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Who am I?

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Who am I?


Knowing the self is a topic of great interest in psychology and also in philosophy. VICTOR KANNAN reflects on this question that has been intriguing us from time immemorial, and shares the insights he has gained from introspection.

All aspects of existence – temporal and real – are included in this question, who am I? The idea of who I can be and who I ought to be are also part of this larger question. A simple 10-minute introspective exercise takes us through several answers that reveal our roles, temperaments, achievements and relationships, and eventually our potentiality.

Mel Schwartz, blogger of ‘A Shift of Mind’, writes in Psychology Today, “The universe purportedly exists in a state of flowing potential. And it is essential to understand that we are indeed part of that universe. The goal then is to access that potential, keeping the parts of our identity that continue to serve us well and shedding the old, habitual pieces that constrain us. This process is known as positive disintegration. This permits us to find balance between the extremes … and enter into a relationship with self that commits to our personal evolution.”1

Swami Brahmavidananda, in his expositions on the Bhagavad Gita, writes, “The search for identity is nothing new; it is as old as the human race. One recognizes instinctively that one is more than what one has believed oneself to be. ‘Who am I?’ is the most fundamental question. … If you understand that, everything in Vedanta is answered.”2

I am a manifestation of
I put my attention,
which is supporting
my intention.

In the past I have explored God as a principle instead of a named entity: what is God rather than who is God? There have been several attempts to define God by various philosophers and saints from different cultures and eras in history. The Hindu philosophy accommodates a wide range of possibilities of defining who or what God is, and puts them all into two categories: gods with forms and attributes are in the category of akar, and the definitions of God without any form or attribute are clubbed into nirakar. ‘Who’ bogs us down in the akar and ‘what’ leads us to nirakar.

‘Who’ gives God a form and name? It is we humans who identify God and assign it a name that is mangiven. Hence, to me God as a principle makes the most sense. It belongs to the nirakar category, and the right question would be ‘What is God?’ not ‘Who is God?’ If there is any parallel for humans, then the question for us would also address what I am instead of who I am.


According to Schwartz, I am a potential.
Is this potential a driving force, and until I understand and achieve this potential do I keep changing?
In other words, does who I am keep changing until it is synonymous with what I am?

As I considered these questions, something in me expanded and a simple revelation emerged: I am a manifestation of where I put my attention, which is supporting my intention.

I AM is composed of Intention leading to Attention leading to Manifestation.


An intention is a mental state that represents a commitment to carrying out an action or actions in the future. An intention involves mental activity such as planning and forethought. An intention constantly evolves. It seems to emanate from some place deeper within our consciousness. This consciousness is a constantly transforming and evolving inner space and hence is dynamic. It is the result of our heart–brain– mind interaction with the environment and the way we process that interaction. The uniqueness with which each one of us processes this interaction is due to the particular signature we have on our consciousness at any moment in time.

An intention may be positive or negative, deliberately acquired in this moment or inherent to our nature. But in that deliberate, volitional space of our existence we can act to acquire positive or negative intentions. Life is a school; we can learn to change our intentions, as we learn from their past manifestations and their implications.

If we are not born with positive intentions we can acquire them.
If we are born with negative intentions we can change them.

Irrespective of whether our intentions are deliberate and conscious or autonomous and unconscious, we change constantly, so what we manifest also changes constantly. From that point of view, if we change constantly, who ‘I am’ also changes constantly. When this reaches a level of constancy, ‘I am what I ought to be’, that is, a unified individual fully integrated and balanced. Here both my inside and outside match. What I mean, what I say and how I act are all part of my integrated personality.


One thing we can do is to cultivate positive intentions. This brings us to the attention part of the equation. Attention is a cognitive process in which we notice, pause, learn, and then act to manifest the intention more effectively. It is a skill, and when we develop it into a habit, it becomes a continual and dynamic process of transformation. When we finally manifest our intention via attention and action, these manifestations then produce their own results in our life. These results, whatever they may be, good or bad, painful or desirable, form a part of the next reaction pattern influencing our consciousness. This then becomes a new basis for the next intention to surface.

So intention, attention, manifestation, its consequences and our learning all contribute to our transformation of consciousness. Since intention arises from our consciousness, the purity of consciousness determines the type of intention we will have. The rest is a process of manifestation, and the level of purity of consciousness determines the nature of manifestation.

Thus, who I am is largely predicated by what I am as a level of consciousness.3

At times we are not able to achieve the self-development goal we had set out to achieve. There are hindrances, which are the manifestations of prior intentions and circumstances that we have created. The complex mixture of all our previous intentions, attentions and manifestations is the base we live in and must transcend. Each of us can make that leap by overcoming our old self, changing old circumstances, and creating new intentions that manifest through positive attention in a new self.

Attention is a cognitive process
in which we notice, pause,
learn, and then act to manifest
the intention more effectively. It
is a skill, and when we develop
it into a habit, it becomes a
continual and dynamic process
of transformation.

If we don’t like who we are, we can change, for our potential is nothing short of spectacular. This is the great transformation. When we evolve to a place of constancy and purity, then our intention, attention and manifestation become consistent with that constancy, which is the potentiality that Schwartz talks about in ‘A Shift of Mind’. When we reach and realize that state of mind and feeling, awareness and intuition, intellect and wisdom, confidence and humility, we reach a state of absolute balance. That potential is what I ought to be. When I reach there, then I can say “This I am,” or “That thou art.”.

1 https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shift-mind/201006/who-am-i
2 https://bhagavadgitablog1.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/chapter-2-sankhya-yogah-topic-of-knowledge/
3 The Evolution of Consciousness is a huge subject in itself, which is dealt with exhaustively by Daaji in his series http://www.heartfulnessmagazine.com/evolution-of-consciousness/.



Victor Kannan

Victor is a Director for Heartfulness Institute, USA, a non-profit organization educating, researching and spreading the values of yoga, meditation and overall wellness. He has been an avid practitioner of Heartfulness Meditation and a trainer for more than 30 years. As a career CFO he has been able to combine the benefits of meditation in... Read more



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