What would happen if we faced our "inner self"? Who would we find? What would that self be like?
In his classic essays, Montaigne claims that we fail to discover the inner self out of fear. But maybe we just don't know what to look for or where to find it. Searching for the inner self might be the ultimate adventure. We are stalking something mysterious and intangible that lives within us. When we find it, we may discover the deepest and most substantive answer to the age-old question: Who am I?
The inner self lies at the core of our identity. But what exactly does that mean? We could say that the inner self is what remains when everything else get stripped away. For example, we are not the titles and degrees we have earned, nor can we be defined by our possessions. Why? Because we would continue to exist without them.
Same goes for the roles we assume in our lives, as spouse, parent, friend, student, lover, boss, teacher, rival, coworker, or assistant. We may switch roles many times over the course of our lives, and yet something of us stays the same.
The circumstances of our birth seem to stay with us for our entire lives. These include our birthplace, family of origin, culture, race, ethnicity, sex, and religion. Yet each of us varies in the extent to which we accept and embrace those circumstances. For example, we may choose a spiritual path that differs from the religion in which we were raised, or we may immigrate to a new homeland.
Some would argue that there is no such thing as an inner self. Social psychologists maintain that who we are is more a function of the situations in which we find ourselves than some lasting, stable disposition or set of traits. Buddhists tend to embrace the doctrine of anatta ("non-self), which states that there is no such thing as an unchanging, permanent self, soul, or essence.
If this is true, then the search for an inner self seems pointless. And yet, Buddhists also believe in reincarnation, implying that something within us continues beyond this life and transcends our death. One Buddhist master stated, "I am not this body, so I was never born and will never die. I am nothing and I am everything. Your identity makes all your problems. Discover what is beyond them, the delight of the timeless, the deathless.”
The one thread that runs through our lives is: I AM. This is the experience of being, of consciousness, of pure essence. The form we take is constantly changing. One day, we say, "I AM X," and the next day, "I AM Y." But regardless of what we identify with or how we define ourselves, there is always I AM.
When you contemplate this simple statement, "I AM," you will find your inner self. And when you do, you will discover that it has nothing to do with what you think, how you act, or who you know. Your inner self runs much deeper than that. It's time to uncover this greatest of mysteries.
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