Topical Compilations and Commentary: Who Am I?
Excerpts from various sources interspersed with commentary by Dan Kral
To begin this topic I am going to start with a story – because the story below, taken from Anthony De Mello’s book Taking Flight is the story that started me on a path of discovering who I am. Following the story are a couple of commentary lines from Anthony De Mello and then my wrestling with the question of Who am I? I read recently in Richard Foster’s book Prayer, in reference to this question “I am because HE IS” is a short, yet profound thought. The following story will help you to understand that answering the question “Who are you?” or if you ask yourself “Who am I?” is both an easy question to answer and a very difficult question to answer.
A Book of Story Meditations
By Anthony De Mello © 1988
A woman in a coma was dying. She suddenly had a feeling that she was taken up to heaven and stood before the Judgment Seat.
“Who are you?” a voice said to her.
“I’m the wife of the mayor,” she replied.
“I did not ask whose wife you are but who you are.”
“I’m the mother of four children.”
“I did not ask whose mother you are, but who you are.”
“I’m a schoolteacher.”
“I did not ask what your profession is but who you are.”
And so it went. No matter what she replied, she did not seem to give a satisfactory answer to the question, “Who are you?”
“I’m a Christian.”
“I did not ask what your religion is but who you are.”
“I’m the one who went to church every day and always helped the poor and needy.”
“I did not ask you what you did but who you are.”
She evidently failed the examination, for she was sent back to earth. When she recovered from her illness, she was determined to find out who she was. And that made all the difference.
Your duty is to be. Not to be somebody, not to be nobody – for therein lies greed and ambition – not to be this or that – and thus become conditioned – but just to be.
Dan Kral – The few lines by Anthony De Mello above are very important lines – the concepts in those two sentences are hard to grasp but are a key to understanding who I am.
Who am I? If I am created in God’s image – then is the essence of who I am God? Does God, who is the I AM dwell in me and when I go to the very depths of my heart – am I one with God? I am not God – but I carry the essence of God in me. I was created in His image. Am I love at the very core of me? What is my original nature – not my original sin nature, but my nature from the foundation of the earth? Is who I am – who I am in Jesus? Is Jesus in the business of restoring me to who I was created to be? Can I answer that question by saying I am more than a conqueror? Can I answer that question by saying I am victorious? Or is this a question that does not have an answer that words can express? Who am I? God is the I AM. Am I the I AM NOT? I know I must BE before I can DO, but if I just am (BE) then who is there? Lord, I need you to give me wisdom and insight into this question… I am not sure who I am at the very core of my being. What is the essence of me? I am a being first and foremost, but out of being comes doing and they are two sides of the same coin. But I am not defined by my doing, unless it comes out of my being, and then I don’t know that it is defining, because I am just flowing with no greed or ambition – it is just the true me – being, and doing flowing out of that being.
I can only be defined by my relationship to God. I am created in His image. As I rest in Him, as I am in You, as I “be” in You, then I am. But, as the eye cannot see itself – it can only see outside of itself – then as I am – can I truly know myself or can I only know reflections of who I am and if I only can know reflections then I can maybe get a glimpse – just as I can see a reflection of my eye in a mirror – to get a glimpse, but my eye cannot see itself.
Who am I? I don’t know – how can I know? If I try too hard to know, the reflections become reflections of reflections and my TRUE self slips away. If I relax in God and just be – be with God – then I am defined by my actions – but if I am consciously deciding my actions to keep busy rather than letting them flow – then who I am disappears – who I am is hard to grasp. But if I don’t let my left hand know what my right hand is doing (i.e. doing out of being rather than doing for the sake of doing) – then the TRUE me is being reflected – so the conclusion is the same. Who am I? I am. My TRUE self is only defined when I don’t know it is being defined. It is like enlightenment – how can you know if you are enlightened? The moment you seek after that – it evaporates – it is gone. To know who I am (if that is possible and if that matters) is fleeting at best. The only way to define myself is in my being with God and then as I am with Him my doing will flow from my being with Him and I will fulfill who I was created to be at that moment and moment by moment as I rest in Him. Where do I reside? The TRUE “I” resides in the heart of God – residing anywhere else is an illusion.
But when we are with Him and we have been faithful, then…
Rev 2:17 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’
We will receive a new name – in that day we will begin to know who we truly are – when we receive the white stone with our new name written upon it. (I wonder what language the name will be written in – I wonder what language will be spoken?)
In First Corinthians 13 it says that now we know in part…
If we now know in part – then how can we truly know who we are? We may have glimpses of who we really are – but to know the depths of who we really are is like “seeing through a glass dimly” – we cannot.
But also in First Corinthians 13 it says that in that day when we are with Him… “but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.”
