections of mind. The mind is experienced by you, and so too is your personality and your sense of identity, but neither of them are you. They are only who you think yourself to be. They are only thoughts — they are not you.

What is the one absolute thing you can prove about yourself, through direct personal experience, that is unchanging? What is the one thing about yourself that is without any conceptual delineation or opinion?

You are aware. This, you can prove.

Ask yourself, this: If I am aware of my thoughts, then who is it that is aware? You are. You are that. You are that which is aware.

You are Awareness.

Whatever watches the mind, is not the mind, it is greater than the mind — it is Awareness — and this is your true Self.

Awareness is that which everything else within your entire human experience resides within. It is empty of any definition, empty of any problem, empty of any predicament, empty of any emotion, empty of any suffering, empty of any pain — it is constant and unchangeable — and it has been with you ever since your very first awakened thought.

It’s merely something you’ve forgot, yet it’s been there all along.

Who am I?

I am Awareness. I am the presence that is aware.

As you dive even deeper into self-inquiry you’ll eventually drop the Awareness part of your answer, since it’s just another meaningless word, another meddling concept that only gets in the way of the truth.

Who am I?
I Am.

Now that gets to the heart of the matter!

"I Am" is the one verifiable thing that every single one of us can prove to be true. It’s who we all are. Everything else is just material decoration.

This isn’t a truth you can intimately come to know and feel in every fibre of your bones by just reading a short little essay such as this, nor is it an intellectual dance of philosophical thought that only needs to be re-read a few more times in order to properly grok.

Solving the question of "Who Am I?" is a path one must tread over and over until the realization grabs you by the heart and shakes your entire foundation. It is not an answer than can be forced or even logically understood. It is a realization that will dawn on you not unlike the first time you tied your shoe, or when you first rode a bike all on your own, or when you first fully understood the answer to, two plus two.

Once you realize it, it is unforgettable — you become self-realized — and everything else begins to change.

I Am.

When you realize that your true Self is nothing other than pure Awareness, the entire false world of conceptual thought dissolves, boundaries disappear, and the truth of reality reveals itself.

I Am. Are you?

Who Am I? is a non-dual path of awakening originally taught by Sri Ramana Maharishi, and later by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.