Who is it that...? A powerful exercise

atlantis's picture

Average: 4.6 (32 votes)


  • Ask yourself the following questions but do not try to answer them, do not try to respond in an intellectual manner, use them as mental pointers to pinpoint and sense the feeling of "I" that is always there in the substratum of your stream of consciousness and then observe this "I".

  • Pause after reading each question and look mentally for the "I" pointed by the question. Jumping immediately from question to question will make the exercise completely ineffective.
  • The first time you do the exercise is the most powerful and effective therefore start doing the exercise only when you feel relaxed and ready to it seriously. Doing some short meditation before starting the exercise is highly recommended.
  • Do the exercise only when you are really in the mood for searching mentally for the "I". The mind is sometimes in a "too rational" state of mind in which case it is better to postpone the doing of the exercise.
  • Do not glance at the questions before doing the exercise otherwise you will spoil their effectiveness.
  • You don't have to do the exercise in one run. If you feel tired at some point then stop and resume later. When you resume the exercise, start from the beginning, you can fast forward the questions you have previously done.
  • Lastly, it is important that you will not put any effort in the mental searching of the "I". You should do the exercise leisurely, leisurely but earnestly. Effort only strengthens the mind and thus may spoil the technique. Instead of making an effort, enjoy the exercise as if it is a game.

Are you sure you are now ready to perform the exercise seriously?

Who is it that reads this blog post now?

Who is it inside me that feels excitement from doing these questions stuff?

Who is it inside me that knows that this excitement is soon to end?

Who is it inside me that didn't pause and search inside enough after reading the previous question?

Who is it that worries now about the future?

Who is it that wonders right now if there is any logic at all in the order of the questions?

Who is it deep inside me that hates these stupid and selfish human beings?

Who is it inside me that is afraid of human beings?

Who is it that thinks now about these questions?

Who is it inside me that instructing me to read these questions and look for the "I"?

Who is it that while reading the question and searching for the "I", looks from my eyes backwards to inside, to the opposite direction to which the eyes normally look?

Who is it inside me that feels the connection to all past events?

Who is it inside me that wants to be alone?

Who is it that reads these words now?

Who is it that reads these words now and is a bit skeptical as to their effectiveness?

Who is it that is still expecting a reason for the irregular pointing finger which was painted red?

Who is it that reads these words now and is afraid to be disappointed again from a spiritual technique?

Who is it that always feels some level of boredom and nervousness, including right now?

Who is it that reads these words#@^ now?

Who is it inside me that is always "doing" my worries?

Who is it that noticed a typo just a moment ago and got a bit annoyed?

Who is it that laughs a bit right now?

Or that did not laugh and boasted that the questionnaire had not predicted my response?

Who is it inside me that forgets to pause enough after each question?

Who is it inside me that wants to impress whomever it meets?

Who is it inside me that is sick from this wanting to impress?

Who is it inside me that is a bit tired right now?

Who is it inside me that may feel that I don't do the exercise seriously enough and so blames me again for missing opportunities for spiritual development?

Who is it that while reading the question looks for my "I", deep inside myself, inside my body, inside my head, inside my center that does the looking?

Who is it that reads these words right now?

Who is it inside me that witnesses me reading these words now?

Who is it that notices right now the red arrow below and assumes that the stupid questions are over?

You can print the list of questions and do the exercise over again just before going to sleep and just after waking up. You can also add more questions that work better for you. When adding questions, always remember to formulate them to point to you, the subject, the doer, the perceiver, through an action, a feeling or a state that occurs right now.

Tania's picture

Who is it that created this brilliant exercise?

Brilliant! printed to do it again before sleep.

Tania | Thu, 06/12/2008 - 19:54
david's picture

thanks, i printed it

thanks, i printed it, excellent approach to who-am-i

david | Sat, 06/14/2008 - 14:45
banana's picture

The right state of mind


It is important to do this exercise in the right state of mind. You know this "right state of mind" from practicing the ordinary self inquiry: sometimes you ask yourself "who am i" and you are not really into it and sometimes wow it is magic - you are getting swallowed inside by the question while an intimate "I" is revealed to you deep within you... the latter is the right mood to do the above exercise for the first time...

banana | Sat, 06/14/2008 - 19:06
divine intervention's picture

A state of puzzlement

I agree. I call it a state of puzzlement. It is true for guided meditation as well as for any other "active" meditation. If you don't have it in a certain moment, you better postpone the active meditation and do some other more passive meditation such as observing your breath and then return to it in a later time.

I liked this "Who is it" technique a lot. I do very often the standard self inquiry and this variation is breaking the routine for me and feels clever in its construction.

divine intervention | Mon, 06/23/2008 - 14:18
shond's picture

Excellent excersize

Just went yesterday to a satsang with a local teacher. He talked about self inquiry and you could see that he had no experiential idea about it.

