Inquiry & Practices for Waking Up

Inquiry and Natural Awareness Practices in Gainesville FL

Who am I? What is this?

The process of inquiring into the nature of our personal reality and our experience of the world is the path to waking up.

What do we wake up from? We wake up from the dream of our life. We are living a dream (all of us) that has been given to us by our world, our culture, our family, our history – and the hazard is that we don’t know it’s a dream and take that unexamined view as  reality. We think it’s the way things are. Period.

Helping people wake up has been an agenda for psychospiritual and philosophical systems throughout time and across the world. Some approaches have been quite direct and radical – and an exhaustive list here is not possible. However, systems of approach to this topic of fundamental awakening include nondual, natural awareness, and mystery traditions on every continent and at the heart of many psychospiritual systems. 

stones in raked sandThis awakening can happen in steps, and can also happen suddenly. Sudden, unexpected awakenings that tap into this fundamental “nature of nature” can be exciting, but can also be disorienting. In practices that invite this awakening, we may coincidentally encounter various nonordinary or transpersonal phenomena along the way. To learn a bit more about integral-transpersonal psychology, go here.

Before we go on, let’s look at one of the tools for waking up – mindful awareness.

Don’t believe everything you think!

We have all had the experience of having thoughts, feelings, and sensations that seem out of our control. Sometimes we have repetitive or ongoing moods (e.g., fear, depression, anxiety, anger), thoughts (e.g., worry, a sense we’re no good, a belief that something or someone should be different), or sensations (e.g., tenseness, pain) that we can’t shake or deal with effectively.

It’s not enough to know intellectually that we “shouldn’t” be having the thought, feeling, or sensation. This is where awareness practices, and specifically, mindful awareness comes in. Mindfulness helps us work with our thoughts, feelings, and experiences in ways that give us more freedom – so we don’t have to believe everything we think!

Mindful awareness allows us to have the thoughts and feelings, but not be run by them, which creates space to build a life that is more satisfying and fulfilling.  In this way we are waking up from a limited world in which we seem to be our thoughts and feelings. We are waking up from being fused with them – which includes releasing the immediate need to fight them.

Learning that what we think (and feel) is not “reality” is one of the first steps to liberty – to personal freedom. Being able to rest with what is happening (including thoughts and feelings) is also one of the first steps to liberation – awakening in a more profound sense.

While building a life that is fulfilling and successful is important – and a focus of coaching and therapy – there are further shores to be reached with awareness practices. When employed with other more radical intentions, mindful awareness is a foundational practice that can help you deeply examine such questions as “Who am I?” and “What is this?” Inquiry into the nature of the self and experience (e.g., all thought and feeling) can lead to direct insight into the nature of the self and phenomena, and lead to what is often referred to as waking up from the dream of our life.

Before diving deeper into the topic of self-inquiry, let’s have a brief look at mindfulness, meditation, and related practices – and their usefulness. We’ll also see how they may be practiced in service of (1) living life better, versus (2) living life in a way that recognizes the fundamental nature of experience.

Why learn about mindfulness and other awareness practices?

Mindful awareness and meditation are tools that help us gain insight into how our mind works, and can help us change our experience and take charge of our lives. Mindfulness skills can help you increase your emotional intelligence, reduce reactivity, improve your resilience and happiness, and increase your effectiveness. And the mindful mode of awareness provides you with a tool that you can use anywhere and apply in all parts of your life. In this approach, awareness serves the purpose of living well – that is, living a more satisfying and fulfilling life.

When we combine mindful awareness with inquiry into the nature of our experience and into the perceived sense of a self, then we begin to “decondition” in a more radical way. We “deconstruct” some of our cherished structures and assumptions about the nature of self and the world – and in doing so, begin to awaken in a more fundamental sense. In this approach, awareness and investigation serve the purpose of waking up in the deeper sense – that is, waking up to the nature of nature, to the nature of ourselves, to our natural condition.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a set of psychological skills that brings us into the present moment, and that integrates paying attention nonjudgmentally with the qualities of openness, curiosity, kindness, and flexibility. Mindful awareness is an exceptionally valuable mode of awareness that also has great utility in therapy, coaching, and personal change. 

What is meditation?

Meditation is a systematic way of training your attention and awareness for the purposes of pursuing some benefit or goal, such as relaxation, increased awareness, intellectual fulfillment, or spiritual meaning.  Mindfulness meditation is only one specific kind of meditation practice.  

