Can asking a single question change your life? I believe it can. It did for me. The question I have in mind is powerful because it puts everything you are, and everything you do, into perspective on a daily basis.
Several years ago, during a trip to China, I attended a lecture at the Po Lin Monastery in Hong Kong. The lecture was about life’s questions, not answers. What I learned in that talk profoundly affected my life. I would like to share one of its lessons with you in the hope that you, too, can learn to look at your life from a slightly different perspective.
We can ask ourselves many powerful questions to make our lives more effective and meaningful. Who am I? What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose on earth? What do I really want? What should I do with my life? Why am I doing this or that? Is there a reason behind all this, or is it just the unfolding of random events?
Almost everyone asks themselves these questions. They’re very difficult, and pondering them consumes ample mental and emotional energy and requires you to reach deep inside to examine your values, beliefs and state of being. Many people give up on the search for answers and avoid the effort whenever the questions come up. Other people find satisfactory answers outside of themselves, then adopt them and try their best to live their lives based on them. Few people manage to live a confident and positive life built on a purposeful inner foundation based on answers that came from within. If you carefully study the history of these individuals, listen to them talk and get into their minds, you’ll notice that they constantly ask themselves one question above all else: Who am I becoming?
Many factors make this question different from all the others. It immediately encompasses your past and future and brings them both into the present. In effect, it is outside of time. It does not ask who you have been, who you are, or who you will be in the future. It is asking about a process, not a state. It applies to a progression that is happening inside you right now, at this moment, whether you are conscious of it or not. The same progression stretches all the way to the past and far into the future. It is an ongoing process, always in the present. What makes it powerfully personal is that it is fully focused on you and your inner essence. This is your becoming. It is unique, and yours alone. In a way, it is even outside of space, as it doesn’t depend on anything outside of you.
To answer this question effectively, you have no choice but to reach deep into your innermost self and look at things from the inside out. It forces your past, present and future into this very moment. It makes you look into every aspect of your being: your beliefs, thoughts, actions, hopes, inadequacies, understanding and overall state of mind. None of the other hard questions have the same potential to focus you on this process of becoming.
You are constantly becoming “someone.” You are constantly changing. Your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs constantly shape who you are from the inside. Your environment, circumstances, and social networks shape you from the outside. You are either becoming better or worse. Happier or depressed. More hopeful or more fearful. More successful or more mediocre. More positive or more cynical. Even if you feel you’re staying the same, you are not. You are constantly becoming more of your current self. Who am I becoming?
Asking this question makes you conscious and mindful of this ever-present process. It brings it front and center. If you do not take full, conscious control of this process of becoming, you will become what other internal and external conditions force you to become. If you let this happen, you may find yourself becoming someone you did not want to become. Or, worse, you can become totally numb and not even notice or care who you are becoming.
So, ask yourself, often: Who am I becoming? Be fully conscious of this process of becoming. It applies to both short- and long-term events. An example of the former is when someone cuts you off on the freeway. You’re about to get angry. Ask yourself, “Who am I becoming right now? Am I going to become angry and frustrated, or am I going to become understanding and forgiving?” When it comes to long-term life factors like family, health and career, who are you becoming? Are you becoming better? Are you growing? Are you becoming happier? Are you becoming more loving? Are you reaching your full potential in that aspect of your life? If you don’t like the answers, then you have an opportunity to start changing things now and take full control of your own becoming process. After all, what you do now dictates who you will become tomorrow.
This is the beauty of becoming. It is an ongoing process. You can start to take charge of it at any time. It does not matter who you have been up to this point. It only matters what you will do and be from this point on. Every moment is an opportunity to become a new and better you. To live a great life, all you have to do is ask yourself often, “Who am I becoming?” and make sure you continue to like and enjoy the answer.