Who am I? Everyone at some point in their lives has come across this question. It is this sort of questioning that sets us apart from lower consciousness beings such as animals. But how do we really answer it? When we're young, we try on different skins, experimenting with various roles and identities and seeing what sticks. As adults we find ourselves following similar patterns, whether searching for the perfect job or partner, or buying the next great gadget or outfit to feel good in. In a way, we're always searching whether or not we're aware of it. The rare and lucky few who truly find themselves will enjoy an existence of perfect well-being and enlightenment, but the rest of us? We have to work for it.
The most important practice on the path to self-realization is that of self-observation. In a way, self-observation and self-realization are on the same continuum where self-realization is simply the end goal. And like any good continuum, we can start with really small steps. The primary practice is checking in with yourself: How am I feeling right now? What are the sensations, emotions, thoughts? Where is my attention? If you do nothing else, practice this and it will be enough. In these few little questions lies the power of total inner transformation. You are actively nurturing the part of yourself that is capable of answering the question, Who am I. You are growing the seed of consciousness.
When we start asking these questions about ourselves, we may get some uncomfortable answers. Maybe I don't like how I behave, how I feel, or what I think. The secondary practice is compassion. Show yourself some kindness, patience, and acceptance because we all struggle with ourselves and no one is better than anyone else. What sort of forgiveness would you show your own child? Do that. The end goal of this practice is non-judgment, but until we get there it is good enough to be aware of our judgment. This means that when you do something that makes you feel awful, acknowledge it with gentleness and loving kindness, and don't indulge in shame or remorse. The more we practice this attitude of compassion towards ourselves, the more capable we are of creating peace with everyone else.
This is both the simplest practice as well as the deepest. It is at the core of our inner development, the growing of a voice or a self that will be our guide in life. All of us have to start at the beginning - even more so for those of us who have started more than once. And there are many different ways to engage in this practice, whether we are Christian or Buddhist, something else, or none of the above. The blessings will match the purity of our intentions.