Who am I? About being.

By Jan Baars, instructor Ki-Aikido Haarlem, Netherlands

This question plays an important role in many forms of meditation. This is, again, a complicated subject with many different aspects and possible interpretations. To begin we can say that this question is important because in answering it we become aware who we have been told that we are and who we think we are. As I try to answer the question I may understand more about how I have grown up in specific situations; which persons and experiences have made a profound impression. As a result I may develop more understanding why I respond to certain situations, problems or questions in ways that are different from other people’s responses. Somebody who grew up in the Arctic Circle, the desert or the Amazon rain forest will think differently about many things in life. And even very close to me I can see many differences between people depending on the ways they were brought up and have led their lives.

The result may be an openness to the idea that things are not per se how I think they are or should be. In other words, the world is bigger than my view of the world. This realization connects us to another way to understand the question ‘Who am I?’. Because this is also a question about being and my being is also bigger and richer than my view of it. If I assume that I can only be me I am missing many important details that are right in front of me. 


In Aikido you will have the experience that you don’t really see what is shown to you. In a way, you must already understand something before you can see it clearly; in Western philosophy this was one of Kant’s main messages. For example, if I go to a forest with many birds I will tend to see and remember only those that I already know or that look like those I already know. But somebody who is a bird watcher will be exited about the many different birds that he saw but that I missed. To learn and to enlarge or deepen your understanding is not so easy: you have to see that something does not fit your understanding. The same applies to how we see people or situations: you may think you know what they are like but you have to look again and again. People have many different aspects and situations can change very rapidly. It helps to develop Shoshin or a ‘beginner’s mind’: to be open to the realization that you don’t understand or see clearly what is in front of you.