Core Practices of Awakening in Life


Core Practices of Awakening in Life

Engaging the unknown and mystery.

Inquiring is cultivating our capacity to be with the unknown, with our fully surrendered, attentive presence. We strengthen our ability to be resilient, patient, and receptive in the unknown, including our confusion and doubt, and all the unresolvable paradox of life, as well as all of the mysterious beauty that arises from the radical openness of life.

What We Need Most

At any given moment, what we most need to work with in awakening arises as a question: who we take ourselves to be, what we take life to be, and who we take others to be. The gap between this and how things actually are, arises as a tension in ourselves and an opportunity of awakening in the form of a question.

The focus of inquiry is to pay attention to these questions that arise, that are often already permeating our experience. We pay attention and we embrace these questions as our practice.

As we work these questions and these questions work us, our grip of resistance to how things are loosens. We discover more openness and more wisdom and insight into the nature of life and reality. We become active participants of life and awakening.

A Question Arises

We listen without expectation. A question arises in our experience. From where did arise? You can’t know. It just is.

But we trust this question because it arose in a space free of pretense and preoccupation.

We take the responsibility of becoming this question because we have no choice – we see and feel this in our bodies.

We engage this question in contemplation and through our action.

We don’t act and live with demands of answers, but we are nevertheless in service and ready to recognize the immediacy of an answer when it arises and we act accordingly.

Or more often than not, we live these questions to the point that we have become an answer we can’t articulate to a question we no longer remember, and yet, none of that matters.

We are right where we need to be, doing exactly what is needed, regardless of whether it’s mundane and imperfect, or profound and perfect without words.

The How to – The Practice of Inquiry

Given the focus of inquiry is to dive into the unknown, the practice of inquiry is not so easy to entirely explain through words and a nice 1-2-3. However, I’ll provide you with a few pointers to give you a little taste and a way to experiment.

Because the practice of inquiry is packed full of richness, nuance, and plunges deep into the mystery of life and who you are, it’s incredibly helpful to work with a teacher or mentor. They can help you co-navigate your experience, identify and clarify the question you’re working with, and to further help you hold and work with the question in your practice and daily life.

1. Settle and Listen.

Before beginning inquiry it’s important to let our minds, hearts, body, and senses settle and come to rest, and to allow them to open to reality in a receptive way. This helps to clear out the noise in our experience and gives space for any question working its way through our system to arise and for us to see and listen to it.

2. Don’t search for a question.

You don’t need to search for a question to work with. If one arises, great. If not, simply continue doing your practice of settling, listening, or choose another practice that is more relevant for you at the moment. To discover a question of inquiry, you only need to settle your mind, heart, and body, and listen. If there is something you need to work with, the question will arise.

3. A question worthy of inquiry.

There’s no stock answer on whether a question is worthy of inquiry practice. Again, this is particularly where a teacher or mentor can be helpful. However, one sign to look for is that the question almost inherently and immediately puts you into a state of not-knowing or at least where you cannot possibly answer it rationally right after asking it.

4. Recognize the question, look at it facet-to-face.

If a question does arise on its own, recognize it clearly. Say it in your mind or out loud. Don’t try to figure it out or answer it. Acknowledge and welcome the question like a revered guest in your home. Approach it with wonder and curiosity.

5. Just notice.

After recognizing the question and giving it voice, let it go. Simply notice. Notice anything and everything arising in your experience – in your mind, emotions, and your body. Edit nothing out of your experience. Even nothingness itself could be relevant. Your only job is at this point is to notice.

6. Pay attention to shifts in your experience.

Whether in your formal practice or your daily life, pay attention to shifts in your experience, subtle or big, but particularly the subtle. Notice spontaneous insights about how this question is reflected in your life. Look at how you’re dealing with not-knowing while holding the question. What is your reaction? Pay attention to insights that emerge that might be related to the question.

7. See if the question shifts or changes.

Sometimes questions change, and if they do, often a deeper question emerges. The real question shows itself later after we held the initial question as an entry into the practice.

8. You’ll know when the question is finished.

When practicing inquiry this way, you will know when the question is finished. Or, if you’re working with a teacher or mentor, they will be able to validate this for you. Often I find the question simply recedes away back into the unknown from whence it came. The question and the answer becomes a part of you without you knowing it, but if someone were to ask you, you would feel the understanding clearly in your body with no effort needed.

Again, these are mere helpful guidelines and pointers in the practice of awakening. Inquiry is not something that can be restricted to a particularly structure or form. It works on its own accord, but these guidelines can be incredibly helpful.

The practice of inquiry is letting the unknowable mystery of life unmake and remake us. To hold ourselves and life as a living question, to open ourselves in patient attentiveness, and becoming the answers through embodied action and trust.

Explore the next core practice of response.

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