We can get a glimpse of who we are (it is a good thing to be aware of the question) but until we are with Him we will not know fully.
Some Quotations relating to Who I am
Money does not equal wealth. Attention focused on our authentic, creative selves, however sparingly, is what makes our lives feel rich.
— Mark Bryan, Julia Cameron, Catherine Allen in The Artist’s Way at Work
I don’t like work – no man does – but I like what is in work: the chance to find yourself.
Man is asked to make of himself what he is supposed to become to fulfill his destiny.
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Finding the Heart’s True Home
By Richard J. Foster © 1992
Union with God does not mean the loss of our individuality. Far from causing any loss of identity, union brings about full personhood. We become all that God created us to be.
There is an inward steady gaze of the heart sometimes called beholding the Lord. We bask in the warmth of his presence. We sense his nearness and his love. James Borst says, “He is closer to my true self than I am myself, He loves me better than I love myself. He is ‘Abba,’ Father to me. I am because HE IS.”
The Divine Conspiracy
Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God
By Dallas Willard ©1997
It is interesting and important to observe that today the old phrase “hate the sin and love the sinner: no longer is accepted. If you disapprove of what I do or how I do it, it is generally thought you can only be condemning me and rejecting me. This is another evidence of the devastating effect of the loss to our culture of an idea of the self as a spiritual being that not only has but is an inner substance. “I am my actions,” it is thought, “and how then can you say you disapprove of my actions but love me?”
Although knowledge of God through his creation is fundamental to our love for him, it is not enough and was never meant to be. It does not begin to make clear the extent to which God loves, and loves human beings in particular. It cannot make clear, to humans as they are, the “Father heart” of God toward us. But the “faithful Creator” does not leave himself to be a topic of speculation. His love reaches out. From the very beginning of the biblical revelation, human beings are blessed by God personally and engaged by God in a face-to-face relationship renewed by periodic visits (Gen 1:27-31; 2:7 – 3:8).
This is such a striking arrangement that it poses a puzzle to the biblical writers about their own nature. “Compared to the cosmos, what are human beings,” the psalmist cries. “that you pay attention to them? Or human offspring that you care about them? You created them a little less than supernatural beings. But you let glory and majesty rest on them! You cause them to rule over works of your hands and put everything on earth under their feet!” (Psalm 8:4-8)
Selections from His Essential Writings
Harper Collins Spiritual Classics
Foreword by John O’Donohue
Now you might ask, “When is the will a just will?”
The will is complete and just when it is without any self-seeking, and when it has forsaken itself and has been formed and shaped into God’s will. And the more this is so with a man, the more is his will just and true. And in that will you can accomplish everything, be it love or whatever you want.
Blue Like Jazz
Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
By Don Miller © 2003
It has nothing to do with the church; it’s all me. Something got crossed in the wires, and I became the person I should be and not the person I am. It feels like I should go back and get the person I am and bring him here to the person I should be.
We have all lost to some extent the “person I am.” We all have become to some extent the person we should be. We have allowed those people and things and societal norms to take over our lives and to mold us into the person we should be rather than allowing us to be the person we are – the person we were created to be.
No Man is an Island
By Thomas Merton © 1955
The reason why we do things so badly is that we are not content to do what we can.
Lord, teach me to do what I can and not to try to be someone I am not.
We insist on doing what is not asked of us, because we want to taste the success that belongs to somebody else.
Teach me Lord to be content. Let me be your student to learn to be content in all things. Turn me towards you. Let me be with you. Increase my awareness of you in my life.
We never discover what it is like to make a success of our own work, because we do not want to undertake any work that is merely proportionate to our powers.
Lord – help me to keep things in perspective. Help me to understand who I am not – teach me the purpose for which you created me and allow me to be content in that purpose – not looking at others but rather looking at myself only through your eyes.
The fruitfulness of our life depends in large measure on our ability to doubt our own words and to question the value of our own work.
Lord, keep me humble. It is a much better place to be.
If we believe ourselves in part, we may be right about ourselves. If we are completely taken in by our own disguise, we cannot help being wrong.
We have to hold all things lightly, even ourselves. If we start to grasp too tightly things will slip through our grasp and we will spend our time grasping for things that were not for us – or at least not for us in the way we are going about them.
The deep secrecy of my own being is often hidden from me by my own estimate of what I am. My idea of what I am is falsified by my admiration for what I do. And my illusions about myself are bred by contagion from the illusions of other men. We all seek to imitate one another’s imagined greatness.
Oh Lord, keep me humble – keep my life in perspective.
Perhaps if I only realized that I do not admire what everyone else seems to admire, I would really begin to live after all. I would be liberated from the painful duty of saying what I really do not think and of acting in a way that betrays God’s truth and the integrity of my own soul.
