You take yourself to be your name, age, gender, roles, accomplishments, and the characteristics of your body, mind and personality. But according to Vedanta, this is your apparent identity, and not your real identity.

Your real identity, your true Self is totally different and untouched by the changes in your apparent identity.

When you shift your focus to your Self and come to know it, you will gain the greatest peace and highest happiness in life.

But for now, the Self seems to be hiding. And yet, it is in plain sight. Let me explain…

A Pirate story

Imagine a stage actor, Joe Legend, who will be playing the lead role of a pirate in a large-scale production. Joe walks into his dressing room to get ready for his performance. His pirate clothes are hanging on a hook, and his makeup and all the paraphernalia needed for his role are placed on a table. There are a pair of black boots, a bandana, a pirate hat, an eye patch, rings, a hoop earring, a leather belt, and a sword.

When Joe puts on his costume, he takes on the appearance of the pirate. He then goes on stage, immerses himself in his role and gives a standout performance as the pirate.

Now, let’s think a little deeper about this…where did the pirate identity come from—the costume or from Joe Legend?

The answer is, neither. The costume alone didn’t make the pirate and Joe Legend is not a pirate either.

The pirate character was an apparent identity that came to life when Joe Legend put on the costume, identified with it and acted like a pirate.

In reality, there was no pirate, but only Joe Legend. Even though the audience saw the pirate, in reality, they were seeing Joe Legend. The pirate was Joe’s fictional identity.

Similarly, our “fictional” identity that is made up of our body, our mind and personality, is the “costume” that we identify with. It’s not who we really are. Our real identity, the Self lies behind this outer, apparent identity.

Even as we look and function as the personality, we are the Self, the real “actor” playing the role associated with the costume. Hence it is said that the Self seems to be hiding in plain sight.

Now, how do you shift your focus to your true Self and more importantly, why?

Let’s start with the “why”.

Why shift your focus to your true Self?

Think about what would happen if Joe Legend forgot his real identity and went about being the pirate in his everyday life. People would say that he had gone mad!

Strangely, this is exactly what is happening to us. We have forgotten our real identity and are living as limited and sorrowful humans.

When the body gets sick, or ages, we think we are sick or aging. When we experience feelings and thoughts such as sadness, anger, excitement, or depression, we identify with them and say, “I’m sad” or “I’m angry” or “I’m excited” and so on.

The Self is the tranquil inner witness that is totally separate and untouched by the changing body, emotions, thoughts, roles, relationships and outer circumstances.

Just as the experiences of the pirate do not belong to the actor, the experiences of our human costume do not affect who we really are.

The Self never suffers any limitations, growth or changes. Therefore, it is not subject to disease, aging, or death. It is always infinite, free and blissful.

Identifying with the Self will bring us the inner peace and happiness we are all searching for.

How to shift your focus

Here are 5 steps to shift your focus to your true Self:

1. Slow down: When you rush through the day trying to get everything done, it’s easy to lose sight of your true Self. Life will keep throwing things at you and if you react (not consciously respond) to circumstances and try to complete a never-ending to-do list, you’ll lose focus on your Self. And so, slowing down is key.

2. Breathe into the present: Get control over the busy mind by taking a minute or two to sit and take a few deep breaths. Your mind is constantly slipping into the past or jumping into the future. The breath brings your awareness to the present moment because you can’t breathe in the past or in the future but only in the now moment. So, calm the mind by taking a few slow, deep breaths.

3. Become aware of what you are experiencing: Now gently close your eyes.Once you slow down and breathe into the present, you will become aware of what you are experiencing at the body or mind level.

4. Focus inwards to your true Self: Turn your awareness to you, the one who is witnessing the thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Know that since you are aware of them, you cannot be them. They are objects in your awareness. Turn your focus within and tell yourself, “I am the silent inner witness untouched by all thoughts, feelings and experiences.”

5. Hold your attention inwards: Here comes a vital discipline. Try to hold your focus on being the witness for as long as you can—maybe for a few seconds or a minute or two. No matter how long you can hold the focus, you will find that you will experience a stillness and peace that you were not aware of before.

You can use this same five-step technique in meditation. For details on meditation, read Meditate successfully with this method.

Greatest climax

We are spiritual beings—spirit or the Self, expressing in human form. Our body and mind are our costume, and our relationships and circumstances make up the fictional story of our life.

The goal is to use our human life to shift our focus and uncover the true Self within. Our story starts as a tragedy, but it culminates in the greatest, happiest climax of our human life.

Read more:
How to stay mindful throughout the day
Who is the inner witness?
How to handle life with equanimity
To start meditating, learn how to stop

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Manisha Melwani

Manisha Melwani is a teacher and the author of, "Your Spiritual Journey" She offers spiritual and wellness solutions for life and stress management. She teaches classes in personal growth, stress management and meditation. Contact her for more information or to have her speak to your group or organization. She also offers private counseling sessions on-line.

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