What do you want to be when you grow up? We were all asked this question many times as children. Yet the question holds within it a truth that we generally overlook. The question is not: What do you want to do when you grow up? but rather, What do you want to BE? What do we want to be? Happy? Fulfilled? At peace? Generous? Kind? Joyful?

What should our children study in order to become these things? Our usual childhood responses to the question — “an actress,” “a singer,” “an astronaut,” “a scientist,” “a professional football player” — reflect the essential problem here: we fundamentally believe that the important thing is what we do, and that our happiness actually depends on what we are doing.

This in turn brings us back to focusing on the differences between us. Is what we are doing important? Suddenly, each of us is better or worse than the others.  Those who have “important” jobs or roles are of value, and those who don’t, are not. Again we are focusing on the surface level, on that which separates us, and in doing so, we are feeding discrimination, comparison, competition and division. But in reality our happiness depends on what we are being.

What is being? Being is our own self, our own awareness. It is the life force within us, the witness, our essence. It is what we find when we stop paying so much attention to our incessant thoughts and bring ourselves into the present moment. When we do so, we soon become aware of the silence that is behind the thoughts, for just as the words on this page all have empty space between them, our thoughts have empty space all around them. They are not the be-all-and-end-all of existence; they are just noise happening in a relatively small part of our nervous system.

When we become aware of the nothingness beyond the thoughts, we begin to find joy, vibrancy, and vitality there. Passion, inspiration and creativity live there. Generosity, trust, acceptance live there. And suddenly we arrive at that which we were searching for: happiness and fulfillment. At the same time, we arrive at a more compassionate space in which we can receive others, for when we stand in being instead of focusing on doing, we see everyone else’s being.

And you know what? It is just as beautiful, pristine, spontaneous, and profound as our own.

    Now, answer these questions, preferably in writing.

    • How do you define yourself?
    • If you strip away your roles, who are you?
    • Who do you want to be?