The great masters tell us that the most important question in the world is: “Who am I?”
Or rather: “What is ‘I’?” What is this thing I call “I”?
What is this thing I call self?
So, let’s try to get at it. Write down on a piece of paper any number of brief ways you would describe yourself—for example, businessman, doctor, parent, spouse, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Black, White, anything at all, including intellectual, emotional, personal and physical traits, such as smart, fearful, humorous, introverted, fat, tall, etc. Do this exercise as if you were watching another person.
Now look over what you’ve written.
In this exercise, we are concerned with deciding what the “I” is, by seeing what it is not. Anything changeable, impermanent is not the I; it’s the ‘me’.
So ask yourself: Am I my career and my beliefs? No, no if the “I” is defined as the unchangeable in you. People change jobs 12 times during a career and are able to change from devotedly religious to atheists.
Am I my thoughts or my emotions? Thoughts and emotions come and go;
Am I my body? Millions of cells in our body change every minute.
Am I my behavior? Behavior can be modified through biofeedback and therapy.
Am I my name? I can go to court and change my name without ever changing the “I.”
These are all labels that are revealed through the “I” observing “me.” What value do these labels have, as far as the “I” is concerned? The “I” is none of the labels we attach to it. Labels belong to “me.” What constantly changes is “me.” “I” is none of these things.
When you step out of yourself and observe “me,” you no longer identify with “me.” Suffering exists in “me,” so when you identify “I” with “me,” suffering begins.
The moment you stop identifying “I” with “me,”, suffering ends.
from Awareness by Anthony DeMello