“Tell me who you are.”
I’m sitting in front of Clare, my ex-mother-in-law, and Veronika, my partner in the interview room. They’re evaluating me, attempting to determine how enlightened I am.
I’m in a Satori group. A satori is a sudden moment of enlightenment, a flash of insight, a direct experience of Truth.
“Tell me who you are,” says Clare, my ex mother-in-law and grandmother to my children.
I’m on the spot and nervous. I want more than anything to get this question right. I have invested years into being a wise dude. I teach yoga. I meditate. I run personal growth workshops. My entire image of myself is resting on answering this question with grace and poise like a character from a zen story where the student becomes the master.
Who am I? I’ve gotten rid of all the obvious answers over the last few days, a father, a son, a brother, a yoga teacher. I’ve even gotten rid of all the esoteric answers, Consciousness, the Witness, All That Is. What Clare is looking for is a direct experience, beyond a mere intellectual understanding.
I have been sitting for the past few days in a group process where you ask yourself the question, “who am I?” over and over again from early in the morning till late at night. The relentlessness of the questioning deepens the inquiry until each person is consumed with the question. At this point there may be a shift, dramatic or subtle, that reveals a direct experiential knowing of who you are. This type of experience is impossible to put into words and yet occurs frequently in this process.
We sit with a partner for 40 minutes. One person begins, “tell me who you are.” The other responds with whatever comes up to say in the moment. After 5 minutes we switch roles, one speaks while the other listens in silence. After 40 minutes we change partners and continue the process. It continues throughout the day only broken by three meals and two walking breaks. During the breaks we are encouraged to stay with our question, “who am I?”
I have been considering this question for a few days now. All sorts of things have come up. It feels like a fast track in psychotherapy. I run through the story of my life, noticing who I am in my relationships, career, childhood, my hopes and fears. At first the inquiry is incredibly aggravating. It is tedious and seems to bear no fruit. At some point the question begins to have a sort of gravity that pulls me in like a black hole. I am consumed by the question. I go to bed thinking ,”who am I?” I dream about the question in a powerful lucid state.
Sitting in front of Clare and Veronika for my third interview attempt to determine where I am with this question I can already feel that I don’t know what to say. I’m grasping at straws, hoping to stumble onto something that sounds insightful.
It has been both supportive and challenging having my partner as a facilitator of this group. I am afraid at times to give myself permission to say what is truly coming up for me because I think she will hear and get upset. In moments of grief and hopelessness I’m uplifted seeing her face. Outside of the interviews we are not supposed to have any contact, though occasionally we glance at each other and it fills me with emotion. During the interviews I appreciate having her present for my process and that we are able to share these intimate moments together, though, I would also like to have the opportunity to do it on my own. Overall her presence in the group triggers a lot for me and helps to drive me deeper into my psyche. I’ve discovered painful truths that I might not have been motivated to look at if she weren’t there.
I have a lot of respect for Clare. Though she is the mother of my ex-wife, our relationship has always remained clear of the drama that occurred during the separation and divorce. Clare is a mentor and highly skilled at what she does. I trust her guidance.
“Tell me who you are.”
As I fumble with an answer, Clare asks me if I’m holding back in Veronika’s presence. I say yes. “Ryan, my dear, you don’t have to hold yourself back for anybody.” She says it with such compassion and care that I instantly burst into tears. All of my struggle to find an answer, to look good, to do it right for Clare and Veronika collapses with her loving invitation. I sob for a while. Then I’m filled with love and gratitude.
“Tell me who you are,” Clare inquires one more time.
After a moments search, “I don’t know,” I reply. But for the first time in this group and for my own sake, I really want to know.
My inquiry begins to take on a life of its own. Instead of struggling I am wholeheartedly engaged in this question. Other people in the group have answered their question for themselves at which point they are given a new question like “What is life?” Or “What is another?” At first I am jealous to discover that other people who I feel superior to have gotten their question before me. I am forced to share this with them. In order to progress in my own inquiry, I feel I am compelled to expose my insecurities that seem to be in the way of looking more deeply.
Somehow I am grateful for my resistance. I am fascinated with it. I want to know it fully. The opportunity to see so deeply and clearly into my self now seems infinitely more valuable than ever answering this question.
A few times I ask for an interview with Clare, feeling like I am finally ready. She sends me back and after this last time I am furious. I curse her and the group. I am rage and sensitivity and raw emotion, wounded and desperate for acknowledgment. Desperate for attention. Desperate to be seen. It lands in me. I cannot deny this ugly truth. I am desperate to be seen.
I burst into tears. Then I burst into hysterical laughter. Then uncontrollable sobbing. Laughter, sobbing, laughter, sobbing. I think i will never stop. My partner in the exercise sits with me while I crack up and break down, falling to pieces. When its over, I feel a tremendous release.
My inquiry continues for another half day. The truth of who I am begins to dawn on me until it fills me up so completely that it becomes undeniable. Such a simple, obvious and empowering truth. I am captivated by the power of this realisation. I would love to say more about it but words fail to capture the experience. The description can never convey the reality. And I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.
In my next interview with Clare we sit alone.
“Tell me who you are,” she says.
I won’t give away the rest of this story except to say that what I received from this process was invaluable and I am grateful beyond measure. “Who am I?” is a question that only you can answer for yourself.
“Who are you?”
Find out more about the next Satori group in the UK with Clare Soloway.