Learning to Be Real: Recognizing the Relationship Between “WHERE” We Are & “WHO” We Are

by bryan maynard

Sun misty farm

A deeply authentic, satisfying life is the fruit that necessarily follows from the work of discovering what fulfills the heart. The heart wants to live out of a place of rest and ease and peace with our real selves in relationship to the experiential world around us. Without this heart, we simply cannot be fully human and alive. The practice of fulfilling our heart’s desire for peace, therefore, becomes worth all the effort required to be awakened and sustained by our true nature.

Understanding Experience as the Means to Being Ourselves

Let us begin with a question: How do we learn to be ourselves? A. H. Almaas says that to discover how to be ourselves, we must begin with what we have–

–and what we always have is our experience in the moment.

Let’s slow down and be sure to get this insight: learning to be our real selves means that we begin with understanding our experience here and now. If we allow ourselves to be in our experience in the moment–to feel it, to see it, to taste it, to hear it, to smell it, to be aware of it–it becomes possible for us to actually find out WHAT WE ARE and to be WHO WE ARE writes Almaas

Why is our present experience a good place to begin? The answer is that the present moment–where we are–always contains an element or hint of our true selves in it. We might be bringing a false image of our true selves to the present (we usually do), but the present experience still is somehow related to who we truly are no matter how disconnected our real self might be from our experience.

[We look] at our experience and find out where we are: I am sitting here, bored…or, I’m hungry and impatient as I am driving around trying to find a restaurant that’s open..Looking [more] closely, you discover that each one of these is somehow related to who you truly are.

The key is understanding how your experience is related to who you truly are. Here is an example: Suppose you are doing a hobby that you enjoy. After a while, you notice feelings of boredom with it. You could deny your feelings of boredom by distracting yourself with things that help you avoid the unpleasant experience of feeling bored. If you try to dispel your boredom in this way, you are actually resisting where you are, what is happening. But if you stay with your experience, stay present to what it feels like, you are beginning to see the full truth of your experience, which is the reality of your feeling bored. Noticing your feelings, you observe that you experience boredom as a kind of meaningless emptiness. Almaas writes…

If I think about this a little bit, I can see that where I am and how I am feeling are connected to my [Real] True Nature. The fact that I am feeling a meaningless emptiness reflects the fact that I have a True Nature (Being real) and that I am distant from it…I implicitly know what meaning feels like in my soul and that feeling is missing.

In summary: in this example we begin by inquiring into where we are. Then, we simply allow ourselves to experience the truth of what is happening-doing a hobby and feeling bored. Finally, we follow the thread of where that boredom is coming from and that thread eventually connected us with the truth of what we are. Awareness of the absence of meaning points negatively to the truth of what we are, creatures whose Real, True Nature has implicit in it a sense of significance.  I implicitly know what meaning feels like by its absence.

The more we see the truth of where we are in the moment, the more we recognize something about the relationship between where we are and what we are. That recognition makes the distance between them shorter and we feel more real. And that is why when we are real, we tend to see more of the truth of the situation.

The Two Practices of Inquiry


Being real means we have become interested in being as intimate as possible with what is happening in our experience. We inquire into our experience through something called awareness. Being aware of our experience means immediacy.  It means that the tentacles of my soul are wrapping themselves around the feeling, penetrating it and all its parts, feeling it from the inside and outside–because my awareness extends everywhere…If I am not fully aware of my situation, how am I going to find out the truth about it writes Almaas.

We observe our experience until we become clear about where are, becoming aware at any moment what we are actually experiencing.


Recognizing our experience by becoming aware of it, we move into the practice of self-inquiry. What is making this experience happen? The very moment we ask this question, we are expanding our experience of where we are. This leads to more inquiry: What is making me feel this way? in any given situation.

As you ask what is happening, as you become interested in understanding more about where you are, you will begin to see some truth about your experience. And that understanding will eventually lead you to grasp the relationship between your True Nature (Being Real) and where you are…We not only have a mental explanation of our experience but a felt sense of it being meaningful to us…[and the distance between our experience of reality and of ourselves is closer and we feel more real for it].

What Comes First

Our appreciation and love of reality (experience) is primary. Not interest in the sense of attachment-wanting something from it–but interest in the sense o f wanting to know it, wanting to be aware of it, wanting to feel it, to experience it as fully as possible.

What Follows–What We are Really After

We see, then, that by understanding where we are right now, we can begin to recognize our distance from our True Nature. As we become more aware of what is happening, the more our awareness becomes dynamic and reveals the meaning of what is going on. That awareness gives a coherent sense to our experience, which makes us feel more real, more genuine, because it brings us closer to what we are.


Ask yourself, writes Almaas What is going on? Where are you in this moment? What is happening to you? What are you feeling, sensing, thinking, noticing around you?

You want to feel where you are. You want to see it, experience it, know it. You don’t want to go anywhere. You are not trying to accomplish anything. You just want to find out where you happen to be in this moment.

Finally, after you’ve done this for a while, consider the experience you’ve just had. Your awareness can expand and deepen, or become limited or more constricted. What expanded your awareness? What limited it?