As we orient to the purposes of living well via psychotherapy and coaching, meditation is not required to make use of mindful awareness in the midst of everyday life. Think of it more as learning to be present at important times.  As we orient to the purposes of waking up in the more fundamental sense – some kind of regular practice or inquiry is indeed common.

How is mindfulness used in counseling and coaching?

Mindfulness techniques are heavily researched and have been incorporated into counseling, psychotherapy, and coaching in a variety of ways. Mindfulness techniques can help ease the distress of depression and anxiety, reduce cravings associated with addictions, and in reducing symptoms of asthma, allergies, high blood pressure, and chronic pain. If we keep practicing, over time, we become less reactive and more at ease in the moment, develop an expanded vision of ourselves and the world, and find ourselves more able act spontaneously and constructively. 

Mindfulness has been integrated into several forms of educational and therapeutic programs, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In these therapeutic and coaching approaches, mindfulness is commonly pursued in service of living well – that is, living a more satisfying and fulfilling life. 

Inquiry and Natural Awareness

“Inquiry” takes mindful awareness and combines it with an attitude of investigation to begin to “deconstruct” assumptions we might have about the nature of our self, the world, others, and experience. 

In good psychotherapy and life coaching, we do often investigate and gain insight into personal assumptions (internal models) we have about ourselves and the world (e.g., I’m tough-minded/compassionate; the world is benevolent/dangerous), and this is an important tool in working through barriers to a more satisfying life. This process can be carried out to such a point that we may be astounded at just how differently we experience the world (e.g., I can’t believe I’m doing this, this is awesome!).

We can also investigate experience in a way that challenges even more fundamental assumptions (e.g., I am a separate self, I am a mind in a body). We might do this by looking closely at how experience arises and passes, or we might ask ourselves in an intentional and curious way such questions as “Who is having this experience?” – and investigating more deeply each answer that emerges. When mindful awareness is engaged and investigation is pursued in this way, we are now talking about practices for waking up.

Such practices for deconditioning ourselves and the assumptions we have about the nature of self and the world show up in different times and cultures around the globe.

“Inquiry” is a commonly-used term to refer to this process of investigation and deconstruction that leads to waking up in this radical sense. Classic “self-inquiry” takes the question “Who am I” to the end of seeking. We can also inquire into the nature of experience with such questions as, “What is this?” In related practices, many natural awareness and nondual approaches involve “letting things be as they are” or “resting as awareness.” Such “practices” can take us to the end of seeking.

All of these approaches point to a direct experience that is not reducible to words, but this direct experience changes – sometimes momentarily, sometimes in ongoing ways – our sense of who we are, of the nature of things, and our understanding of what is happening. Such paths are commonly characterized by paradox – such as how to reconcile “trying to change what we’re doing” with “letting things be as they are.” 

Nondual and natural awareness traditions and different approaches to self-inquiry will naturally bring us to places of paradox which the intellect is not equipped to resolve.

Awareness Practices, Transpersonal Experiences, and Waking Up

Mindful awareness and meditative practices sometimes play a role in a person’s larger view of themselves and the world. For example, some of us may have interests in experiences that fall in the domain of transpersonal psychology and therapy (e.g., altered states of consciousness, nonordinary experiences, integral development, spirituality, being).  In this context, the practices of awareness, meditation, and inquiry are sometimes referred to as practices for awakening.  For clients who do have these interests, there is space in our therapy and coaching work for this kind of investigation.

The process of waking up serves two seemingly different ends. One purpose (and one might say the “ultimate” purpose) of pursuing this awakening from our unexamined dream is to grasp deeply, viscerally, and practically that we and the world are not what we thought. This is the radical challenging of fundamental assumptions we’ve held about the nature of ourselves and experience. This is the purpose of pursuing such practices as “Who am I?” to their very end. Another purpose for pursuing awakening is more circumscribed. We awaken to some aspects of our world view – some of our limiting personal assumptions – so we can get out of our box and operate in new ways to create the life we want. In this scenario, we wake up for the purposes of living well.

Visit this page to find more on the topics of life coaching, therapy, and practices for living well.

If you want a therapy or coaching environment that is open to the practices related to natural awareness, inquiry and awakening, and/or you want to take back your attention, re-engage with your life, and increase your satisfaction and effectiveness – then schedule an appointment with Dr. Charles Martin.

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