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Who Am I Really?

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

by Jonathan Robinson

Many years ago I went to India to visit a disciple of Ramana Maharshi named Poonjaji.  Poonjaji was a master in his own right, and he was known for helping students to quickly awaken to their experience of being pure awareness.   As soon as I entered Poonjaji’s ashram, I saw him on a stage with about a hundred people in the audience.  To my surprise, Poonjaji immediately pointed directly at me and said, “You! Come here and sit in front of me.”  I quickly did as I was told. As I nervously sat down on a chair in front of the Master, he carefully looked me over and then asked, “Who are you?” I didn’t know what to say, so I blurted out, “I’m Jonathan Robinson.”  Well, Poonjaji and the 100 people in the audience thought that was the funniest answer they had ever heard.  They all busted up laughing.  I felt deeply embarrassed.  In my thoughts I said to myself, “I guess that was the wrong answer.”  Once people were done laughing, Poonjaji looked me in the eyes and compassionately said, “Who are you really?”  Once again, I didn’t know what to say, so I mumbled, “I’m a seeker.” Poonjaji slowly shook his head from side to side, silently conveying that my latest answer wasn’t any better than the first.  Finally, he asked me again, “Who are you really?”   This time I responded, “I’m a writer.”  Another shaking of his head.  We did this routine for about eight more answers, and each time Poonjaji quietly shook his head—indicating I was not responding correctly. Finally, I had run out of answers to his question.  With nothing left to say, I sat quietly and looked deeply into his eyes.  His eyes seemed to be emanating beams of light.  It was an amazing thing to see.  As I looked into his deeply piercing eyes, I was suddenly “hit” with what could best be described as a wave of loving energy.  My former identity as a separate personality disappeared, and it was replace with a feeling of pure love and peace.   It was overwhelming.  I began sobbing.  I had never felt so much love in my life.  As I sobbed in front of Poonjaji, he tapped me lightly on the head and said to me, “This love and peace is who you really are; this is your true nature…and your job in life is to never forget that.” I learned a great lesson from Poonjaji that day.  The open, peaceful, and unconditionally loving presence of awareness is who we all really are.   Our mission in life, should we decide to accept it, is to find our way back to that “home” within ourselves. I have now met and interviewed over 50 spiritual leaders, ranging from the late Mother Teresa to the Dalai Lama, Ram Dass, Adyashanti, Dr. Wayne Dyer, and Deepak Chopra.  While they each suggested different philosophies and methods for spiritual growth, I noticed there was one thing they all agreed on.  They all agreed on the importance of tapping into the experience of pure awareness that Poonjaji showed me that memorable day. After hearing about “pure awareness” or “witness consciousness” over and over again from spiritual teachers,  I figured it was time to learn more about it. After all, it’s not often that people agree on something so consistently.  If 50 spiritual leaders coming from varied traditions all say pure awareness is where it’s at, then I wanted to know why it was so important and how I could experience it more frequently.  It ends up that pure awareness or witness consciousness is not a new age fad.  In fact, it is mentioned in virtually every holy book from the East.  Yet, Buddhism in particular is dedicated to the quest for realizing our “Buddha nature.”  Many scholars believe the term “Buddha nature” is just an ancient phrase signifying our true nature as awareness.   So what is this Buddha nature/pure awareness?  There could be many ways to describe it, but perhaps the easiest way is to say it is the “container” in which all our experiences happen.  Without awareness, you would not know you’re reading this article.  Without awareness—you would not know any experience.  Pure awareness is what allows us to realize we are here, in a body, having experiences.  Indeed, it is in the background of every experience we have. On my quest to better understand and experience pure awareness, I have learned many things.  First of all, the reason it’s so important is that it is who we ultimately are.  If you could magically strip away the ego, quiet the mind and simply be with this moment, all that would be left is simple awareness.  Some people might call this the soul, or spirit, or beingness.  Whatever you call it, it always feels peaceful, open, loving, and connected to something greater than our everyday sense of self.  Ultimately, it is who we all are beyond our personalities and strivings.  If this awareness is who we ultimately are and it is always there in the background, why is it almost always “hidden” from us?   More importantly, what can we do about that? Fortunately, I’ve seen that the “technology” of awakening to awareness is getting better year after year.  Like our smartphones, awareness methods are continually being created and updated.  Twenty years ago, only advanced meditators could generally be guided into a state of pure awareness.  Nowadays, I’ve noticed that with the right method, almost all people—whether they are meditators or not-- can experience it in less than five minutes. Many spiritual teachers I’ve met say we are now in the midst of a quiet revolution of people waking up to their true nature. In order to spread the word about the latest methods for awakening to awareness, a year ago I began co-hosting a podcast called Awareness Explorers (available on iTunes and Google Play).  In this podcast, my co-host and I present new ways to know yourself as awareness each week.  In addition, we interview well-known teachers, such as Stuart Schwartz and Rupert Spira, to discuss the easiest, quickest, and most impactful ways to enter into the experience of pure awareness.  My personal mission is to make the experience of being pure awareness as easy as turning on your TV. 

I believe that’s possible, but like with one’s TV, different “channels” will appeal to different people.  The good news is once you find an approach or method that works quickly and easily for you, your entire life and spiritual evolution soon skyrocket to a whole new level.  Since different people are attracted to dissimilar methods, it’s important to try out a variety of approaches to see what works best for you.  In the Awareness Explorers podcast, we’ve revealed over 40 different methods.  Amongst our favorites are these three simple and quick techniques:  1. Imagine you have a big eraser and you can begin by erasing your legs, then your pelvic area, then your stomach and lower back, your shoulders (do this now), finally your neck and head. What’s left?  If thoughts are there, erase those too.  What’s left? Just your awareness… 2. Become aware of what you’re currently feeling.  Now become aware that there’s awareness of what you’re feeling.  Now include becoming aware of what you’re hearing…include what you’re seeing, include being aware of what you’re thinking…now include being aware of being aware… 3. Visualize the words “I am…”   Think of an end to the sentence, such as “I am a teacher,” or “I am a spiritual seeker.” Erase the end of the sentence until you only have “I am” left.  Repeat as many times as you like until you identify only with the “I am.” If you try any of these methods (or all three in succession), you may find that your identity suddenly shifts from being your egoic self to an awareness of watching your egoic self.  This “watcher” will likely feel more peaceful than being lost in your personal story and endless thoughts.  If you stay with this awareness for a while, you’ll likely tap into even deeper feelings of love, joy and happiness.   In fact, the “rabbit hole” of awareness can take you all the way to being one with the universe. Lately, EEG studies on advanced meditators have shown that certain brainwaves patterns tend to be associated with the experience of pure awareness.  Fortunately, these EEG patterns can now be easily reproduced in your brain by various soundscape technologies.  Recently, I teamed up with iAwake Technologies to create four guided meditations with special EEG altering soundscapes to help people easily awaken to awareness.  The result was a product called “Shortcuts to Awakening,” and it seems to work quite effectively for most people. However, you never know what techniques will work best for you until you try them out.  That’s why I suggest people interested in awakening to awareness try out a lot of methods and see what works best for them.  The good news is that once you find some simple way to awaken to awareness on a consistent basis, your life will never be the same. 


Photo by Luke Porter on Unsplash

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1 Comment

Love this story and also how you’ve said ‘yes’ to sharing and experimenting with new ways of exploring subtle states of awareness (OK - ‘no one’ said yes...). Maybe Awareness finds US and when we give up our gyrations of seeking, avoiding, self-protecting and Knowing, the dams of ‘selfing’ break apart and we discover what’s left... thanks for sharing!

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