“There is only one question. And once you know the answer to that question, there are no more to ask. That one question is the Original Question. And to that Original question, there is only one Final Answer.
But between that Question and its Answer, there are innumerable false answers.
Out of the depths of unbroken Infinity arose the Question, Who am I? and to that question there is only one answer – I am God!” -Meher Baba
I was in an ayahuasca ceremony in Peru on New Year’s Eve of 2008, and as it began, the curandero leading the ceremony said a simple prayer that has stayed with me all these years. He prayed for all the people around the world who were celebrating the new year with alcohol, “forgetting who they are”, he said, while we were gathered in this sacred ceremony trying to remember who we are. I had never thought of it quite in those terms before, but I felt the truth of what he was saying, and as the years have gone by, it has begun to take on a larger meaning in my life. I’ve started to see it as an appropriate way to look at life as a whole. We can see everything we do as either remembering who we are, or forgetting who we are. Framed this way, it seems obvious that we would all naturally strive to remember who we are, and yet, so much of our human behavior has the opposite effect, reinforcing our forgetfulness.
What does it mean to forget who we are? In a nutshell, it’s forgetting that we are all Spirit, all connected, all One. It’s buying into the illusion of separation, the world of forms, and thinking we are our names, our bodies, our histories, our thoughts and feelings. We forget who we are when we identify as a separate-self. This isn’t to deny that we are all having an experience of seeming to be separate, it’s just that we don’t need to cling to it, reinforce it, create an identity around it, or derive our sense of self from it. We experience ourselves to be an individual, but in truth we are much greater than that. We are Infinite Beings. Having a body, as we all know, is a temporary experience, but the Infinite Being that resides within us all exists outside of time. So naturally, it would make more sense to identify with that unbound, eternal self rather than with the limited, temporal self, would it not?
This is much easier said than done. Why is that? In some ways, it is because we have designed it that way. We wanted to get lost in the illusion, at least for a while. Alan Watts has a wonderful description of this:
“God likes to play hide-and-seek, but because there is nothing outside God, he has no one but himself to play with. But he gets over this difficulty by pretending that he is not himself. This is his way of hiding from himself. He pretends that he is you and I and all the people of the world, all the animals, all the plants, all the rocks, and all the stars. In this way he has strange and wonderful adventures, some of which are terrible and frightening. But these are just like bad dreams, for when he wakes up they will disappear.
Now when God plays hide and pretends that he is you and I, he does it so well that it takes him a long time to remember where and how he hid himself. But that’s the whole fun of it- just what he wanted to do. He doesn’t want to find himself too quickly, for that would spoil the game. That is why it is so difficult for you and me to find out that we are God in disguise, pretending not to be himself. But when the game has gone on long enough, all of us will wake up, stop pretending, and remember that we are all one single Self- the God who is all that there is and who lives for ever and ever.”
There you have it. It’s all a game of forgetting and remembering, facilitated by asking “Who am I?” The external world of forms, or what we think of as “reality”, is in fact, not real. The body you inhabit is also not real. This plane of existence is set up like a game-board, or maybe more like a video game, that we have collectively designed to enable us to pretend to be a separate-self, and to have a wide range of experiences, from the beautiful to the horrific, the exciting to the mundane. Even though it is an illusion, it is, as Albert Einstein said, "a very persistent one", and we get lost in it, the way some gamers do, and forget that we are playing. We merge with the game and assume the identity of the character we are playing. We forget that it is supposed to be fun, uplifting, joyful. We forget that it is a game at all. We stop feeling free and having fun the way we do as children, and start to take ourselves too seriously. This is all symptomatic of identifying as a separate-self. Alan Watts says, “Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.” Children know this truth, but as we indoctrinate them into our “serious” world, they too, begin to forget who they are.
In the end, we voluntarily forget because of how much fun it is to remember. We go through the pain of separation in order to experience the joy of reunion. It’s all a game, a learning game, and as such, we are free to play how we like, to learn the lessons and pursue the experiences we desire. We are free to remember who we are, or forget who we are, for as long as we wish. But as lost as we may get, and as deep into illusion as we may go, we cannot alter the truth of who we are. We cannot be anything other than our true divine selves. The Infinite Being that resides within us will patiently wait for us, for as long as it takes, to realize this, and to start the process of awakening. Until then, it is only the separate-self that suffers, or appears to, and it is usually only once the separate-self has suffered sufficiently that it will even desire to find the way out, and begin to relinquish some of it’s control. But even this suffering is ultimately not real, which is learned (or remembered) in the process of re-identification as the Infinite Being, or the Spirit-Self. It will simply fall away, like Alan Watts says, as it does when we wake from a bad dream.
Each in our own way, we are being asked to wake up and remember the truth of who we are. Collectively, we have been forgetting for such a long time now, that we have created, and continue to create, so much fear, violence, suffering, chaos, division, and tragedy, much of which seems to be escalating now in an effort to rattle us, to really wake us up to the truth of who and what we are. It’s as though we’re in such a deep sleep that we really need to be shaken before we can start to arise. But once we are ready and willing to give up our identities as a separate-self, and to remember who we really are, we need to cultivate a practice and a discipline to support this remembering. We need to learn to watch our thoughts, our feelings, and even our language to see if they support our forgetting or remembering. We need to question everything we have learned, been taught, and conditioned to believe. Over and over again, we need to ask, “Who am I?”
As our eyes slowly begin to open, we gently and gracefully pierce through the veil of illusion that has so long obscured our vision, and we begin to witness the world in a new way. We see all things in their perfection. We accept all things as they are. We live in the present moment. We forgive others, and ourselves. We know that there is only Spirit. We embrace unity. As we make this shift, we claim who we are in truth, and the separate-self, while it doesn’t cease to exist, does cease to have power over us. It is unable to control us anymore, because we no longer identify as it. Then it will return to it’s proper function, as the means by which we operate on this plane. Once we allow ourselves to make this shift, all that is left is all that was ever really there to begin with.
May we all remember who we are.