So it is excellent to see such a wonderful test that drills into the non-intellectual essence of the WHO AM I practice.

shond | Wed, 06/25/2008 - 22:27
nathan's picture


very smart and well crafted, very effective for those who practice self enquiry. Kudos for the special effort vested in the structure, spacings and graphics which make a difference.

nathan | Thu, 01/08/2009 - 20:50
kulchnaui's picture


Smart application of self enquiry. Most efficient. Thank you!

kulchnaui | Sun, 05/17/2009 - 07:25
Floweringsoul's picture

More exercises that show the real YOU

Doing the exercises at www.headless.org will blow your mind.

Floweringsoul | Thu, 07/30/2009 - 18:11
happy's picture

No need, pure self enquiry is more than enough

I personally don't manage to connect with Douglas Harding's headless techniques. I tried but they seem as too artificial.

I think the pure self enquiry such as the variant above are the best as no analytical concepts are added which can serve as food for the mind and thus spoil the effectiveness of the enguiry.

happy | Thu, 07/30/2009 - 18:23
Shantideva's picture

Explain please

Your comment puzzles me. The little exercise strikes me as the very essence of self enquiry. Could it possibly be more "pure?"

In what way do the experiments seem artificial? I was impressed at their directness and lack of (as Douglas used to say) "pious axes to grind."

Each of us is unique, of course, but in this as in everything the proof of the pudding (enquiry) is in the eating (insight).

Shantideva | Wed, 06/01/2011 - 23:51
erez's picture

I think that what happy

I think that what happy tried to imply is that there is no need for developments and extras to the pure self inquiry. Part of its enormous effectiveness is its simplicity and directness. All additions must involve intellectual concepts which spoil the whole thing. Stick to the pure self enquiry even if the mind says it's boring.

erez | Tue, 03/13/2012 - 00:00
whoami's picture

This practice of self-inquiry seems so mysterious...

This practice of self-inquiry seems so mysterious to me. I have read Nisargadatta and Sri Ramana as well as tons of stuff on the net (including this site) and it seems that everyone talks in riddles, especially those who have supposedly had this realization. I know that I have to do the discovery or realization myself, but I am confused on what I am supposed to do.

After reading each question above, the answer to each is "I am". Reading the instructions, I come to this:

`Pause after reading each question and look mentally for the "I" pointed by the question.`

I do not understand this. Supposedly, after getting the answer to each question of "I am", I am now supposed to ask "who am I?". When I ask this, I get stuff like "well I am me. I am ." I know that this story about myself is supposed to be the illusion generated by the ego. I understand that intellectually. This self inquiry exercise is supposed to allow me to know that, to see that, not just believe it, but I can't seem to get my hands around it.

There are lots of comments on the net like "upon investigation, this I is seen to be false." I must not be looking in the right place because I do not see this. Perhaps I am looking in the right place, but I am not really sure what I am looking for.

What am I missing?

I am not looking for the answer that the technique reveals. I am looking for help with the technique itself.

whoami | Mon, 03/12/2012 - 20:58
erez's picture

No no, you turned the practice into an intellectual one

No no, you turned the practice into an intellectual one. It's simpler. All these practices aim at being able to be aware of the MENTAL sense of "I". Not to answer questions intellectually.

Just follow diligently and carefully the instructions in http://www.gurusfeet.com/blog/what-self-inquiry and in http://www.gurusfeet.com/blog/self-inquiry-tips. It is all explained there, including the comments.

erez | Mon, 03/12/2012 - 23:55
Nikon's picture

Excellent approach, It will

Excellent approach, It will be a great knowledge to us and thank you so much for sharing this valuable information with us.


Nikon | Fri, 03/15/2013 - 11:21
Shantideva's picture

The matter of technique

Please let us know how this "no-technique" works out for you. The approach described in the two referenced posts is not to be mistaken for the self enquiry of Ramana Maharshi. The key deficiency of naive questing for the I-thought is made clear in a little verse by Ibn 'Arabi,

"When my Beloved appears,
With what eye do I see Him?
With His eye, not with mine,
For none sees Him except Himself."

The self enquiry method described in the two referenced posts corresponds to the "just sitting" (Shikan Taza)of the Soto path of Zen Buddhism - gentle, effortless and gradual. By contrast the Rinzai method with its intensive focus on self-surrender produces the "kensho" insight in as little as six months.

Both ways are perfect in themselves.

Shantideva | Fri, 03/15/2013 - 18:24
whoami's picture

I am just a thought

A year later I agree with you. This cannot be done intellectually with thought. Thought is what creates the illusion of the-me-that-I-thought-I-was. Who is it that...? No one. Just pure non-conceptual awareness.

whoami | Fri, 03/15/2013 - 20:27