Read on to take the challenge (all you need are 20 minutes and a pen and paper). 

By Jim Robert

“Every living being longs always to be happy, untainted by sorrow; and everyone has the greatest love for himself, which is solely due to the fact that happiness is his real nature. Hence, in order to realize that inherent and untainted happiness, which indeed he daily experiences when the mind is subdued in deep sleep; it is essential that he should know himself. For obtaining such knowledge the inquiry ‘Who am I?’ in quest of the Self is the best means.”
— Ramana Maharshi

There is something profoundly mysterious about the question “Who Am I?” Think about it for a moment. That we can even ask the question at all is absolutely remarkable! And when we really ask this question, not in the cursory way we ask other kinds of questions, but rather, when we ask it with great intention and with the mystery of ourselves in full cognizance, it opens up the possibility of, if only momentarily, contacting another level of mind — an alternative vantage point of experiencing that “I” we call ourselves. And if in asking it, we can temporarily separate ourselves from any and all assumptions we might have regarding the answer to this question, and instead ask it the way a child might ask it, what then? To ask this most important question in such a fashion can mark the beginning of one of the most important journeys we can take in life — the quest for Self.

For 18 years I have been teaching a class for high school seniors that pursues the answer to this question “Who Am I?” It has been a remarkable journey that is always and forever changing.  But the one constant throughout all these years has been THAT question “Who Am I?”  Students taking this class explore this question privately and collectively — the assumption being that we can never answer this question on our own. Our inextricable interconnection as human beings, our shared journey through this life as individual-social beings, and the absolute necessity of mirroring images of who we are back to each other in our relationships, makes this necessarily both a private and a public undertaking.

After all these years, I still believe in this question, despite the impossibility of ever coming to terms with any consistent and lasting answer. I have on file in my classroom over 4,500 written responses to this question. I believe the journey that commences with the asking of this question is a pre-requisite for our becoming fully human. To journey through this life without exploring this question seems absolutely ludicrous.

So let me put a challenge out to the readers of this blog.  Let me ask you to do what I've been asking high school seniors to do for almost two decades.  Find a quiet place to sit with pen and paper (not your computer) and respond to the following question: “Who Am I?”  After you have hand written your response, I challenge you to then type it up and submit it (anonymously or not) to this blog and let’s see what comes out of this exercise. 

The formal wording of the “assignment” is as follows:

In 20 minutes or less, respond to the prompt “Who Am I?” using any format that works for you. It could be paragraphs, bullet points, stream of consciousness, poetry, or any other style of writing that feels comfortable for you. (Note: This writing exercise is always preceded by a 6-10 minute meditation.)

The real key to this exercise is to remain true to the 20-minute time limitation.  There is something remarkably fresh and poignant about keeping this response short and to the point.  A long drawn-out premeditated autobiography comes later in the journey but my experience has shown that this initial stage of the inquiry is served best by this brief yet focused response.  Good luck!

Jim Robert has been a public school teacher for over 24 years. He wrote and developed the curriculum for his high school Philosophy/Senior Passage Class that he has taught for over 17 years at Pioneer High School. He is the father of three and lives with his wife in Ann Arbor.

Posted on November 21, 2014 .