Who am I?
Am I half a banana? According to the Naked Scientists, we share 60% of our DNA with bananas. This was discussed on the show, Sex Chromosomes, Genetics and Food Webs. Can meditation help us discover who we are?
Chris D. Frith is an expert in the new discipline of neural hermeneutics. He wrote that “there are many illusions that my brain creates for my sense of self. I experience myself as an island of stability, in an ever-changing world.”
It is strange that we experience our life from the point of view of our ‘self’ as an island of stability because we are actually always changing. Even our body changes shape over time. So why does our mind always revert back to the assumption that the world changes but we can always rely on our sense of self as a steady viewpoint? Why do we take our mind's version as the truth?
Sri Ramana Maharshi, an Indian guru who spent many years in solitude, practiced self-inquiry meditation. This meditation style focuses our attention to the ‘I’ component of our thoughts. He recommends questions that we can ask on each thought:
1. Who am I?
2. Who is this?
3. Who is thinking this thought?
Strangely enough, none of these questions are actually meant to be answered, they are designed to guide your attention back to ‘I’. What is the point then? If you practice this meditation regularly you can prevent excessive thinking because you realise that you are creating the thoughts. You are in charge of the storyline of your thoughts. Self-enquiry does not have to be a meditation practice that takes place at certain hours and in certain positions; it can continue throughout one’s waking hours, irrespective of what you are doing.
What we are to the world versus our self-view is constantly in conflict. For example, you know you are good at making presentations and then your boss tells you to improve your presentation skills. This can result in you adjusting the view of yourself as a brilliant presenter or ignoring your boss’ comments and assume he is wrong. All aspects of self including emotions and ideas are maps interpreted in the brain and projected on many body maps. Ourselves are constructed by mirroring then internalising the selves of others. It is this way that our personality develops as we become similar to those around us.
As Albert Einstein said, “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.” This is why our attitudes to sexism, racism, slavery, homophobia and disability are often shaped by the context we live in.
To get a better sense of self and to feel connected to the world, start a regular meditation practice. Many of my meditation students say that through their daily meditation habit they have developed their intuition and self awareness.