Thursday, March 13, 2008

Who Am I?

I read about the "Who Am I?" meditation more than twenty years ago in Lawrence LeShan's "How To Meditate." When I decided to try it, I had already been meditating for a few months, counting breaths1 for 15 to 20 minutes each day, and doing contemplation2 an additional 10 minutes per day.

In the twenty year span since I first read about it, I did "Who Am I?" a total of two times. That's because I actually got an Answer the second time.

"Who Am I?" is a more mentally challenging meditation, compared with breath counting or thought bubbles. Maybe that's why it appealed to me back then. The idea is that you ask yourself, "Who Am I?" Then you wait for an answer, which most likely will be superficial, like your name or occupation. You tell yourself that the answer isn't right, and ask again, "Who Am I?" Keep it up for five or ten minutes. Set a timer to be sure.

Here's how a meditation might go:

Who am I?
I am John Smith.
But that's just a name you've been given. Who is the I that the name belongs to?
I am an engineer.
But that's just your occupation. Who is the I that has this occupation?
I am some guy.
But that's really just a description of your gender. Who is the I that has this gender.

And so on. Pretty cool, right?

So why not take a break from reading this and try the meditation yourself. Go on, try it now!

The Answer I got came from within me and from the Universe around me. It was wordless and colorless, like what you see on the screen when the reel-to-reel movie ends and the tape runs out. I've also had this sensation at the ends of dreams in which I die. This sensation has stayed with me all these years.

1. There are many ways to count breaths. LeShan's suggestion is to count exhalations from one to four and then start over again at one. You keep doing this until your timer goes off. You do not try to alter the rhythm of your breath. Beginners are encouraged to fill in the space between exhalations by thinking "and" on the inhalations. Sounds easy, yes?

2. In contemplation, you look carefully at an object. Without touching it, you stroke it with your eyes and try to sense how it feels. The object I used was a piece of bark from an oak tree from my backyard.

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