Big Questions Part 1: Who am I?
Do not let your life pass by without asking yourself, “Who am I?”
Do not let your life pass by without asking yourself, “Where am I going?”
Do not let a day pass by without giving an answer to yourself about who you are.
Do not let a day pass by without giving an answer to yourself about where you are going.
Silo. The Path
This note was letter was written in 2013 to my friend Puchi as part of our correspondence about these questions. I am posting it as the first of a number of entries around the questions, i.e. “who am I?” and “where am I going?”. I am not sure I ever sent it or even finished this note of which I have a couple of minor variants. Here’s one of them:
Well our virtual interchange about “The Questions” has not gotten off to a quick start. Let’s simply claim that it’s because both of us have been meditating slowly and deeply on these apparently simple – even quaint phrases. As I mentioned last time I begin with no very clear idea of what they mean and even less of an idea of how to approach them. I have to think it is much the same for you. And I imagine we both (and many of our spiritual coetaneans – if I can use that phrase) have put attention and thought to how one might find a way to think about them, to meditate on them, to follow some kind of trail and in some way to penetrate what seems either evidently trivial, mysteriously impenetrable, or both. Forgive me if I am repeating what was said before but it’s been so long since I last wrote you in this regard so let me pick up the thread where it seems easiest, even though I suspect that will involve a kind of “run up”, some kind of approach that will allow me to somehow draw closer to the theme even though it is on the other hand simply a repeating of the obvious…
So there we are with Silo’s Message as it appears in writing, in The Book. I open it and find The Inner Look (a book that you and I have studied, enjoyed and puzzled over since we were very young men). We turn the last page and encounter those Experiences we call, perhaps misleadingly, Ceremonies. I question the title, ceremony, not because it isn’t true but because they are such short simple works, or practices that they seem very far from what we might associate with the intricacy and formality of the invoked by the word ceremony. But, and I will get to the point eventually, we finally arrive to the last section. So after all that explanation, principles, poetry, and experience we find this collection of ideas and guidelines we call The Path. And there we find them: intriguing, but perhaps disappointing in their simplicity, two questions: Do not let your life pass by without asking yourself, “Who am I?” Do not let your life pass by without asking yourself, “Where am I going?” Do not let a day pass by without giving an answer to yourself about who you are. Do not let a day pass by without giving an answer to yourself about where you are going.
So how do I do those things? How do I ask and how do I answer? Where do I begin?
I try. I relax. I make an effort to silence my mind. I’m not very successful. And I ask myself: Who am I? I repeat the words? It all seems pretty flat. I try again. How do I answer? Do I answer by listing what I’ve learned through my self-knowledge course, or by listing off my genealogy, or with some kind of neuro-physiological inventory? I would ask more profoundly but how do I do that? I’m not sure and I’m left with some words echoing in my consciousness.
Where am I going? How can I answer? What do the words mean? Even just like that – rattling around in my head – they can be disturbing, uncomfortable.
Perhaps the first thing that I realize is that one reason that these questions seem so weird to me is that on one hand I know — thanks to what I’ve been taught or perhaps even gained from my own experience— that “I” am an illusion. Nonetheless, most of the time I live as if, my “I” (shades of Descartes) is the one indubitable fact, the one thing I know for sure.
In the same convoluted way the single thing that I actually know with some certainty is that, regardless of how illusory “I” am, “I am going”. Yet I act as if this was the one thing that wasn’t true. So even from the beginning I uncover a tangled knot of yes and no.
And it is a real labyrinth of twists and turns. I am certain the “I” is an illusion. Yet most of the time it is the one thing I cannot really doubt – of course I can say any kind of shit but there it remains, the one having those thoughts, uttering these statements, believing and disbelieving, etc.
As for “where am I going”; well as Negro said, “…sooner or later we are all going” and elsewhere “there is no meaning in life if everything ends with death.” I know that death awaits you and me and all those I’ve loved and despised. But despite that, most of the time I live as if death does not exist. Whether it’s from something I’ve been taught or from my own experience, I know that the awareness of my own finitude is important. Nonetheless I act as if I am demi-god, if not an immortal among immortals.
So what I claim to believe is unsubstantial (my “I”) I experience as central and enduring. What I claim is ephemeral (my time here) I live as if permanent. How can I unravel all this? Because of all that, even asking the questions, “who am I” and “where am I going”, begins to disarticulate the structure of these realities (I and my life).
Is that an OK start to our conversation? I await your thoughts.
At some point I start to think more about how to find an answer than about how to ask the question. As I try to puzzle out A few things come to mind. For example, during the Mission of the 80s (n.b. the series of Silo’s public rallies in Europe and Asia) the six of us who accompanied Negro each had particular themes that when called on we spoke (or responded to questions) about. Mine was centred on how to produce internal change. In the public acts I would also be responsible to describe the situation in which we find ourselves. I would start off something like: “We have discovered man standing alone in the middle of a violent and inhuman landscape… It is as if we sat in a train that was racing towards a cliff arguing about what colour we should paint the seats… Who will take the responsibility to change the direction of everything? — We will.”
I would then continue to the question of how to produce that change. And here we get to the part that seems most immediately relevant to these two recalcitrant questions recommended in The Path as the subject of daily meditations: “…Look within yourself and look all around to discover the need to change… call into your depths and from those depths there will come a response.”
As an aside I would add that, finding the necessary and appropriate energy to produce a significant change requires going beyond your desires and wants and tapping into your real needs. Desire is not enough. But neither are your needs it requires much more. The missing energy is found in the needs of the world. The needs of your family, friends, neighbours, fellow creatures — of the entire planet.
Any way back to other things that came to mind when I started to think about how to find an answer to these interesting, and recalcitrant questions…