The way we view ourselves is one of the largest contributing factors to the epidemic of loneliness and suffering in our species. Everywhere I look, I see evidence of subconscious suffering in people. The advertisements we use, the food we eat, the education of our young people; all geared towards the idea of ourselves, instead of finding out who we truly are. It is extremely important, to distinguish between the idea of who we are, and who we truly are. It is all too easy to settle into the idea, and ignore what is really going on beneath the surface, but seeing ourselves for who we really are, comes with the pain of seeing we are not who we say we are. The past does not define us, the future does not hold us, only who we are in the present moment can reflect our true identity. This brings us to the idea of perception of the self in the present. Commonly we see our identity through the lens of the past; what we studied, what we have said what we do for work and so on, but not one part of this identity is the real you. The real you is hidden among the present moment, in the most clever disguise the Universe can muster. Yourself. So many people are unconscious of their own suffering, and pass it off with their past achievements. In truth, there is nothing objectively wrong with this practice, it allows people to live in relative peace and comfort and happiness, but in order for one of the spiritual inclination to realize themselves, one must look deeply into one's own suffering with honesty and painful truth.
Attempting to understand who we are, is like trying to see your own head, or bite your own teeth. It is impossible, for the wonderfully simple reason that you cannot see yourself, because you are already it. This concept is entirely alien in our culture, because we are focused so singularly, on the idea of I. We take our identity to be our name, and all the things associated with it, instead of seeing that who we really are, in the ground of our being can never be described, because describing something means that you are seeing what it isn't in order to see what it is. Language is much the same. There is a common practice in Zen, when a teacher will take something in his hand and ask the class "What is it?". In the koans, the class hesitates in answering. The teacher, holding a branch hits one of his students on the head with it and says "That's what it is". It is not 'a branch', a branch is a selection of words; and are to be differentiated from what it really is. The self or the ego, is exactly the same way in nature. We can never know who we are in the same way we know what a branch is, because as soon as we use language or thoughts to describe ourselves, we instantly become what we are not, in order to have the capability to perceive ourselves. You are already yourself, so there is no reason to define yourself by your thoughts, the thoughts of others, the past of the future, as in reality none of these things truly exist.
As I continue on this line of thought, the question arises: If language does not exist, and thus, thought does not truly exist, do I as an ego exist? No. The human ego, or self awareness, is the universe's way of perceiving itself. It uses something that does not exist, in order to perceive that which does. Can the Universe perceive? Well, you are perceiving it using the ego consciousness right now aren't you? And you are reading this with the thoughts that arise in the mind as language, which as we have proven, does not exist either. You as an idea of yourself do not exist, because you are already yourself. Such is the true perception of the ego self.