A son. A grandson. A brother. An uncle. A nephew. A cousin.
A lawyer (okay…a former one…but still…).
Who am I, really?
I asked myself this question a few years back.
If you had asked me who I was before my divorce, I would have said that I was a practicing lawyer in California. I would have said that I was pursuing my profession, moving up in my career and being a husband.
If you pressed more, I would have told you that I believed in truth, justice and doing what was right in the world. I would have said that I helped balance the scales of justice in my life.
Today, I have a very different answer – keep reading to see what I would say now.
Like you, I have many labels that define me.
We take on so many identities, but how many of these identities are really us?
You and I are both products of our environments, our professions, our parents, our families, our friends and our classmates.
These labels, these representations, these appearances – all ultimately define us.
We are our personalities. We are our pasts. We are the stories we’ve been telling ourselves.
We are our egos.
If I were to ask, “Who are you?” you’d tell me, “Vishnu, I’m not tipsy right now and can’t answer questions that have no relevance to my life. I gotta finish this *&#^@^&@ work report and get home to finish the House of Cards marathon.”
But at what point in your life do you actually ask yourself this question: “who am I?”
I’m not asking about your nationality, your citizenship, your career or where you live.
This is as deep as it’s going to get.
Who are you really?
If you’re not asking yourself this question or reflecting on who you truly are, you’re likely not getting to your core – your essence.
If you’re not spending time with yourself in silence, you’re likely not living your own life, but rather one that society has dictated to you.
See, it’s way too easy to go through life and have other people influence us. We face a barrage of messages on the daily.
Our parents tell us what to do. Our friends. Our colleagues at work. Television. Soap operas. Magazines. Society.
When so many messages – all of them based on someone else’s perspective or generally accepted notions about life – inundate us, we end up living disingenuous lives.
That’s when we start living like everyone else. Start having dreams like everyone else. Start moving where everyone else is moving. Start working in careers that everyone else has. Start eating at restaurants where everyone else goes…you get the picture.
If you feel like you’re done living unconsciously and you want to get to your essence so that you can live more in line with your truth, this post is for you.
Here’s how to find the “real” you and start living your truth.
1) See who you are.
If you’re not you, who are you?
You’re a collection of beliefs, values, labels and identifications.
The first step to getting to the real you is to recognize all these external labels and identifications.
It’s hard to do so because you’ve attached so many of these labels to yourself. For example, you’ve had your name your entire life and believe that you are the person who goes by that name.
You’re of a certain race. You’re of a certain citizenship and come from a certain part of the world. You speak a certain language. You belong to a certain social group, community group or cultural group.
Start taking note of who you are by becoming aware of these labels.
Here’s an exercise to help you get some clarity about yourself. All you have to do is fill in the blank to each of these questions.
Labels – fill in the blank
a) My name is ____________________
b) My race is ____________________
c) My citizenship is ____________________
d) My ethnicity is ______________________
e) I speak __________________________
f) I was born in ________________________
g) I’ve been on this earth for ___________________ (# of years)
h) My parents are from _______________________ (country of origin)
i) I’m one of ___ children in my family. (how many children)
j) I’m a _____________, _________________, ______________. (family roles like mother, wife, daughter)
k) I attended ________________, ________________. (schools and universities)
l) My religion is ____________________
m) My political party is ____________________.
n) I belong to ______________________. (clubs and associations)
o) I belong to ______________________. (name of church, temple, mosque)
p) I studied ____________________. (your field of study)
q) I am a ___________________. (career or profession)
r) I am a ___________________. (introvert/extrovert)
s) I drive a ________________________.
t) My hobbies are _________________________.
Beliefs – fill in the blank
Throughout your life, you have collected, compiled and arrived at a certain world view that now consists of your belief system. If you’re like most people, you’re holding onto your belief system for dear life.
Without a strong attachment to beliefs, you might lose your identity. You might lose who you are and everything you know about yourself.
Let’s go through some beliefs – fill in the blanks below.
a) I believe in the _________________faith (religious beliefs)
b) I believe in a ___________________________ (type of government)
c) I believe that money ________________________ (money beliefs)
d) I believe success comes from _________________________
e) I believe people are always __________________________
f) I believe that happiness comes from ____________________
g) I believe that hard work ______________________ (fill in the blank)
h) I believe the luckiest people ___________________ (fill in the blank)
Values – fill in the blank
Think about everything you value in your own life.
These are the qualities that are important to you: qualities that you base your life upon. (If you don’t know what values are, have a look at this comprehensive list of values to help you determine which ones matter most to you.) List all the values on this list that resonate with you.
________________, _________________, _________________
Dreams and life aspirations
What are your dreams? What are you here to achieve? What do you want to accomplish in life? What are you meant to do? Feel free to fill in the following blank with whatever comes to mind right now. There are no right answers and you don’t have to have all the answers.
