Who are you?
Who are you REALLY — without all the things you THINK you are?
It was a warm evening in late summer. I had brought a small blanket from home, on which I was sitting now in a park not far from my apartment. Most of the time I came here on Sunday evening to mentally prepare for my new week. Today was one of those Sundays when I felt that the weekend had passed far too quickly. Funny that time is so relative, I thought, and lay down flat on the meadow. After a while I noticed that something was casting a shadow on my face.
I blinked cautiously and was startled when I realized that an older gentleman had let himself down next to me.
“Who are you?”, I asked.
“I don’t know.”, replied the old man.
“You do not know? How can you not know who you are?”
“Do you know who you are?”
“Of course I know that, my name is Anna, even if it doesn’t really concern you.”
The old man just smiled and then said:
“Do you really think the answer to this question is that simple? A name assigned to you? I think if you are honest with yourself, you know yourself that there is much more to your self than a few ridiculous letters.”
I watched the old man, who somehow seemed very intelligent, even if I didn’t really know what he was talking about. I decided to take an active part in the conversation and asked:
“Then tell me — who am I?”
He smiled again: “Good that you ask. Who are you? Who am I? I — what do you mean when you say I? Is this I located in your head? Your thoughts? Is it in your chest or maybe in your belly? Where do you locate your I?
Locate? Confused, I told him that I had no idea where to locate my so-called I. I had never thought about that.
“Close your eyes! Said the stranger. I did what he said and then asked:
“What do you feel when you say I? I am? What do you mean with these words? Isn’t that fascinating? The word I is so illusive. We think we know exactly what it means, because we relate every information that we have gathered over years about ourselves to it. But when we look at it closely, we see that it is an illusion. And as soon as we REALLY think about it, the I becomes so mysterious.”
“And scary!”, I said when I opened my eyes again.
“Ah, no my dear. Maybe in the beginning. Because we are afraid to let go of the illusion. The illusion that gives us so much hold. Because who would we be without it? Sometimes not knowing is scary, yes. But let’s even go one step further. Tell me — are you your body? Are you limited to the physical what you call YOUR body? And if you are your body, tell me, is it YOU who controls your breath? Is it you who controls 24/7 that your heart beats, your blood flows? Or is your body much more an independent, highly intelligent construct? As intelligent as every single cell in a blade of grass, in a delicate flower, in a mighty tree? Tell me, are you these cells of your body?”
I was confused. Of course I always thought that I was my body. But when I really thought about it, I actually didn’t decide as much about what it did automatically. I mean my head, my conscious decisions. Oh lord, I don’t decide? Or do I when I don’t just limit the I to my mind? My head was spinning.
He looked at me indulgently: “Remain attentive and open for a short moment.”
“I’ll try it.”, I answered a little exhausted.
“Tell me did you come into the world or from it? Are you a secluded organism, a foreign body that populates the planet? A foreign body that only harms the world? Or who has the feeling that he is more intelligent than the world and therefore has to rule it? Or have we emerged from the world much more? Highly complex, precise down to the smallest detail? Perhaps you will agree with me that it is simply not possible that a vital, highly complex leaf emerges from a dead tree. Isn’t the world comparable to a breathtaking, expanding plant? And you, as a leaf, may seem to be perceived individually, but are you not much more part of the big picture? And your existence would be impossible without connection to the trunk, to the all-encompassing vitality of this expanding, powerful plant? So who are you when you say I? Are you just the leaf or are you rather the whole plant?”
Foreign matter leaf plant? Who was I?
Suddenly the old man rose and shook the earth from his beige linen trousers:
“At least you don’t seem to identify yourself with your name anymore. This is a good start. You have to find out the rest for yourself now. Always keep an eye on the illusion so that it does not stop you from recognizing your true existence.”, he said to me before nodding and strolling towards the park exit.