Supporting Non-Duality and Awakening in Asheville and Beyond
When asked to summarize his teachings in one word, Ramana Maharshi said, “Attention.” That struck home in a deeper way the most recent time I heard it. I thought he would have said, “Silence,” because that what his preferred method of teaching. But his answer makes perfect sense. His teachings on Self-inquiry are all about directing attention from the world of thoughts and objects to the source of attention. Attention has been described as focused Awareness and is the “tool” (if we can call it that) through which things are known. Without attention on something, it is unregistered as existing. For most people, attention is focused on thoughts much of the time and can seem like it’s getting “lost in thought” on a regular basis. But the purpose of inquiry is to withdraw attention from thoughts and the world and direct it toward Awareness. Ramana’s teaching recommended using the simple question, “Who am I?” and then direct attention toward the “I-thought” to which that question points. It’s a simple but powerful way to see through the illusion of separation.
Because of its simplicity and directness, Self-inquiry is also referred to as the direct path to Self-realization (aka Enlightenment, Awakening, Happiness, etc.). Inquiry is a practice that came alive in me a few years ago as I was absorbing teachings from Mooji and Rupert Spira (to name just a few). Then, Dan Kelso and Deep Self Investigation (http://deepselfinvestigation.com) entered the picture about a year ago or so. My work with Dan and DSI over the last year has taken Self-inquiry to a new level and has led to numerous breakthroughs, increased clarity and less identification with the imagined separate self (aka character, ego, etc.). DSI introduced new questions (beyond the traditional, “Who am I?”) and a new way of directing attention. This practice has led to more inquiry questions, all aimed at directing attention toward Awareness and “seeing” what we truly are.
The Nature of Attention
I have talked with Dan K about the nature of attention on a few occasions and discovered that, on the one hand, it seems to have a will of its own and goes where it wants, when it wants. On the other hand, it appears that there is some limited capacity to “control” where it goes. For example, if I say, “Direct attention toward your left foot,” attention would most likely go to your left foot. If I say, “What’s that over there?” and point to an object, attention will most likely go toward that object. Since the invitation of Self-inquiry is to withdraw attention from the world of objects and thoughts and turn toward its aware Source, redirecting attention is the key.
That said, I have found that asking a good question is one of the best ways to direct attention. We are all conditioned from the time we are young to answer questions, which involves directing attention toward where we think we will find the answers. Once on the path of awakening, it becomes clear that the answers to Life’s most important questions are not found “out there” or even in the mind, but instead found in its Source. How do we find the Source? Ask a question that leads attention to it.
Another good thing about a teaching based on asking questions is that the questioner gets to discover the answer firsthand, instead of believing it secondhand. Secondhand information is what our identities are built on, so it’s time to discard it and rely only on firsthand information. All of the good teachers out there will tell you, “Do not believe what I say, check for yourself.” If we could believe ourselves into Self-realization there would be a lot more wakefulness in the world. Instead, it has to be experienced directly in order for true transformation to take place.
Line of Questioning
A number of inquiry questions have come to this character through various teachers (i.e. Dan Kelso, Rupert Spira, Mooji, Robert Adams, Ramana, Nisaragadatta, etc.). New questions started coming to the surface as I began exploring the nature of Consciousness, so I have been keeping a list of questions that have been useful for inquiry and hope it will be beneficial to “others” on the same path.
So, consider this an invitation to let go of all your beliefs and ideas about Enlightenment, Awakening, Self-realization, Awareness, Consciousness, etc., and put all of the teachings aside. All of that goes with the rest of the secondhand information we’ve accumulated. Then, sit with each of these questions and look with your own direct experience to where they point. These questions are not designed to be answered with the mind. They are intended to invite attention to discover the experiential answer. [Audio recordings of these are available at https://anchor.fm/trey-carland ]
Inquiring into the Senses
First, we will inquire into the senses. After reading each of these questions, repeat them over and over again a few times (out loud or in your mind) and direct attention to where they are pointing.
