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Know who you are behind the roles you are playing

by Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati
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While we get busy playing our roles in the world, fulfilling our duty and our dharma, we forget who we really are, knowing which was the purpose of why we are here. Like unpeeling an onion, Sadhviji guides you with mediation techniques to reach your true Self.

The meaning of life is to find your true self from the inside. That is why we have taken birth. We are here to know the truth of ourselves. Along the way, we go to school, we work, we raise families, we play all sorts of roles, do all sorts of duties. Wonderful. But the actual core reason we are here is that throughout all that I need to keep being able to have that experience of who I really am. I am only playing the role of this person or that person.

It doesn’t mean that the roles are bad. If you doubt that, read the Bhagavad Gita. Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna so beautifully: Do your duty, your dharma is as a warrior. This war, this battle is your job to bring back dharma, righteousness. But never forget you’re just an actor playing the role. You’re not really the doer, you’re not really this body, you are not somebody’s son, husband, or brother. You are that which was never born, which will never die.

So right in one verse, we have the famous teaching of the Gita: You are the soul which cannot be burned by fire, dried by the wind, cut with knives, moistened with water. That’s who you are, the rest is drama. Yes, you have to play it and you have to play it very sincerely, to the best of your abilities.

Unzipping the roles you wear

Now, if you talk to any actor or actress, who’s good, what you’ll find is they really must become the role. They get into the character, but they also never forget that they aren’t the character. Have you ever heard of an actor playing the part of a villain who went home and murdered his family? Or get off the movie set or stage and start killing people in the audience. Or kill the cast backstage because they couldn’t get out of character. The actor has one identity on stage and a different identity offstage.

What you can do is, when you sit in meditation, allow yourself to think about all the roles you play. In one meditation I lead frequently, just let go with every breath of every role we play. And we play so many roles in our life. We are our parents’ children, we are our children’s parents. In society, we play another role – a successful person or unsuccessful. Popular, or not so popular. Someone who the culture thinks is beautiful, or not beautiful.  

Some of these roles you play by choice – our loving relationships, our jobs when good. But it’s not about good or bad. There may be some roles you want to drop. Oh, I’m the one who’s not good enough. I’m the one no one likes. Well, those are stupid roles to play, let them go. You’re the director of your own drama. If you were an out-of-work actress, you’d have to take whatever role came your way. But when you are the director, the producer, the casting agent, you get to decide. All right, I’m prepared to play these ones and not those worthless ones anymore. I won’t play the failure anymore.

So, you drop some of the roles but the others you know you’re going to keep playing – a daughter, a wife, a mother, a yoga teacher….  But allow yourself when you sit for meditation to drop into a place of who am I that isn’t that role. Who am I that isn’t the daughter, the mother, the wife? Allow yourself to drop into that and give yourself an experience of that.

It is a beautiful practice at night. For a few minutes, do a visualization of the way actors take off costumes and wash off makeup.

Literally, allow yourself to visualize unzipping all the different costumes that you wear during the day. The office-goer, the family man, and so on. Take a few minutes and unzip them all until there’s nothing left. What is left is just that pure consciousness, just that pure experience of Self. The next morning, put the roles back on as long as you’ve got duties to do in the world. You are going to get up, put on the mother role, and make breakfast for the kids. But allow yourself to realize these are roles I’m playing and I’m playing them consciously and willingly and to the best of my ability. But it isn’t who I am.

If you develop this daily practice of taking the roles off and putting them back on, you will become familiar with the you who is still sitting there after you’ve removed all the roles. Now, whenever you sit to meditate, whenever you need to access that true Self that isn’t your role, you’ll be able to access her because you’ll already know her.

The neti-neti way

Another beautiful meditation is the technique of what’s called neti-neti, which means not this, not this. In this meditation, you sit down and first, we say, all right, I’m not my clothes. We all know that. I change my clothes every day, but I don’t change. Then you go a layer deeper to say, I’m not my skin. Well, I know that because my skin keeps sloughing off and I get new skin, but I’m still there. Well, I’m not my blood because I can donate blood, I can receive a blood transfusion, but it doesn’t change who I am. I’m not my bones. I may break a bone and get a cast but I am still there. I’m not my organs. Every seven or eight years all the cells of the organs keep regenerating.

Go to the next layer only when there is a felt sense, an awareness of I am not my skin, my bones, my organs. Then you come to I’m not my thoughts. We know that because thoughts are just chemicals producing electricity in the brain. Thoughts are just like bubbles on the water, they come, they pop, they go. But I stay.  

So, I’m not my thoughts. Slowly, you go through everything you can think of – I am not my fears, my emotions. Everything is of the mind, manifest through the brain. Slowly, you remove all of that like peeling an onion. Then you’ll come to that place where there’s nothing left, and you’ll come to a place of quiet. While there an experience of who you really are will emerge. It may not be words. It’s an experience. It’s a knowing of who you are but you have to feel it. You have to go within and remember that is the purpose of your life. So, we better do it.

Missing the gorilla in the game

Let me end by talking about a psychological study. They made a group of students watch a six-minute basketball game between two teams. In the end, they correctly reported the number of baskets made by each team. But there was another question to answer: Did you notice anything else? Over half the participants answered ‘no’. Now, with a psychological study,

the point of the study is never what the point of the study is. In the basketball game, at the halfway mark, a person dressed in a very large gorilla suit came onto the court and proceeded to dance.

So how could half the students otherwise keenly watching the game miss a massive gorilla?  Because the instruction was to count the baskets.

This is what happens in our lives. We are very good at following instructions. We are told to get a good education, get a good job, make a lot of money, and be socially popular. So, we do it, but the problem is, that’s not the point. There’s something entirely different and most of us miss it. And that’s to know who you are, to have the experiential awareness of who you are.

So, consider yourself now properly warned. There is something else, don’t miss it. Keep doing what you’ve been told to do, but just remember along the way that this isn’t what it’s about. Make sure to keep your eyes open, not just the outer eyes but the inner eyes and you won’t miss it.

Adapted from a talk by Sadhviji. Photos: courtesy

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