Finding Your Essence
By Jerry Brownstein
In these confusing times, many people are seeking guidance to help them find their true path in life. The Buddha taught that your purpose in life is to re-discover your essence, which is your true nature. When this true nature is revealed your path becomes clear, and the divine states of kindness, compassion, empathy and joy emerge. What is your essence? Do you know who you really are? It has been said that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. The ‘spiritual being’ is your true essence, and your ‘human experience’ creates your personality through the beliefs and identities that you have acquired throughout the course of your life. Your personality and your essence are both part of your wholeness, but as we go through life the personality becomes so dominant that the light of your essence becomes hidden. You need your personality to navigate in this world, but to find true fulfilment, your personality must be infused with the qualities of your true nature.
Ramana Maharshi was a great sage of the Vedic yoga tradition who taught that the way to attain inner freedom and peace is to continuously ask yourself one simple question: “Who am I?” As you go on asking this question, the answers begin to penetrate your surface consciousness, and you eventually find your essence. The key is to not accept the false answers that come from the surface mind - answers that are just labels that have been attached to you during your life. Labels like beautiful, clever, old, young, French, Spanish, etc., etc.. These superficial labels of your personality do not answer the deeper questions: Who sees when I see? Who hears when I hear? Who knows that I am aware?
Let’s see where this leads in a hypothetical conversation in which we ask someone: Who are you?
The first answer is likely to be the person’s name: ‘I am Linda’. But if I write out all of those letters on a piece of paper L-I-N-D-A, is that who you are, just a collection of letters? She realizes that we are looking for a more complete answer so tries again by telling us her life story: I was born in 1988 and grew up in San Francisco, California, etc. etc.. That’s a nice story but if you had been born in a different place, gone to different schools, etc., wouldn’t you still be you? Wouldn’t you still be aware of your existence? So she tries again: Who am I? I am 170 cm tall, I weigh 50 kilos, etc.. But when you were 5 years old you weren’t 170 cm, yet you were still YOU. The same person who is trying to answer this question was still in there.
You can see where this is going. Every answer that is about what you have done, where you are from or how you look, etc., does not really say who you are. These are elements of your surface personality, but they do not tell you who sees when you see, who hears when you hear, who feels when you feel, who watches your dreams. The real you is a deeper consciousness, so how do we find that elusive essence? The great teachers from the past understood that identifying with the emotions and thought stories of our personality is what obscures our deeper knowing. The key is to turn off the endless chatter of your mind. What remains in that stillness is your essence. Eckhart Tolle explains it this way: “When you recognize that there is a voice in your head that pretends to be you, and never stops speaking, you are awakening to your unconscious identity with the stream of thinking. When you notice that voice, you realize that who you are is not the voice – the thinker – but the one who is Aware of the voice.”
Meditation is the simplest way to develop this sense of the separation between your true self and your personality. It allows you to feel that there is a distance between the noise of your mind and the awareness that dwells in your heart. Equally important is remembering to apply this type of self-awareness and mindfulness in the context of your everyday life - not just on the meditation cushion or in the yoga studio. Watch the ways that you act and react to the events in your life, and become conscious of how often you are being driven by the old stories that are woven into your personality. The more that you become aware of the presence of these old patterns of behaviour, the more that you will wake up from the ‘trance’ of being dominated by them. As you continue to awaken and self-remember, you will discover the part of you that lies beyond personality, ego and stories... your true self... your essence.