Ep. 124: “Who Am I?” Loneliness and Our Self-Concept

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One of the most common patterns I’m seeing these days with clients – and in society – is a sense of being alone and a deep longing for connection. 


As humans, this is natural. We are social creatures. We get our sense of safety in the world from being a part of a group, a community. In the busy, productivity-obsessed world of modern industrialized society, we often don’t have an environment that nurtures community and connection. 


Today I want to talk about how we can explore the existential question of “Who Am I?” and how that relates to being a medicine of sorts for this epidemic of loneliness. 


Another way we can ask “Who am I?” is “What is awareness?” Many teachers describe who we really are as “loving awareness,” so maybe asking this instead helps make this existential question more approachable. 


Before beginning this exploration, it’s important to have some foundational grounding practices. In my own experience guiding altered states and participating in longer silent meditation retreats, when people have a premature experience of emptiness without the tools to help ground the, it can even be traumatic. We think it will be this blissful experience of “merging with the light,” but without foundational practices and a strong sense of grounding, it can be very unsettling. 


Sometimes we have a deeper sense of stillness and a feeling of being grounded. This is a great state to be in as we begin to invite an exploration of our true nature and bring an awareness of more subtle dimensions into our consciousness. 


So let’s say we have optimal conditions for this – a stable mind, a firm grounding, and self-compassion for ourselves, which creates a sense of safety. One of the first things to bring into our awareness is that of the immediacy of our true nature; that it is here, now, always, and that it’s possible to experience it. 


In modern industrialized society, there’s a strong conditioning to keep us in an almost dream state and keep us removed from the realization of our true nature, so having a deep awareness of when we are in a dream or trance – or being hooked by a story or an emotion – is essential because it’s a big part of how we realize what’s beyond that. 


There’s a legend from ancient India about a musk deer who smells the most heavenly fragrance in the air. They spend their entire life following the scent, trying to find the source, but at the end of their life, they collapse from exhaustion. One of their horns pierces their skin and the scent they’ve been seeking permeates the air. They then realize, on their deathbed, that the fragrance had been within them all along. 


For me, this is perhaps the deepest truth that we most often forget: that our sense of a separate self is a misunderstanding, and that what we’re longing for is right here, right now, within us. And to think it’s anywhere other than right here in this moment, or that it’s something we might “discover” further along our path, is a misunderstanding. 

But that’s the nature of the human mind, right? People have been thinking of the self as separate for thousands of years, and mystical practices from many traditions seek to dissolve this to access liberation. A sense of self is part of our evolution, and required to function in the world – and the next step is to start to dissolve it. 


This teaching of there not being a separate self – which is really revolutionary – is a reminder that what we seek is already here. Even when our mind is feeling overwhelmed and our hearts feel disconnected; when we’re hooked by this story of a separate isolated self and feeling lonely… we’re reminded that we’re never separated from this loving awareness, anymore than a wave is separate from the ocean. 


So the process of enlightenment isn’t so distant – it’s that we’re waking up from a story of a separate self and recognizing the loving awareness that’s already here, accessible to us at any time. Ziji comes from that – the confidence and trust that when we’ve sensed this connection, it is real. 


It’s also contagious – in a good way. When you’re with someone that’s really awake in this way, we can sense it, and something in us trusts that it’s actually possible. Some of the most sincere love I’ve ever received was from monks or nuns that have come out of meditating in a cave, alone, for years. They’ve touched this connection, and don’t need it from others. They are a conduit for others to receive it. 


On the other hand, when we’re disconnected from people who have walked the path as a source of inspiration, when we are disconnected from nature and wilderness that so perfectly reminds us of exactly how much we belong, we lose touch with that sense of possibility for us. The possibility that we are always connected and never really alone. 

It’s important that we awaken from this world that our mind has constructed, because it’s lonely AF…and it’s a misunderstanding. As Sri Nisargadatta says, “The real world is beyond our thoughts and ideas.” 

There’s a phrase called “the big squeeze” that, in a sense, every day we can see how much the stress of our constructed world creates a sort of tunnel vision, and we focus on our small sense of self, “How am I doing; how am I going to get more comfortable; what’s going to go wrong for me next?” This makes sense when the world we live in feels unsafe and when we’re disconnected from our true selves.  

But there’s also moments where we touch something larger – maybe even just the edge of it, in a sunrise or watching the waves roll in…and we can sense this loving awareness and what connects us all. 


So yes, it’s our biology and our evolutionary conditioning to get “landlocked” in our body and this sense of a separate self, and also to realize what the larger picture is beyond that. We can get hooked by our own life drama, and we can pay attention to it and not bypass it. But we can also remember there’s something so much bigger. 

I want to try and “point to the moon here,” for you, if I can. I want to point to the moon and say hey, if you’re feeling lonely, not connected, not held in love…perhaps – just entertain the possibility that perhaps we have a misunderstanding of who we are in the first place, and what it means to be loved. 


When we quiet ourselves, even for a moment, we notice the planets are turning, we are hurling through space, one of only countless other galaxies, and the stars are blazing and some have already died and we are seeing their light which keeps traveling; and the seasons changing and the coming and going of all things… we can sense the spaciousness around us. It’s vast. And we are all a part of that, we are that, belonging, connected, and not alone. 


In this Episode you will learn: 

// Why a monk or nun having meditated alone for years in a cave can feel utterly connected to all that is – and far from alone 

// How exploration of awareness can help us learn who we really are 

// The importance of not looking somewhere else for truth, but seeing it with us, here and now 

// How community can help our own mindfulness and awareness 

// Whether focusing on ourselves is actually “bad” 

// Some practices that help us step back when we get hooked in a story about our small sense of self 



// Check out dharmaseed.org for more meditations and practices like the Big Sky meditation 

// Early registration is open for the next cohort of the Adventure Mastermind  at AdventureMastermind.com . Enter into the adventure of your life in a container where you’ll feel safe enough to explore your true self during this one precious life we have. 

// If you’re new to the squad, grab the Rebel Buddhist Toolkit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll also get access to the Rebel Buddhist FB group, and tune in weekly when I go live on new topics. 

// Want to dive into this work on a deeper level on your own time? To study it and practice it together with a group of people with the same goals of freedom, adventure and purpose? Check out Freedom School – the community for ALL things related to freedom, inside and out.