“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
~ Rainer Marie Rilke
Over the weekend, I attended a three-day meditation workshop as part of a 300-hr Yoga Teacher Training with Lisa Miller, a Lexington, Kentucky based healer.
As we were guided into each of the six 30 minute silent meditations, we were posed the question, “Who am I?” Now, the existential crises of my young adulthood definitely forced this question to the forefront of my mind for many years, but it’s one I’ve set aside since that time—that deeper sense of who am I, not the everyday, ever-changing responses to this question.
In those years of my life, finding the answers to that question felt like a full-time job, the echo perpetually present, the answer never quite deep enough. Through those experiences of seeking ever more depth, I began to feel more connected to brahman, the all-pervasive, ever-connected unmanifest reality (some might say God in place of brahman). I developed a relationship with witness consciousness, the part in me that is steady and constant and connected to brahman.
Having built those connections, I think I’ve started to take them for granted—“oh, yeah, I know about all that!”—and have forgotten that it takes constant work, constant willingness to go and stay deeply immersed with my experience to maintain those connections. The answer I might provide to “who am I” has come to feel a little hollow, a little less based in my genuine experience.
As we sat in these meditations (I do having a daily practice of sitting, but not for as long as we sat over the weekend), I found myself growing a bit agitated (okay, a lot agitated) with each meditation. As I paged through each layer of who I am, old samskaras (patterned reactions) reared their head, resistance to doing this work showed up at every turn.
In coming to take my connection to witness and brahman for granted, I am seeing that I’ve used this as an excuse for not doing my self-work fully : “Yeah, I’m pissed right now, but I’m totally just watching the emotion from the witness perspective, so that’s fine.”
So, I’m refreshing my self upkeep—instead of using this “spiritual bypass” as my teacher over the weekend referred to it, I hope to go deeper, to identify whence and why these emotions and states of being come up. To learn to live more genuinely from my sense of connection and unity with the word around me, to be more genuinely who I am. I don’t know that I can elucidate it any further than that at this time—all I can do is ask the questions and live into my answers.
So, as a first step to living my answers, I am re-engaging with Patanjali’s Eight-Limbed path, specifically the yamas and niyamas, restraints and observances on living a freer, more balanced life. In the past, observing these precepts has helped to get rid of some of the layers of distraction that prevent me from remembering my connection to the world around me. For now, I think I’ll spend a week particularly focusing on one at a time, to get a sense of where my work really lies.
How can you go deeper into your questions?
Spend some time with the yamas and niyamas (and comment to share your experience!):
Really ask yourself, “Who am I?” Schedule time to meditate—to sit in silence and invite this question in—what can you find, what layers can you peel away?
Try this activity (that I learned over the weekend): Find someone you trust (or make it interesting and try it with someone you’ve just met!). Sit side by side and have one person ask the question, “Who are you?” repeatedly, giving space for the other partner to answer. Switch roles after two minutes. Pay attention to what you learn about yourself and your partner—what patterns emerge? When do you start to get uncomfortable? How deep into the question can you go?
Enjoy it—this work is deep and intense but it doesn’t have to be heavy. How can you find joy in the process?
Author: Leah Van Winkle
Editor: Travis May