The Playful Self —Reflective Illustrations to Explore Models of Self & Identity

by Manuj Dhariwal

Feb. 23, 2021


By Manuj Dhariwal

In the What, Why, and How, we often forget the Who.

What should I be doing in my life? Why am I really interested towards it? And How should I go about it? But of course in all of this, there is the question of Who would I become in the process?

There could be thousands of possible answers — I would become a successful person (whatever definition of success I have learned growing up or come to realize in the process); become famous, become rich, become an expert, a wise person, a respected person, a well-appreciated person, someone people love, become an inspiration for others, or maybe I want to become all of these and more…

But before going head-on towards any of these above journeys of ”becoming," isn’t it vital to first ask oneself: 
Who is this Who, who wants to become these Who?

In this post, I share a series of reflective illustrations that look at this simple but deeply transformative question:
Who am I?

Creating the reflective illustrations below was a very helpful exercise for me personally, and in sharing these widely, I hope they can serve as meaningful reflective prompts for anyone interested to explore and build their own models of Self.

                               - Model 1 -

                             -- Model 2 --

                         --- Model 3 ---

                        ---- Model 4 ----

*It’s like missing the number '0' in your set of numerals 1 to 9, and never being able to reach 10 despite all possible effort.

                     ----- Model 5 -----

Link to the poem: Please Call Me by My True Names

                   ------ Model 6 ------

I am forever grateful to Krishnananda Saraswati, S.N. Goenka Ji, Ramana Maharishi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and countless other sages, saints, and teachers from regions, religions, and traditions all across the world, for their loving presence, grace, and writings, that have kindled the question of “Who am I” within me.

My interest towards Self started during the 2-month long course on the science and philosophy of Yoga, at the Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy in Rishikesh in 2014. And it grew as I learned more through the writings and meditations of the above-mentioned sages and philosophers. Last fall, I was fortunate to take Prof. Ronald Heifetz’s course MLD-202A at the Harvard Kennedy School which provided me with a rich context and structure to further build upon my interests in the form of these reflective illustrations. This work builds on the foundational concepts and readings introduced in the course (many by Prof. Heifetz himself). His perspective and physical gesture of “holding my identities as playful objects that I can then explore and investigate with more curiosity and openness” has stuck with me and probably planted the seed for “The Playful Self."


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