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Check your head

Meditating on the question "Who am I?" for as little as 5 minutes can help you look beyond your ego's definition of you and discover what lies beneath. By Sally Kempton

1. SETTLE INTO YOUR BODY. Come into a comfortable seated posture, with your eyes closed, and your hands folded in your lap. Lengthen your back, and let your chin move back so you feel as if your head is being suspended by a cord from the ceiling. Scan your body, noticing and softening any tightness in the shoulders, face, thighs, belly, arms, and hands. Take 5 deep inhalations and exhalations.

2. FOCUS ON YOUR BREATH. Become aware of the rise and fall of the breath. Let your breathing be natural and relaxed as it brings you into the present moment. Feel the coolness of the breath as it flows in the nostrils, and the warmth as it flows out. Notice where you feel the breath in your body. Do you feel it in the chest and shoulders? In the diaphragm or belly?

3. QUIET THE MIND. Sensing the flow of the breath, inhale with the thought "I am." Feel the energy of the words mingling with your breath, flowing into your inner body. Then, with the exhalation, feel the space that these words leave in your consciousness. Continue to repeat the pure mantra "I am" without attaching any other thoughts to it. Stay here for several minutes if you can, allowing yourself to become more and more relaxed.

4. PRACTICE INQUIRY. As your mind quiets, begin to drop the question, "Who am I, without words? Without thoughts? Without memories or emotions?" Pay attention to the awareness that opens up. If words or emotions arise, allow them to be there. Identify them- "thoughts," "sadness," or "confusion"- and return to the question. You're not looking for an answer. Look past the answers that arise to experience the bare awareness that is your sense of being, of pure existence.

5. REST IN AWARENESS. This sense of pure existence is there, and as you practice this meditation, it well eventually reveal itself. Continue your inquiry, and see if you can gently rest for a second or two in the wordless awareness that immediately follows the question. The opening into awareness may last only for a few seconds. If you get hung up on your thoughts, start over: return to the breath, and the mantra "I am." Then, ask the question again, and notice what arises. Stay with the practice for as few as 5 minutes or as many as 30 minutes. Then open your eyes, and return to your day.

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