I wanted you to complete the previous exercises so that you can see all the ways you identify yourself. You’ve created a personality and a person based on some facts about yourself.
Now that you’re aware that you have adopted values, beliefs and labels about yourself, I’m going to ask you to challenge yourself and the labels that define you.
I hope you’ll see that you are not these labels, not these identities. These are simply ways you show up in the world and introduce yourself, but they are hardly you.
2) Step away from yourself.
The key to finding yourself is to realize that many of the beliefs, values and even life experiences you’ve had don’t define you.
If you look at the list of values and beliefs above, you’ll realize that many of the beliefs and thoughts you have about yourself developed throughout the course of your life.
But again, your beliefs, values and life aspirations are not a statement of who you are.
They are not you.
Once you recognize that you are not these external labels or a collection of beliefs, you can open your eyes and discover who the real you is.
The real you or your essence or soul.
Who are you beneath it all?
Who are you when all the beliefs, knowledge, values and labels drop to the wayside?
Who is under there?
Here are 3 practices to help you glimpse your true self.
a) Start becoming more aware of your belief and values system.
Know that you are using values, beliefs and labels in your life like clothes. You have developed them and wear them to help you navigate your life, but they are not permanent. Just like you change clothes, you can change your beliefs, values and life.
Don’t assume that you are one with your labels and values. Step back from these thoughts, beliefs and labels, and see them as a part of you – not you.
b) Get more quiet.
One of the many reasons to delve within yourself is not simply for mental and emotional clarity, but to get to your truth – your inner nature.
There are many practices to still your mind, including meditation and prayer. The quieter your mind gets, the more clearly you are able to see yourself as you truly are.
One of the best ways I’ve gotten to my truth is through daily walks (without my iPhone or smartphone). A daily walk (especially in a natural setting) allows you to become more reflective and introspective.
You have to get more quiet and less busy to get to your true nature.
Quieting yourself allows you to hear your deep inner voice, minus the societal noise and chattering mind talk.
c) Practice observation.
Become more aware of what Michael Singer calls your inner room-mate.
There is you and then there is this person inside of you who is experiencing, thinking and reporting back to you on life. No, I’m not saying you have multiple personalities and voices in your head! What I am saying is that this person inside you is experiencing life and having opinions, thoughts and feelings.
Simply being aware that there is a person inside you making observations and having thoughts is the key to getting to your truth.
Once you realize that you are not this person who is thinking, feeling and having opinions, you’ve cracked the code to yourself.
You are the person underneath all that.
Be observant of this person who thinks, feels and has opinions. Continue to say “hello” to him or her, and live with the knowledge that you have a “person” who resides in your body and who experiences life.
3) Live your truth.
Getting to the real you is like peeling away layers of an onion.
First, you become aware of the labels you’re using to identify yourself. Then you look at the values and beliefs you’re carrying around in your life.
You start going deeper by looking for this person within who is feeling, thinking and having opinions about the world around you.
You give up attachment to all these things. You realize that all of it is clothing – your values, beliefs, thoughts and feelings that you put on every day. You carry them around in life but, like your clothes, they are not you.
As you go about the world with more awareness, you’ll automatically recognize that whatever thoughts and beliefs you had about yourself no longer define you.
In my case, I have a much different view of myself than I had several years back.
I no longer define myself by my profession or the work I am doing in the world.
When you peel back all the layers, I’m a soulful person trying to fully express my essence. In other words, I’m trying to be in tune with my soul or spirit in all aspects of my life.
And I’m using my journey back to my essence to light the way for others on their own paths back to their true selves. Thus, this blog, my writing, my coaching and the other activities I’m doing throughout the day.
If this sounds completely nuts to you, rest assured that I likely would have agreed a few years back.
In fact, anyone who’s far away from his or her true nature or who denies that we are soulful beings is going to think that people who say things like “expressing my essence” or “lighting the way to others” should receive a sentence of ten years at hard labor.
But that’s not you reading this.
Now, start reflecting on your essence.
When you’ve scrapped all the externalities, who’s in there?
When you remove the beliefs, thoughts, knowledge and fears, who’s left?
When you let go of the thoughts, feelings and opinions, guess what?
You’ve found yourself. That person within you will radiate vibrantly like the sun.
This inner being. This presence. This soul that lies within you. This wise place where you have all knowledge and wisdom – true power and truth.
Once you’re at that place, continue to act from that place.
Allow your spiritual practices to help you unpeel all the other layers to get to this essence. Let the ego and all the other layers we’ve talked about fall to the wayside.
Like a firefly, stay close to this truth that is burning brightly. Live from this place of truth. Make decisions from this place of truth. Live your life from this place of truth.
Treat people from this place of truth.
Go about in the world – your career and your purpose – from this place of truth.
Keep coming back to this truth every day.
Go within so that you’ll find this truth every day.
Let go of everything that is no longer your truth.
Watch your life shift radically as you stop living a made-up life and start living from your true authentic power.