Most people identify with their ego, their mind. Everything they know about themselves – their emotions, their perceptions, their cravings, their fears – are part of their ego, their mind. It is the collection of how the mind has responded to your life experiences; it is a storehouse. And repeated similar experiences and reactions become your habit-energies. This is how your mind is programmed.
And because our feelings and perceptions have at their core the insecurity that developed in us as babies and toddlers – our early childhood – our feelings and perceptions generally cause us suffering. In the competitive and hostile world we live in, feeling insecure is not a good space from which to view yourself in relation to the world around you.
The good news is, as I have explained in my book, How to Find Inner Peace, as well as my video series, "Coming Home," (as have many others), our ego-self, our mind, is not our true self. It is not the person we were born as; rather, since our feelings and perceptions are all a product of our mind, it is the accumulation of how we have been distorted and twisted by our life experiences and the control of our mind.
The Buddha provided a simple test to identify what is the true you and what is not. He once asked his disciples whether something caused them suffering. He then said, if it did, "it is not you, it is not yours, it is not your self, because your self would not cause you suffering." With that as a guideline, most of the things that we have in the past identified with we would instead classify as, "Not me!"
But who then are we? As is also explained in the book and in the video series, your true self is your heart. Using various exercises and the passage of time, you will learn the qualities of your heart. They are – light, love, faith, trust, compassion, humility, gratefulness, joy, contentment, strength, courage, and wisdom. Those are the qualities of the true Buddha nature that you were born with and they reside in your heart.
You may initially look askance at this description of the true you. This is not the "you" that you know. But you have actually had contact with the true you already.
Think of all the times that you've had an internal discussion with yourself about whether or not to do or say something. Often we characterize such discussions as being between the "good" you and the "bad" you. In cartoons, they are usually depicted by an angel sitting on one shoulder whispering in your ear and the devil sitting on the other shoulder whispering in the other ear. Where do you think those voices come from? The one comes from your heart, and the other comes from your mind.
One reason why it is hard for us to relate to these qualities is that we don't see them evident in the world around us. We have no role models. Quite the contrary – because most people are controlled by their mind and virtually all minds are founded on childhood insecurity.
But think about your reaction when you see a smiling toddler or baby. These are humans at their closest to their true Buddha nature, their true self, because life has not damaged them yet; their ego-mind has not yet developed to classify all the slights they have suffered into negative feelings such as insecurity.. And so when we look into their faces, we see light, and love, and trust, etc. That's why people love looking at babies and toddlers. It takes us back to a time when we weren't damaged.
As I've related previously in my writings, for years, I had a hard time connecting with my heart until one day while meditating, I saw an image of myself as a smiling toddler, and I knew right then that that toddler was the avatar of my true Buddha nature, my heart, And from that moment on, it has helped me connect to my heart and to seek its guidance.
The only hope we have of freeing ourselves from suffering, consistently, is to realign our identity with our true self, our heart, instead of our mind – to exchange the programming chip or operating system of the mind, for that of the heart.