Who are you?

Put all religious impressions aside, good or bad, associated with the word spirituality for a moment.  The word spirit simply means: the most fundamental essence of that which is you.  It is referring to your core identity.  So what is most fundamental, who are you?  Identity is a noun defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as [1]:

“sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing”

The descriptive version of the word is “identical” or “being exactly alike.” So, what about you is exactly alike from the moment of your birth to that of your death that gives you identity?  What about you is identical from then until now?  Let’s explore the theories that have been proposed over the centuries.

Are you your body?

Are you simply a highly specialized machine moving around in a mechanical universe? Although it is a default assumption by the western world due to the reliability of Newtonian physics [2] and the technological advances it has provided over the centuries, it cannot be the case that you are.  Isaac Newton himself rejected this notion, devoting much of his study and writing to the subject of spiritual alchemy.

Your current body is an entirely different form than the one you had at birth.  It has grown and changed in each year of your life. Most of the cells in your body were made after birth through your bodies natural ability to regenerate.  And the DNA within those cells also changes throughout your life through alternating epigenetic bio-markers as well as somatic cellular mutations[3,4].

Remember that identity is defined by sameness.  Your body today is not identical to the one you had at birth in any way, therefore you are not your body.

Are you your personality?

The obvious answer is no.

With each new experience, your personality changes to honor your new awareness of yourself and the world. Also, your personality can fluctuate quite dramatically based on environmental stimuli such as the food you eat or the amount of sleep you had, or didn’t have, the previous night.

Despite some people seemingly remaining similar, they are not exactly the same.  Recent studies [5, 6] even document the common personality changes people experience in life and how variable personalities are.  Furthermore, the source documented in the previous section exploring epigenetics also suggests the variability of personality throughout life.

Are you your mind?

Well if you are not your personality, maybe you are the thing behind it doing the thinking. Unfortunately, the same logic explored in regards to your body applies. Not a single thought in your mind is the same as one you had when you were born. Your thought processes also change as you mature.

Also, consider this: is thinking even a prerequisite to living? It is possible to strike all thoughts from your mind. Monks and yogis practice this frequently in meditation. The yogi Sadguru [7] claims that he will often go days without thought. The Old English word for mind is gemynd [8], which means “memory or thought.” Therefore, in a moment where you contain no thought, you also contain no mind.

So in such a moment, do you lose identity? Of course not, there is still sameness or coherence in your existence from when thoughts ceased to when they resume. Therefore, you must have identity. But what is it?

Are you consciousness?

In modern times, the term consciousness has gained prestige among many philosophers and spiritualists. Consciousness [9] is defined as:

“the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself.”

John Locke [10], a 7th century English philosopher, recognized the previously mentioned limitations of identity and postulated that the continuity of human conscious experience was the source of a person’s identity. It was an improvement to the old worldview, but he believed memory was a necessary component to self. In other words, you have to have memory of the old you to continue having the same identity.

But what about an individual who suffers from amnesia or brain damage? Does their identity change with the loss of memory or other cognitive functions? Despite the change in their awareness, there is still something unchanged about them. There is still a coherence to their existence.

Furthermore, as we experience life our awareness generally expands. We learn more about ourselves and the world around us. This is a positive change, but a change none the less. Remember, we are looking for sameness.  Consciousness is a faculty of yours like each of the others previously explored, but it is not you.

to review

You are not the vessel from which you experience life because it changes. You are not the collective traits, beliefs, and emotional dispositions that you exhibit within your experience because they change. You are not the mind from which your experience is interpreted because it is changes. And you are not the awareness of your experience because it changes.

So who are you?

Click on the arrow to rediscover who you are.