Who am I?

A philosopher, lost in thought, was walking along a busy street, when he bumped into a man carrying a loaded basket.

The impact flung the poor man to the ground and scattered all his belongings around him. Infuriated, the man shouted, ‘Who do you think you are?’ The philosopher still battling the question lodged in his mind, replied, ‘Yes, yes, that’s what I want to know. Who am I?’

One may smile and forgive the philosopher his preoccupation and his absentmindedness, for the question is by no means an easy one. The answers to it are always debatable, seldom satisfactory and can throw the inquirer into doubt and confusion.

The human personality is so multifaceted that there seems to be not just a single person, but a multiplicity of them encased in one and the same physical entity. For instance, there is the person you know yourself to be, the person others see you as, the person you are trying to be and the person that you are now. Which one of these can you assert is the real you? The answer to this is so elusive that the task appears impossible and even meaningless. 

No wonder then that many of us shy away from confronting it, or dealing with it. It is much easier to ignore it, get on with day-to-day living, playing several roles with quiet resignation. We end up turning a blind eye to the persons we really are.

However, the question cannot be dismissed so easily. Sooner or later, perhaps in a crisis of some sort, it forces itself on the thinking individual and sets him on a course of self-discovery and identification. Several issues can come up for consideration. This can include one’s personal views on important matters, one’s place in the world, the strong beliefs that one holds, the state of the world and one’s role in it and finally the nature of life after death. 

It is a long road and not one that is traversed easily. As Dag Hammarskjold pointed out, ‘The longest journey is the journey inwards.’ 

This, put in simple words, implies and calls for the practice of self-analysis and contemplation. What this requires is not great learning, but a willing heart and a clear thinking mind. The process consists of examining and weighing one’s experiences, thoughts and actions in an atmosphere of calm and quietness. 

When carried out with sincerity and diligence, either the truth or the prejudice and the wrong thinking behind them unfolds gradually and comes into clear focus. Continuous practice of this exercise will bring about a transformation in personality. The person develops a keen sense of awareness. 

When he reaches this stage, he is enabled to recognise the real “I’. It stands apart and above all the smaller ‘I’s that he has so far been familiar with. This, the real ‘I’, has the power of sifting the true from the false, conferring peace, bringing purpose to living and, best of all, giving meaning to Life.

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