Who am I?
I don't know.
In some societies answering a question like this might make me seem slow or stupid. But when practicing Mindfulness, it is an appropriate answer. In Mindfulness there is a state of being known as “don't know mind.” Don't Know Mind allows you to be open to what is in the present moment without labels. Usually we describe ourselves in terms of what we do or our relationship to others, our affiliations, or our physical characteristics. We also add these labels to others. We are constantly comparing and contrasting and categorizing ourselves and others. Notice when you meet someone for the first time how your mind judges them. Then notice once you get to know them if your labels still fit. Notice the judgment thoughts you have about yourself. “I should have done this. I shouldn't have done that. I'm a bad person. I'll never learn. I'm fat. I'm stupid. I'm smarter than her. I'm a good person.” These are all just thoughts. They are not who you are. Who you are is the awareness, the consciousness, that is noticing the thoughts. How you are changes from moment to moment. One moment you might be sad, the next tired, the next happy. By saying “I don't know” you are relaxing and letting the natural process flow through you instead of trying to control it, which creates resistance.
Practice: The next time someone asks you a question, answer “I don't know” even if you do know. See how you feel.
That said, in case you want to know something about me beyond the fact that I am sitting in the cafe writing this, noticing that my laptop battery is at 30%, feeling fullness in my stomach after the tuna salad wrap I just ate, listening to the music playing and people talking and, of course, breathing... I have been a student of mindfulness for 10 years. My introduction to Mindfulness was through my first teacher, Andrew Weiss *, author of Beginning Mindfulness – Learning the Way of Awareness, whom I studied with for 7 years. I have been teaching mindfulness classes for 6 years. I had no intention of ever teaching, but one day after class, Andrew suggested I teach classes. I promptly looked behind me to see who he could be talking to and when I realized it was me, I was in shock for about a week. “NOOOO!!! Not ME!!!! I can't teach anything. I can't talk in front of people. I don't want to be the center of attention. I want to be invisible.” So, of course, I rejected (and resisted) the idea. Well... let this be a warning... Be careful what you ask for. A couple of years earlier I had put out the intention that I wanted to help people. I guess I should have been more specific, like “as long as it doesn't involve me being the center of attention or having to get up in front of people and talk or, God forbid, practice what I preach.” So, even though I dismissed the idea of teaching, obviously the Universe did not. Within a few weeks of Andrew's statement, things lined up exactly right to put me in the position of teaching an Introduction to Mindfulness class. I was terrified, but I tentatively said, “I'll try it?” (No, the question mark is not a typo.) Did I mention I was terrified? But I guess something inside me knew that this was going to be a good thing, not only for others, but for me. And boy was it good for me. Not always comfortable, but always beneficial. You've probably heard the expression, if you want to learn something, teach it. Let me tell you, it is true. I was in up to my big judgmental ears. I think what kept me going despite the discomfort was knowing how much mindfulness had helped me and how much it could help others. I am extremely grateful to Andrew and to all my teachers, who include my students, my friends, and everyone that I meet and interact with – especially the “difficult” ones.
Lisa Shraddhakaya **
* Andrew has studied mindfulness meditation for many years in the United States, Europe, and Asia. His early studies of Zen focused on the Korean tradition with Zen Master Seung Sahnh and Zen Master Su Bong. In 1991, he was ordained a Brother in Thich Nhat Hanh's Order of Interbeing. In 1999, he was ordained by zen priest Claude AnShin Thomas in the White Plum Lineage of Japanese Soto Zen.
** Shraddhakaya is the spiritual name that was given to me by Andrew in 2003. It means Body of Faith. This following was written by Andrew to describe Shraddhakaya:
Shraddha – faith – is one of the Five Powers that enable spiritual practice and one of the Six Perfections that bring our lives to spiritual maturity. It is trust in yourself and in the unerring rightness of the present moment. Faith is never blind.
To live in faith means trusting your knowingness and your experience. Trust yourself as the perfect embodiment of divinity, just as you are. Stand firmly in the ground of your being, and walk steadily into what life offers you.
You are the body of faith, which means that you embody faith. So, go live with faith, and your own True Nature will shine as the clearest sun on a cloudless day.
Why did he give me that name? I don't know. I didn't ask. I think it may be because that is what I needed most - faith in myself. And perhaps he saw a capacity in me to embody faith. I am still working on it.
I offer you the same words so you may have faith in yourself.