Who Am I? Answer the Question With Deep Reflection

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Untethered Soul" by Michael A. Singer. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Have you ever asked yourself, “Who am I really, at my core?” What does this question mean to you? How would you answer, “Who am I?”

This question is about more than just basic details about yourself. It’s asking you to think about who you are on a deeper level, beyond your biography.

Here are some ways to ask and answer the question: “Who am I?”

The Answer to “Who Am I?” Lies in the Question Itself

When we ask ourselves “Who am I?” what we really mean is who we are besides our superficial characteristics, relational identities, and biographical experiences. Here are some right ways to ask the master question to get to the core:

Ask “Who am I?” about yourself in relation to the outer world. Consider your changing physical appearance as you age, and contrast this with your sense of inward continuity. Your reflection in a mirror is different than it was when you were 10, but you still feel like the same person. Who is it that remains constant on the inside as you age on the outside?

Ask “Who am I?” about yourself in relation to your inner world. When you love, who feels that love? When you’re afraid, who feels that fear?

Consider your ability to lose yourself in thought, and contrast this with the continuity of your pure awareness. Descartes (“I think, therefore I am”) was wrong. You can know that you aren’t your thoughts because you can observe your thoughts, and when thinking sometimes stops, you’re still here. Your consciousness still exists. Who is the thinker separate from your thoughts?

Consider your ability to lose yourself as you read these very words. Your mind can become immersed in the reading, but when you stop reading, you’re still here. Who is the reader separate from the reading?

Consider the status of you in relation to your dreams. When you dream during sleep, you’re immersed in the experience, but when you wake up, you know the dream was just something that you “had.” Who is the dreamer who experiences the dream?

When you ask it truly and deeply, the question becomes, “Who is having all of these mental, emotional, and physical experiences right now?” 

How to Answer the Question

Having asked the question correctly, just let go of all experiences and notice what’s left: the pure experiencer. Notice that this experiencer has a certain quality: consciousness, an intuitive sense of existing. Notice that this pure experiencer can instantaneously apprehend richly complex scenes that would require a lot of time and effort for the thinking mind. Look around the room or out the window. Wordlessly receive what you see. Notice how the experiencer encompasses perceptions effortlessly.

When you understand what the master question is really asking, and when you employ it correctly, the answer eventually offers itself: You are the one who sees. You are the witness, the one seated at the center of consciousness. From there, you look outward at your thoughts, then further outward at your emotions, then still further outward, through your physical senses, at the external world.

You are the one “behind” your thoughts, emotions, and sensory impressions, the one who perceives them all and remains constant as they arise and pass away. You aren’t any object of experience. Instead, you’re the one who is “inside,” looking out at the world of experiences. You’re the subject that perceives all objects. This One at the center is the Judeo-Christian Soul, the Hindu Atman, the Buddhist Self.

Who Am I? Answer the Question With Deep Reflection

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  • How to find your true self instead of your false identities
  • Why getting lost in the moment is important
  • Why death is the greatest spiritual teacher about life

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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