WHO AM I?
KNOWING WHO I AM, BY REALIZING WHO I AM NOT
“What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.”
– Morpheus, the Matrix
Oh hell yeah! And if you are reading this, you may be feeling that too.
For decades I felt anxious about the opinions of others, who I needed to be and what I needed to do. In my case those feelings were a remnant of being an outcast growing up as a foreigner in Australia. Later in life this experience drove me to subconsciously try and become more accepted by others: I went on to get an education at an Ivy League school in the US, became managing director of a large international bank and bought big fancy cars to park in front of a big fancy house. These were stories that people had told me I needed to live by to be someone – a way of living that would make me become accepted, more secure and ultimately… happy.
FROM LOOKING OUTSIDE TO LOOKING WITHIN
Alas. None of my attempts worked. No story seemed to take my insecurities away. So I tried to walk the spiritual route and went from Judaism to Christianity to studying Gnosticism. I even joined secretive mystical orders like the Freemasons, Rosecrucians and the Knights Templars. Nada. Everyone there was also looking for security – but I didn’t meet anyone who had actually found it.
A few years ago in my quest for security I stumbled upon a book on mindfulness that explained how our thoughts and emotions were some kind of evolutionary remnant. Evolution huh? Never really gave much thought to the idea that we were once hairy little monkeys – although it does explain the hair on my hands. Anyway, I made an extreme decision: I went into a Buddhist silent retreat (Vipassana) for ten full days to still my mind. Nothing else worked so why the heck not?
Great thinkers that have influenced my journey from left to right: S.N.Goenka (Vipassana), Sri Ramana Maharshi (Who Am I?), Nisargadatta Maharaj (I Am That), Alan Watts (Wisdom of Insecurity), Franz Fanon (Black Skin, White Masks) and Albert Memmi (the Colonizer and the Colonized).
During the retreat the only thing I did was observe my breath and the emotions that ran across my body – without reacting to them. Um. Now what the heck would that accomplish? All I knew was that my mind was all over the place and that my butt was sore from sitting the entire time. Soon enough though I started to realize that my emotions and thoughts only really had two directions: one was approaching pleasure, and the other was avoiding pain. Buddhists called that suffering and their answer was to observe them instead of being them. The idea of suffering sounded a bit strange though. How could drinking a cool pina colada on a white sandy beach be regarded as suffering? The answer comes from how we can react when someone takes that pina colada away from us. Exactly: huffs, puffs, rants and raves. We hold on to what we consider good, avoid things we consider bad.
At the time I was doing a PhD in behavioral economics trying to explain why poverty was so rampant across the postcolonial world. When I came out of the retreat things started to make some more sense: we approach those things that our brain tells us will help climb the social hierarchy – and avoid those things that will push us down. And our brain uses stories to determine where in the hierarchy we fall. Stories that tend to start off with: “to be accepted you need to be…” and in the blanks you fill in words such as doctor, lawyer, singer, slim, smart, white – whatever. I started to write a book called Breaking Rank on how the self-perception of many people across the postcolonial world continued to be informed by colonial stories about who they were, what they couldn’t do, and who else they needed to be (read: white). It was during that same period that a heavy weight was lifted off my own shoulders and I started to see what reality was not. I started to observe so many of the other stories in society instead of identifying with them. I soon left the banking world behind me because I passionately wanted to help people see what I had come to see. Why we have emotions in the first place, where thoughts came and ultimately what drives our behaviors.
In Ancient Egypt there was a temple called Luxor. It had an external part which had a proverb engraved on its walls “The body is the house of god.” In the Internal Temple, there was another proverb: “Man, know thyself, and you are going to know the gods”. Since then wise sages from across the world have advised us to know ourselves before wandering off to do anything else. It’s now written above the entrance of every Freemason temple in the world as a reminder to look within instead of the outside world. A world formed by stories of who we need to be that distract us with bright shiny promises of security somewhere on the horizon. Stories that have kept us from knowing ourselves.
My Blog and Vlog are my humble attempts to release the grip stories have on people’s minds so they can start to live IN security, instead of living insecure. A guide to help people just like you who may be searching for an answer outside – when the answer lies within. In that journey I draw on many great thinkers of the past and present and try and bring those thoughts together onto one website. You can choose which one suits you best.
I wish you well in your journey to know yourself. Here’s a tip: start by realizing who you are NOT. 😉