First, let's see why we want to know our true self, and then let's explore how we can do it.
Why do we want to know our true self? It brings us back into the beauty of each moment of our lives. You know yourself as the gift you have always been looking for -- the love your heart desires. Knowing your true self does not answer all your questions, but instead makes them so much less important to ask. True enlightenment gives you back to yourself and to your loved ones in a fuller, deeper way. Your daily life, your ego, becomes more and more an expression of who you truly are, who we all are, each and every one of us -- compassionate love, blissful awareness. That's the "why" of it. Now, the "how."
How do you come to know your true self? There are many varied methods and practices offered by various cultures and religious traditions. This can be confusing. Let's look for the common thread beneath these practices. What makes each of them effective tools for enlightenment? What makes following your breath, the Jesus prayer or a Zen koan, all ways to realize your true self? Knowing this can help you use any religious tradition's practice more effectively. It can help you avoid the distractions of the orthodoxies and cultural accidentals, allowing you to keep your focus fixed on the task of enlightenment -- of knowing your true self.
The common element in all these practices is the temporary suspension of discursive thinking. This makes them tools for enlightenment. Why is suspending discursive thinking so important? Discursive thinking is the life-blood of the ego's activity. Suspend your discursive thinking and you can begin to have a consciously lived experience without the ego. Without the ego's activity engaging our attention we have a chance of knowing our true nature beneath our ego.
When looking for your true self there is nothing for us to create or fix, but rather to uncover and to discover. Any meditation practice, such as following your breath, engaging in a zen koan or simply being aware, gives you the lived experience of being conscious without the activity of the ego. We begin to know ourselves without the ego's activity, allowing us to have a consciously lived moment of our true nature. Over time this process weakens your attachment to your ego as your true self.
So if we want to discover our true nature we need to give our self the experience of being awake and conscious without being engaged in our ego's activity. Our attachment to our ego as ourself, as who we are, hides our true nature from us. This is the attachment that blinds us. Give yourself the experience of being awake and conscious without being engaged in the ego's activity.
If you can be conscious and alive without the ego, then it cannot be your essence. It cannot be ultimately who you are, but only something you do or possess. Having the lived experience of being conscious without the ego's activity, even for a moment, gives you a taste of your true nature beneath your ego.
So begin a practice of giving yourself the lived experience of being conscious without the ego's activity. Pick any one you want. See what fits. What is comfortable for you? Simply do some type of practice that does not involve discursive thinking, such as following your breath in and out or exhausting your discursive thinking with a Zen koan, until it surrenders and you find rest. You can also disengage from discursive thinking by focusing on sensory awareness: colors, shapes, sounds, smells or perhaps some body awareness exercises -- the touch of your shirt on your neck, your feet touching the floor or consciously tensing and relaxing the muscles of your body. There are many, many others. Just look for something that helps you stay awake and alert, but without engaging in discursive thinking.
Once you begin your practice you can start to have a new relationship with your ego, seeing it as a tool for the expression of your true nature. We are not trying to get rid of the ego. It is a very necessary, wonderful psychological structure, providing us with tools to function in society: building relationships, engaging in work and play, and on and on. Wonderful, yes, but for all its wonder it is not who we are. It is a tool for the expression of who we are. At its best, it is a tool for the expression of our true nature in our everyday life.
Seeing our ego as a tool for the expression of our true nature gives us a better chance to lay it aside for a few moments when it is not needed. We can simply be in our realized self. The ego is a necessary and effective tool for engaging in society. It has a very important purpose and function. Its joys and sorrows are not to be overlooked either. When you know the ego as a tool for the expression of your true self it can be a wonderful way to live a human life. The ego has a job to do. It has a purpose and function in our life, but it does not need all of our conscious, waking moments, 24/7.
There are times in everyone's life when we can lay your ego aside for a few moments and live without it. We can all rest in our true self beneath the ego. It can be when you have a few minutes without any demands on you -- no questions to answer, problems to solve, things to plan or do. There are moments when the ego is just not needed. Having the lived experience of letting go of the ego in your meditation practice, and knowing that the ego is not you, will allow you to more easily lay it aside for a few moments and just be. You can take a break and consciously be aware of being -- nothing more, nothing less. You are loving, conscious awareness. Being awareness is satisfying in and of itself.
This direct experience of being awareness is the experience of your true nature. Your true self beneath your ego cannot be known as a fact or object, but only lived. Being is. Discursive thought will never get us here.
Again, why do we want to know our true self? It brings us back into the beauty of each moment of our life. You will know yourself as the gift you have always been looking for, the love your heart desires. Knowing your true self does not answer all your questions, but instead makes them so much less important to ask or answer. True enlightenment gives you back to yourself and to your loved ones, in a fuller, deeper way. Your daily life, your ego, becomes more and more an expression of who you are and who we all are, each and every one of us -- compassionate love, blissful awareness.