The beginning of the path to enlightenment is the realization that you do not know who you are. It is the realization that you have identified with a “self” which does not in fact exist, it is illusion. If you define your “self” as related in any way to your body or your mind, you are living a life of illusion. You are not the body. You are not the mind.
You are not the body because the body is made up of trillions of cells. Each has their own evolutionary agenda. And each cell is made of trillions of atoms. In which group of these cells, these atoms, are “you” located? The brain, too, is made of billions of neurons. Which of these neurons contain “you”?
Here’s where it gets crazy: every single atom in your body is replaced every 5 years. The experience of “me” is something that is constant, so how could you be your body?
Furthermore, you are not the mind. The mind is made of thoughts. If you were your thoughts, then each time there were no thoughts you would cease to exist. But obviously this does not happen; there can be spaces between your thoughts, and of course you still exist. What do you find there, in between your thoughts?
You find you. The knower, the witness of the thoughts, sensations, and feelings of your experience. Pure, empty conscious awareness- that is what you are.
It is misguided to identify with your thoughts. For a lot of people, their identity is deeply tied up into their beliefs, opinions, values, memories, all of that. These people live a life of lies. They see themselves as a self that does not exist. Remember, you are simply the witness of those thoughts. When I was young, I used to believe in Santa Claus.
So I used to say, “I am a person who believes in Santa Claus.” That was part of my identity. Now, though, I no longer believe in Santa Claus. But my identity has not changed, I am the same “me” I have always been. Thoughts, beliefs, opinions, all of those come and go. When you were born, you had no opinions about politics, religious beliefs, sociocultural values. You had no garbage mental activity. Yet you were still you, because you existed. So, to identify with your thoughts is to constantly peer through a screen and to live in a world of illusion.
You are the witness of your body and thoughts. You are pure, still consciousness, and all else is illusion. To recognize this is the first step towards experiencing it, towards letting go of false identity. This is the first step on your path to enlightenment.