The most Logical place to start in the discovery of who you are is to begin examining some assumptions about who you think you are, how those ideas came about, and whether or not they are true. This will not only be painless and effortless, there is a good chance that your mind will find it entertaining. It makes no sense that self-realization should be work, that a certain IQ would be required or to know who and what you are, or that the mind's discovery of the self is reserved for those who sit in a cave or devote their entire lives to the search. Now, there is certainly a lot that can be learned, but for what we are talking about here, only basic understanding is necessary to get past some of the mind's expectations and assumptions.
The body, that you call yours, was born dependent for its very survival. Immediately there were needs to be satisfied. But did the person you take yourself to be now, exist then? At the birth of what you think is you there was a body with needs, a brain with basic survival instinct, and something present and aware. There were no ideas about what was happening or should be happening, but things continued to happen and develop without you. Choices to be hungry, to cry, and to sleep were not made but just spontaneously arose as the body required.
Immediately, the brain began to accumulate information and experience from the senses. There was basic programming, of course, to become human, just as a tree has programming to become a tree. So the human grew like other humans, just as a tree grows like other trees. You never made a choice to grow; growing just happened according to the design that has continued to evolve or change since the first cause.
If you watch a baby trying new foods there is a reaction of like or dislike. It is a subjective experience of how the body/brain interprets the taste. Again, there was not a choice to like or dislike. It is a subjective experience of how the body/brain interprets the taste. Again, there was not a choice to like or dislike, nor was there an expectation of liking or disliking, it just happened as a result of the interpretation of the taste. There was no information on which to base this like or dislike --- you didn't know it was spinach and that it was green! There was just a reaction to it and the brain stored the information for future reference.
If the reaction was dislike, the brain/mind may now avoid spinach or perhaps it avoids green foods. Either way, a world is being subjectively defined in the mind. Preferences become known and choices began to surface. Clearly these preferences or choices are based on information gathered through the senses of the body, the brain's interpretation of them, and thoughts as they begin to arise about experiences. We can't even say that there is a right way or wrong way for this to happen. It happens for each organism according to the programming (DNA) and environment that has led to the very existence for this particular body/mind.
As things are interpreted or labeled by the mind they slowly cease to be what they are and start to become what is thought about them. Spinach becomes a good or bad thing without anyone choosing to like or dislike it.
Perhaps during what we refer to as the terrible two's, these preferences began to have a new refereance point, a reference point that did not exist previously. The brain/mind had continued to carry out its function and with the collective information it began to form and idea about who you are. There began to surface in the brain/mind the idea that experiences were happening to you. There arose the idea that you tasted food and that you liked or disliked different foods. Without choosing it, the notion occurred that this reference point in the mind is you. Perhaps the idea of you as a person is forming in the brain/mind. Where before there was just like or dislike, now there is an apparent you that likes and dislikes. Before, choices arose spontaneously, but now it appears that you are making choices based on thsse likes and dislikes. Once, hunger was present - now it appears that you are hungry. But, is that really what is happening? Is that reference point of "you" valid? It certainly seems so, but by what guage is that reality judged? Isn't the validity of the idea of a person validated by the same mind that assumes it to be valid? Think about it - the mind contains the thought "I AM" - the mind then confirms that the thought is a real thing. But without the thought, would you still be?
Again, while you did not choose to do it, growing continued as designed. The same sorting out that allowed liking and disliking of spinach was applied to things around you and to yourself. The thought of who you are continues to evolve over a lifetime. There appears to be a world that you, as a seperate being, move and exist in. You do what you can to survive and thrive, to get what you like, and avoid what you dislike; all based on subjective experience. In this world there are others that appear to be doing the same thing. You agree with others over what is right and wrong, over likes and dislikes, or you disagree with them. But based on what? Based on thoughts. It would seem that reality has moved into the mental realm and reality is known by what is thought about it - not by what it is.
