When we are born as human animals, as soon as we emerge from our mothers’ wombs, we immediately begin to discover ways to ensure our survival, as is true for all creatures. As humans, we are not just surviving creatures, we are conscious of ourselves as surviving creatures. Consequently, along with the biological imperative to survive, so also begins the search for individual identity. We seek to understand who we are and how we fit in with the other creatures around us.
In our quest for identity, we begin to collect information. We get that information from everything around us, certainly from our families, our cultures, and our religions. Through a process of collecting, discarding, and keeping information, we begin to formulate a personal identity that continues to form and shift over time.
At some point we realize that no matter what identity we formulate, it never rings quite true or feels completely satisfying. Something is missing, and somewhere inside us we know that. Yet because we are conditioned to continually gather information about who we are, we believe the problem is centered in just not having enough information, or the best information. And so we continue our search for identity in the world around us, all the while continuing to overlook the timeless reality within.
At a certain point, we might become interested in gathering spiritual information to help us further form our identity. We hear wonderful truths such as “I am one with the universe, I am pure consciousness, I am love.” This is true, of course, but when we use these spiritual truths as a formulation for identity, that identity becomes exclusive. What it typically excludes is all the rest of our humanity, the parts of ourselves that we may have decided are not good enough or not “spiritual” enough.
The search for identity is natural, but in this search I invite you to begin to open up to truly include everything—everything you know about yourself and everything you know about others. Be completely inclusive in your identity, because in actuality you are all of it. You are never separate from anything regardless of any appearance otherwise.
Through self-inquiry you can begin to notice just how identity is formulated and when you are reaching to define yourself in a new formulation, a new identity. Most importantly, self-inquiry is an opportunity to discover what occurs if you are willing to stop formulating. To recognize who you already, naturally are and what needs no identity for your absolute fulfillment.
Before I met my teacher, Papaji, in 1990, I had formulated some very good identities. The ones I deemed not so good, I kept hidden. I assumed that they would dissolve or disappear when I met the right teacher. I hoped I would be left with an immaculate realization of truth. Truth was what I was searching for. I wanted to know the truth.
When I asked Papaji how I was to find that truth, he told me, “Stop searching.” It was clear he wasn’t instructing me to stop moving, or stop eating, or stop living my life. He meant to stop my search for identity, including the search for a shinier, more spiritual version of myself.
He was instructing me to stop searching for myself with my mind, to stop relying on my thoughts for my identity. My mind knows how to be active as much as anyone’s, but Papaji blew my mind open in such a way that I could be conscious of mental activity. Once you become conscious of your own thoughts and mental patterns, you can follow that mental activity if you like, or you can stop that activity. Most people, including “spiritual” people, are mechanically following their mental activity because they are still searching for a formulated identity to give them the fulfillment they long for. True fulfillment can only be found in the realization of who one is as the all-inclusive totality of being, not an aggregation of endlessly shifting identities.
Stopping the search for identity is no small matter because we have a lifetime invested in that search. For many people the search itself becomes a religion, complete with its own dogma.
I am inviting you to stop searching for yourself. Not as another dogma but as an experiment in self-inquiry. Stop thinking yourself, stop formulating yourself, stop worshiping who you think you are or should be, stop hating who you think you are, and discover what has always been here as the truth of who you are.
Receive yourself totally—your beauty, your madness, your brilliance, your stupidity, your divinity, and your humanity—and recognize that there is never a moment when who you really are is separate from all of life.