Merrill Harmin

Are you really Who you Think You Are ?

Happens to many of us.

We’re in a parking garage, walking back and forth, increasingly frustrated. We can’t find our car. Did someone steal it?

And then someone comes to the rescue. We’re told we’re looking on level B and there’s also a level A. Which never occurred to us! And, happily, that’s where we find our car, sitting there patiently, just where we parked it.

Life is like that. Many of us go round and round through our days looking for the good life on level B when, unknowingly, all the while the good life is sitting there patiently waiting for us on Level A. 

To be more specific, most of us see ourselves as being comprised of a body (our bones and brain) and a mind (our thoughts, feelings, ideas, plans, hopes and fears). And we go through life trying to make that body/mind self of ours deliver the good life. But, alas, we are likely never to be long satisfied. There always seems to be something missing. And, no matter what we try (new friends, more money, different job, novel vacation), we cannot find the complete and lasting contentment that, deep down we always wanted.

Well, I’ve got good news. There’s another level to check. Fact is, a body/mind self is not what we are. And we can’t be complete satisfied with life when we assume we are. You can check this out for yourself.

Imagine holding three photos of yourself: One taken when you were a child, one taken as a teenager, and one snapped very recently. As you look at them, notice how over the years your body kept changing. But also notice that while your body kept changing, you remained the person you always were. If you were Pat as a child, you are the same Pat today. You, the person you and your family knows is you, therefore, can’t be defined by any particular body. And you cannot then reasonably conclude that the body now sitting in your chair says much about the person you have been and always will be.

How about your mind? It’s much the same.

As you grew your mind constantly changed. The thoughts, feelings, ideas and desires you had as a young child are not likely to at all resemble the thoughts, feelings, ideas and desires you have today. Yet while your mind kept changing, you remained the same person you always were. You may even change your mind about something in the future. It happens. You cannot, then, be defined by what is in your mind at any one time. If, then, as experience shows, your ever-changing body and your ever-changing mind cannot define your continued selfhood, what does? Who is it that is currently sitting in your chair?

Words fail us here. No one can say who you are. I cannot say who I am.

Words are insufficient for the task. I can however offer two recommendations. First, experiment. For a few days, rather than treating yourself as a body/mind being, make a plan to try living on a higher level, that is, as an open, spacious, self-aware being. Perhaps:

– Be more deliberately empathetic with others, speaking less and listening more, leaning in to be very aware of what others are feeling and thinking. Do this especially with people you find bothersome.

– Stroll outside more often and be consciously, openly aware, seeing things as if for the very first time. Avoid giving names to whatever you see. Don’t be too concerned with what you see. Practice just seeing.

– Pause more often and notice what you are currently feeling and thinking. Avoid judging anything you notice. Just witness it. And then let it go. Don’t hold onto anything. Be like a vast, open, empty sky, open to whatever wants to show up.

– Listen more for your quiet intuitions, for what you can know without using your mind. Give special attention to whatever your heart suggests is the right or wrong thing to do. Appreciate your natural inner knowing.

–Become very aware of any upsetting thoughts or images that linger too long in your mind. Perhaps make a list of key ones. Then, when one arises, don’t reject it; that would be like rejecting part of yourself. Yet do not feed it. Do not let it linger. Just accept it and, as promptly as you can, turn your attention to something much more healthful, like a walk outside or a loving image.

– Play more. Explore more. Do more of whatever makes you feel naturally joyful, naturally loving, naturally peaceful, for those are the natural experiences of those who have learned to live as their open, spacious, self-aware selves.

If such trial experiences are encouraging, if or example you sense yourself moving closer to your naturally comfortable self, I’d recommend you continue the journey. As the poet Rumi put it, “Don’t be the rider who gallops all night and never sees the horse that is beneath him.”

My second recommendation concerns the problems that keep persisting in this world, century after century, with no good remedy in sight: corrupt politicians, gross inequality, endless warfare, widespread hunger, depression and anxiety. The persistence of such problems may be nature’s way of sending us a message: “You humans still do not live the way you were designed to live. You still are ignoring the age-old call to Know Thyself.”

The way a toothache signals we need to give special attention to our teeth, maybe our persistent problems signal we are looking for the good life as our immature body/mind selves or, said another way, on a level where it can’t be found. 

Fortunately we now know many ways of helping people uplevel themselves and know who they really are. Many people are already actively working at it. They work under such titles as mindfulness training, social and emotional growth, meditation, stress reduction, mind clearing, yoga and many varieties of “personal development.” They work in schools, prisons, communities, workplaces, mental health clinics and various service agencies. 

In my dreams, I see a consortium of governments, foundations and individuals mounting a long-term project to vastly expand that maintain that effort. I can think of no project more worthwhile for our long-suffering world. 

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