What is looking through these eyes?
What is aware of what’s being seen?
What is aware that seeing is happening?
Is what I’m seeing being seen from behind my eyes, or is it being seen where it is?
Where does seeing take place?
What hears these sounds?
What is aware of what’s being heard?
What is aware that hearing is happening?
Are these sounds being heard in my ears, or are they being heard somewhere in space?
Where does hearing take place?
Inquiring into the Body
Next, we will explore into the body in a similar way. Direct attention toward the feeling of aliveness in the body. Close your eyes and get a feel for the energetic experience of the body. Once you are feeling its alive energy, ask the following questions:
What is experiencing the body?
Is the body is being experienced from all around, both from inside and out?
Is the experience of body just a sensation floating in an aware space?
Am I this aware space that experiences the body, or am I the body?
Inquiring into Thoughts
Now, let’s use thoughts to do some further exploration. The following questions will become the thoughts you are investigating when you repeat them in the mind.
From where do these thoughts arise?
What hears the voice of these thoughts?
What’s here prior to and in between thoughts?
Where are thoughts being perceived from?
Are these thoughts appearing in my head, or are they just appearing in an aware space?
Am I this aware space, or am I the thoughts?
Inquiring into Awareness
Once you have connected with Awareness a few times, it’s time to get to know it (so to speak). This bears repeating. These questions are not designed to be answered with the mind. Each question is intended to invite attention to explore the nature of Awareness and become familiar with it. The answer is experiential.
Am I aware?
What does it feel like to be aware?
What does the experience of just being aware feel like?
Is there a stillness here?
Is there a sense of peace here?
Is there a sense of just being aware here?
Is there a sense of aliveness here?
Is there a sense of existing here?
What is it that’s aware of all that?
Is this aware stillness what I am?
Am I just Awareness?
Is this person I call “me” just an experience in Awareness?
What is it like to just be Awareness?
Does this Awareness feel contained by the body, or is the body contained by Awareness?
Does this Awareness have a location, or is it everywhere?
Does this Awareness have any limits, or is it infinite?
Does this Awareness come and go, or is it ever-present?
Does this Awareness ever move, or is it always Here?
Does this Awareness have any preferences, or is it all accepting?
What is it like to just be aware?
What is it like to know yourself as Awareness?
You may find some of these questions more fruitful for exploration than others. You may also find that the questions that resonate now may be different in a few days/weeks/months. Sometimes just changing a word or two in a question can change how it is received, so feel free to put your own spin on them. After doing inquiry for a while, you may also find new questions arising organically. I would also encourage you to take these questions with you during your day. When you find one that resonates, ask it while you are engaged in everyday activities. Don’t leave inquiry sitting on a meditation cushion. Awareness is always happening and is available for exploring anytime, anywhere.
More Inquiry Questions
Here are some additional questions to explore.
What is this “I”?
What is the nature of my Self?
What is it that does not come and go?
What hasn’t changed since I was born?
[Speaking out loud] Who is talking right now?
What is it like to really take all this in?
What is it like to experience happiness (or joy, bliss, love, etc.)?
Does happiness feel like a natural state?
What is it like to experience the Stillness underneath everything?
Fundamental Tenets of Ramana’s Teachings
The following are things that Ramana wanted people to know up front regarding doing inquiry practice (or sadhana). So, I probably should have put it up front as a disclaimer. However, I didn’t run across these tenets until I had been doing inquiry for quite a while, so I know it doesn’t really matter when it gets conveyed, as long as it is conveyed.
“Firstly, that we are all Realised here and now and that the only purpose of sadhana is to remove the idea that we are not;
Secondly, there is no individual self to extinguish because the individual self never at any time existed;
Thirdly, no amount of mental sadhana is helpful because the mind cannot do anything except extend the frontiers of its own ignorance.”