God, you are the only wise God – your thoughts are above my thoughts and your ways are above my ways. What I need to admire is you. You are the great I AM and I am the tiny “I am not.”
Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?
We cannot be ourselves unless we know ourselves. But self-knowledge is impossible when thoughtless and automatic activity keeps our souls in confusion.
Lord – help me to rest. Morning pages are essential. Spending time with you is essential.
In order to know ourselves it is not necessary to cease all activity in order to think about ourselves. That would be useless, and would probably do most of us a great deal of harm. But we have to cut down our activity to the point where we can think calmly and reasonably about our actions. We cannot begin to know ourselves until we can see the real reasons why we do the things we do, and we cannot be ourselves until our actions correspond to our intentions, and our intentions are appropriate to our own situation.
Doing MUST flow from being. I need to slow down. I need to take the time to be… to be with the Lord, to be who I am, to be in a place of peace and rest where I can even begin to be sensitive to the Lord and his promptings in my life. When doing flows from being the doing is enough. There is no need to do more. The success or failure of what we do is of little import when we are doing from our being.
One of the chief obstacles to this perfection of selfless charity is the selfish anxiety to get the most out of everything, to be a brilliant success in our own eyes and in the eyes of other men. We can only get rid of this anxiety by being content to miss something in almost everything we do. We cannot master everything; taste everything, understand everything, drain every experience to its last dregs. But if we have the courage to let almost everything else go, we will probably be able to retain the one thing necessary for us – whatever it may be. If we are too eager to have everything, we will almost certainly miss even the one thing we need.
Lord – teach me to be content in all circumstances; to work diligently and hard as unto you, to be focused in all that I do – and then, most of all, to hold the outcomes lightly. To put the outcomes into your hands and to be content with whatever they might be. Reveal to me, Lord, the one thing I need.
The Perils and Opportunities of Reality
By Anthony De Mello © 1990
The great masters tell us that the most important question in the world is: “Who am I?” Or rather” “What is this thing I call self?” You mean you understand everything else in the world and you didn’t understand this? You mean you understand astronomy and black holes and quasars and you picked up computer science, and you don’t know who you are?
It is the battle of the ages – who am I – what is my destiny? We avoid dealing with this because it is too painful to deal with.
You mean you understand who Jesus Christ is and you don’t know who you are? How do you know that you have understood Jesus Christ? Who is the person doing the understanding? Find that out first. That’s the foundation of everything, isn’t it? It’s because we haven’t understood this that we’ve got all these stupid religious people involved in all these stupid religious wars – Muslims fighting against Jews, Protestants fighting Catholics, and all the rest of that rubbish. They don’t know who they are, because if they did, there wouldn’t be wars.
It’s going to take a lot of awareness for you to understand that perhaps this thing you call “I” is simply a conglomeration of your past experiences, of your conditioning and programming.
That’s painful. In fact, when you’re beginning to awaken, you experience a great deal of pain. It’s painful to see your illusions being shattered. Everything that you thought you had built up crumbles and that’s painful. That’s what repentance is all about; that’s what waking up is all about.
Dealing with yourself honestly is one of the hardest things you will do. There is pain there that we don’t want to expose, yet expose it we must. Who have I become – who have I allowed to influence the person that I define myself to be? Where have I let others define me? Am I what they say I am or am I who God says I am. Where is the TRUTH?
But notice, you’ve got “I” observing “me.” This is an interesting phenomenon that has never ceased to cause wonder to philosophers, mystics, scientists, and psychologists; that the “I” can observe “me.”
Things, thoughts, thinker. What we’re really searching for is the thinker. Can the thinker know himself? Can I know what “I” is? Some of these mystics reply, “Can the knife cut itself? Can the tooth bite itself? Can the eye see itself? Can the “I” know itself?”
Could we say that “I” is none of the labels we attach to it? Labels belong to “me.” What constantly changes is “me.” Does “I” ever change? Does the observer ever change?
This could be the difference between our role (what we do at various times) and our identity (who we are). My sense is that it is much deeper than that, but the difference between our roles and our identity is just a scratch on the surface of the answer. If “I” never changes then “I” has to be what is left of our true self; the one that was there before the foundation of the world, the one that was there when the Lord knew us before our conception. The “I” is who God created us to be and it is always the same. What changes is how we move around that constant in our lives. We can move from total ignorance, to catching a glimpse, to understanding there is something there, to walking on a journey to discover what is there.
When “I” does not identify with money, or name, or nationality, or persons, or friends, or any quality, the “I” is never threatened. It can be very active, but it isn’t threatened.
The “I” operates without fear because who we are is from God and he has given us a destiny which is ours and ours alone to fulfill.
If you’re lucky and the gods are gracious or if you are gifted with divine grace (use any theological expression you want), you might suddenly understand who “I” is, and you’ll never be the same again, never. Nothing will ever be able to touch you again and no one will ever be able to hurt you again.
