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Most of us spend our time looking out.

We look up and out at the night sky, pondering big questions like “What’s the meaning of life?” or “Why am I here?” or “Is there anyone else out there?”

The truth is there’s one little question we never really ask ourselves.

Sometimes, it’s because we hear this question all the time that we have an instant, ready-made answer. Other times, it’s because we think the answer doesn’t really matter. But often, it’s because we’re too scared to look the answer in the eye.

Who are you?

No, I don’t mean “What’s your name?”

The answer isn’t “I’m Nicole. I’m a writer. I live in the Philippines.

I mean, who are you, really? Who is hiding in the deepest, darkest, most unexplored depths of your being?

See? I told you it’s not one question easy to answer.

It took me the better part of my thirty years on Earth before I started exploring this question. And for a while, I didn’t have a good idea of who I truly was.

Until things changed. Until I lost someone I loved. I had gone on a seemingly never-ending roller coaster ride of exploring who I was inside.

I didn’t go on this journey willingly. But somehow, life kept throwing things my way, forcing me to go in and look for inner resources I couldn’t find outside. And then, I came face to face with who I really was.

And who I am is a beautiful, intelligent being eager and willing to share herself, her gifts, and her light with the world.

Now, let me ask you this again.

Who are you?

I can’t tell you exactly who you are. You have to find that out for yourself.

But I can most definitely tell you who you’re not.

You’re not your profession. You may help people heal their illnesses and traumas, but who you are isn’t a doctor, or a nurse, or even a healer. You may design big, sturdy buildings or put them up, but who you are isn’t an architect or an engineer. You may educate children, inspire them to be good people and productive citizens, but who you are isn’t a teacher. You may reach deep within yourself and put what you find on paper, or on canvas, or in the graceful movements of a flowing dance, but who you are isn’t a writer, or an artist, or a dancer. Too often, people say, when they’re asked who they are, that they’re what they do. But what you do isn’t who you are. It’s simply one thing you do to express who you really are inside.

You’re most definitely not your possessions. You’re not your house, your car, your sparkling blue infinity pool overlooking the sea. You’re not your pretty pictures on Instagram, the hundred likes you get for each selfie, or the 100,000 followers you have hanging on to everything you post online. Because if you think this is who you are, what happens when — poof! — they’re gone? What becomes to you, then? Who are you, then, if your mansion were a humble hut, your pool a puddle of mud, and your social media following a memory of a distant past?

And speaking of the past, you’re not your past either. You may have done things you’re not proud of, but they have zero effect on who you are today. Because the things you’ve done in the past are simply things you’ve done. You may have regretted them, felt ashamed of them, and had a hard time forgiving yourself. Or you may have seen them for what they truly are — learning experiences, nothing more, nothing less. Treat the past with respect, but the past isn’t who you are.

You’re not your problems. You’re not someone who has no money, although you may really have no money in your bank account right now. You’re not someone who’s got no love life, even though you may really be desperate to find someone right now. And you’re not someone who’s sick, even though you may be battling a disease this very moment.

And certainly, you’re not your politics. You may lean left or right. You may like to think of yourself as a patriot. Or you may not give a fuck about what happens. It doesn’t matter. That’s not who you are.

Because you’re not the thoughts running through your head. Mostly, they’re just different reiterations of the same old thoughts you’ve picked up from other people, the media, and random conversations you’ve heard elsewhere. You’re not the emotions you either try so hard to control or allow to run rampant over your life.

When you strip all of that away, what remains is who you are.

When you take the mask off, what remains is who you are.

When you stop holding on so tightly to what you do, what you have, what you’ve done, what you’re obsessing over, what injustices you fight, what you think, and what you feel, what remains is who you are.

And who you are is the one inside, who silently sits, listens, and observes as you go through the whirlwind that is called life.

Who you really are is the one inside that has no need to do, have, or even think about anything at all.

You simply are.

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