What is truly left of "me"

"Who am I?" is not a question that most adults ask themselves. It sounds like a pointless question reserved for children and navel-gazers who spin around it without hitting any essence.

Yet, a fellow meditator on a Vipassana course shared with me a training experience with a Taiwanese Buddhist abbot. The practice is to run around in circles, apparently to tire the conscious mind, while the monk shouts, "Who are you?". The intent is to elicit the real answer that lies below layers of conditioned narrative.

I have no insight into the efficacy of that particular practice, but I now know the importance - and difficulty - of answering that question. I had been pondering this question on and off over the years after various Dhamma talks; most recently, as part of a Dhamma course on the foundations of Buddhism.

Of course I know the intellectual answer to it, having just come out of a course on non-Self. The answer is there isn't.

That's not a deep-in-the-bones understanding though. And so I turned to the only reliable tools I know for such introspective questions - day-to-day awareness and deep meditation.

For the past week or so, in moments of mindfulness, I'll catch myself attaching to various components of the mind and identifying with it - things like my memory, my views, even my body. These are relatively easy to spot and let go of in the moment - the crux is habituating the mind to letting go.

In deeper meditation, I try to peel back the layers further, discarding any obvious non-Self components. What would happen if I let it all go? Is there a core? Is there nothing?

Interestingly, I find myself still attaching to this core of volition, of "free will" - air quotes because I still can't see clearly enough if they are merely the effects of past conditioning. I find myself thinking, "I chose this next train of thoughts very deliberately. Who is deciding if not me?"

Intellectually, I know that's wrong view, but I'm setting that aside for now to pursue an organic path of self-discovery. As of this moment, that's the frontier of my self-knowledge on that question. There is much more peeling I have to do.

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