Updated: Feb 29, 2020
A couple of years ago I was introduced to a very special technique as part of an assignment for my training to become a teacher of meditation. It was a type of inquiry meditation that required the practitioner to ask the question "who am I" silently during the meditation session. It was a very simple technique, but through its simplicity came the dawning of a very profound yet inexplicable truth.
When I began the meditation I did not know what exactly to expect, so I went about it as if it were an experiment with a complete openness to whatever the experience might bring. I started the meditation as I usually do by bringing my awareness to the breath. It took a little while for my mind to settle as the day had been disappointing and my mind wanted to keep revisiting this disappointment. However, after about twenty minutes or so, my mind settled and I was able to begin the inquiry. Silently, I posed the question to myself.
"Who am I?"
Met only by silence, I allowed space for my question to exist within my awareness without any expectation. After some time I silently asked the question again.
"Who am I really?"
Again, there was only silence and an awareness of that silence, so I sat with the silence of my being. I did not try to search for an answer, nor did I try to analyze the silence. Since I knew that getting an answer was not the intent of the meditation, I simply allowed myself to be present with what was. Occasionally, I would silently repeat the question to myself and then continued to be present with the silence.
Perhaps in answer to my questioning I did receive some insights that were meaningful to me at the time. At some point in the silence, I received unsolicited, spontaneous mental images. The first was the number 414, which I saw in my mind's eye. Although I did not try to analyze it during the meditation, I did look it up afterwards. According to Doreen Virtue's Angel Numbers, the number 414 represents that "the angels assist you with aligning your thoughts with your highest truth. Give any worries, cares, or fears to the angels in exchange for peaceful positive thoughts." (Virtue & Brown, 2005, p. 40). This message was a relevant acknowledgement of the disappointment I had experienced earlier that day and a boost of encouragement to not become disenchanted.
The second insight was a mental image of four large roots. Each of the roots had smooth surfaces, all curved towards the left and connected to each other. They reminded me of the fingers of a hand. Interestingly, however, each of the roots were completely severed at their tops. I allowed myself a few moments to explore the possible meanings of this mental image and what I received surprised me. I believe the image represented my feelings of disconnection from Source, and perhaps, from who I Am. However, I felt that I was connected with my feelings so this insight compelled me to dig a little deeper. "If I am not my feelings, then who am I?" Thus began my second attempt at inquiry meditation.
After re-centering myself using the breath, another spontaneous image popped into my mind's eye. It was of a dodecahedron with five horizontal lines extending from either side like wings. I did not analyze it at the time but made a mental note of it and just let it be. After my meditation, I researched the dodecahedron and learned that its energy can help us connect with our higher selves. I thought that was an interesting coincidence considering the image of the severed roots I received previously.
After receiving the image of the dodecahedron, I began again to inquire, "who am I?" "If I am not my feelings, then who am I?" Letting this question fill the space, I sat with the silence. If I can observe my feelings... if I can witness the flow of their changeable nature, then maybe these feelings aren't who I am. If I can observe my thoughts and bear witness to their fluctuations, then maybe these thoughts aren't who I am. If I can observe my body and witness the various changes through which it progresses, then maybe this body is not who I am. After all, the body belongs to me... the thoughts belong to me... the feelings belong to me... But, they are not me. So, if I can observe the transient nature of all these things while somehow the essential essence of who I am remains the same, then the question begs to be asked: who or what is doing the observing? "Who am I?"
These questions, spaced throughout my meditation led me to a place of profound silence and stillness.
As I reflect, both post-meditation then and now, I am not sure there is a concrete answer to these questions, at least not one that the logical mind can completely grasp or understand. But I have come away from that meditation with the feeling that the answer to this question is both individual and experiential. The answers cannot be found through intellectual musings alone, but rather through a deeper more personal experience. To know fully, "who I am," is experiential. We must experience "who we are" to really know who we are. Having an intellectual understanding of who we are is helpful, but it only takes us part of the way. Real knowing is firmly rooted in the conviction that only comes from direct personal experience.
When I ponder that last question, "who or what is doing the observing," I get a tangible sense of its magnitude and yet still not completely understand it. If I can observe my feelings, my thoughts, and my body, then who or what is doing the observing? Feelings cannot observe themselves, nor can thoughts, nor can the body... so then, what is observing?
All that is left in the quiet stillness is the awareness that I Am.
Virtue, D. and Brown, L. (2005) Angel Numbers. Hay House Publishing, Canada