There is a saying that the mind makes and excellent servant but a poor master. At this point, the mind has seemingly become the master. It has a base idea of the world, what it likes and dislikes, and is devoted to the task of becoming more ad more and getting more, while avoiding what it does not like. It calls itself "I", psychology calls it the ego.
As the person, which has evolved in the mind, you may be highly motivated to succeed in life, or your nature may be to just take things as they come. Either way, there is desire, hope, and needs to be filled, for and by this apparent person. Sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don't. When things go as expected or desired you feel happy and in control; when things go against what you believe or desire then there is suffering and pain.
You may continue to work and hope for a future that will be satisfying, or you may just give up, depending on what has occured and what was thought about it. You can think that with adding more to yourself in the form of money, education, relationships, or health everything will be better. To that end, thinking, reasoning, and imagination are applied to solve what you think are problems. There is choosing between likes and dislikes to better the life for the person. This is, however, the same thinking that twisted what is into good and bad in the beginning, and began creating the mental reality in which you apparently now reside. What is has apparently become that which you think about it. What you are has apparently become what you think you are. But is this just an unexamined assumption?
Life goes on with its apparent good times and bad times. One day you are on top of the world feeling that you have complete control over your life, whether you are conquering it or running from it. The very next day, or perhaps within a second, everything changes and suddenly you feel that you have no control and everything is falling apart. The mind comes to help with the same recommendation it has always offered. It tells you that you need more or less of something to be satisfied. If only (fill in the blank), I would be happy.
This obviously a constant cycle, but a cycle that is continued because it appears to be the way things are and is never truly questioned. The mind hears about something it finds appealing, whether it is a person, place, or thing, and you need to have or do it. Once acquired, there appears to be a moment's peace, and then you find out that there is something else that will make life better or more complete. Then that becomes the next obsession or goal that will fill the void. It may be a new car, a new job, a new relationship, or spiritual enlightenment. The mind is never satisfied as it tries in vain to gain control and happiness for itself. But even when it appears that is has succeeded: just a slight change and everything falls apart. If the mind interprets an experience as really bad, the person may be devastated and plunged into a lifetime of intense pain and suffering as they are seemingly unable to release themselves from the bondage of thoughts.
There is one thing that is without question in the physical, emotional and mental world: things are not only going to change, they are changing every moment. Do you see the problem here? While the mind is looking to become something permanent and gain something permanent, the mind itself is a house built on the shifting sand. The mind itself is changing all the time. Sometimes even stronly held beliefs about reality change. A term has been coined to show a radical shift in the mind of what it thinks - paradigm shift.
Remember, what does not change is real. What changes is only appearance.
According to Webster's, a paradigm shift is a fundamental mental change in approach or assumptions. It is interesting that Webster's uses assumptions rather than facts. We live our lives trusing our mind to tell us how things are, but it is telling us the facts, or just assumptions based on input over years, and how it sees the world?
As life moves along, the mind continues to see things as it did spinach. There are things that is likes and things that it does not. Some are things that it likes and things that it does not. Some of those things are about you. Those things that it does not like about you become inner turmoil. I am not good enough, I am not smart enough, I am not tall enough, I am not thin enough. Perhaps, on the other hand, there is a sense of great selfworth and you feel in control of your life, successful, happy, a positive thinker, and on top of the world. All of these experiences are transient and subject to change without warning. They are not real because they can and will change. All of these thoughts equal suffering, all of them are purely in the mind, and all of them are a lie based on a misidentification or assumption that happened when you were about two.
But, we don't question the mind; we continue the same patterns as before. The person the mind has identified as "I" continues to redefine itself: "The mind is always trying or wishing to be something that appears to be better than what is.
In summary, there is a person or reference point of "me" or "I" in the mind that did not exist when you were born. Things are not seen for what they are, but as how the mind thinks about them. There is suffering because this person is at odds with and separate from what is. And now it appears, since you are reading this, that this person is seeking the truth or self-realization - yet another thing to be added to the person?