You will fear no one and you will fear nothing. Isn’t that extraordinary?
The difference between “me” and “I” is the difference between living in the shadow lands and living in reality. Once you’ve tasted reality – how can you go back to the shadow lands? And the amazing thing is – reality is here now – The Kingdom of Heaven is within – reality is there if we just open our eyes – Open the eyes of my heart Lord – I want to see you.
You fear no one because you are perfectly content to be nobody.
When you can come to the place of “not caring” (tell someone who cares) in the way of detachment from all of the things that we think matter – but that don’t really matter.
You’re much more energetic, much more alive. People think that if they had no cravings, they’d be like deadwood. But in fact they’d lose their tension. Get rid of your fear of failure, your tensions about succeeding, you will be yourself. Relaxed; you wouldn’t be driving with your brakes on. That’s what would happen.
When we are not content to be nobody, that is, when we try to be somebody we start down the path of getting messed up. If we can be content to be nobody – an amazing transformation takes place. When we are 100% focused on what we are doing and 100% detached from the results (okay to be a nobody) we are walking on the path of freedom.
And in awareness you will understand that honor doesn’t mean a thing. It’s a social convention, that’s all. That’s why the mystics and the prophets didn’t bother one bit about it. Honor or disgrace meant nothing to them. They were living in another world, in the world of the awakened. Success or failure meant nothing to them. They had the attitude: “I’m an ass, you’re an ass, so where’s the problem?
Someone once said “The three most difficult things for a human being are not physical feats or intellectual achievement. They are, first, returning love for hate; second, including the excluded; third, admitting that you are wrong.” But these are the easiest things in the world if you haven’t identified with the “me.” You can say things like “I’m wrong! If you knew me better, you’d see how often I’m wrong. What would you expect from an ass?”
This is the key to disarming a volatile situation – take the responsibility. It is my fault, It is one of the keys to a husband’s role in marriage. We, as husbands, are suppose to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. One of the ways Christ loved the church was He took the responsibility for us on the cross. If we take the responsibility (i.e. what do you expect from an ass?) it disarms people and it disarms situations.
You could be a plumber or a lawyer or a businessman or a priest, but that does not affect the essential “I”. It doesn’t affect you. If I change my profession tomorrow, it’s just like changing my clothes. I am untouched. Are you your clothes? Are you your name? Are you your profession? Stop identifying with them. They come and go.
When you really understand this, no criticism can affect you. No flattery or praise can affect you either. When someone says, “You’re a great guy,” what is he talking about? He’s talking about “me,” he’s not talking about “I.” “I” is neither great nor small. “I” is neither successful nor a failure. It is none of these labels. These things come and go.
“I” is none of these labels. “Me” is generally selfish, foolish, childish – a great big ass. So when you say, “You’re an ass,” I’ve known it for years!
You can’t imitate Christ by imitating his external behavior. You’ve got to be Christ. Then you’ll know exactly what to do in a particular situation, given your temperament, your character, and the character and temperament of the person you’re dealing with. No one has to tell you. But to do that, you must be what Christ was. An external imitation will get you nowhere.
O Lord – let me find you in who I am. Not as someone outside of me, but someone who not only resides in me but is the very fiber of my being. Open the eyes of my heart Lord.
To lose the self is to suddenly realize that you are something other than what you thought you were.
I do certain things in life. I have different roles in life at different times, but what I do and the roles that I take on are not who I am. Who I am is separate from all of that. It is who I am that has to be the focus of my life. The rest is just stuff.
And don’t just renounce the objects of your desire, understand them; see them in their true light. See them for what they are really worth; because if you just suppress your desire, and you attempt to renounce the object of your desire, you are likely to be tied to it. Whereas if you look at it and see it for what it is really worth, if you understand how you are preparing the grounds for misery and disappointment and depression, your desire will then be transformed into what I call a preference.
This is the difference between HAVING to have something and saying “its nice if I have that but whether or not I have that doesn’t affect my life or who I am. I am not what I have – I am who God created me to be – a unique individual – made in His image.
If How-to’s Were Enough We Would All be Skinny, Rich, and Happy
By Brian Klemmer © 1999
What you think you are often times is more important than who you really are.
To think is to create. If you do not know how successful people think, you will have difficulty reproducing their success. It is not their personality we are talking about in this formula. It is their subconscious thinking or fundamental beliefs about reality that is creating their reality.
Don’t you get that you have a body, but that is not who you are? You are a spiritual being in temporary possession of a physical body.
You are not your physical body. You just happen to live in one. Perhaps you aren’t your emotions or your thinking either. This then leads to an ageless question. Who are you? This is a great question and is deserving of your attention and effort.