Deep Self Investigation

Discovering your true nature as awareness

Introduction To DSI

What you most likely believe yourself to be is “person”, a bodily contained self.  A being with a mind, along with a personal story of your life so far. But this sense of being a solid, separate human being is actually just a collection of sensations, mental images, and beliefs which are not personal at all when seen clearly.  What you most essentially are, that which is alive, real, present and awake, is this awareness you are experiencing right now.   It is that by which you know the world around you.   Virtually all of what feels like “you” is this awareness, and yet this dominant feature of what you are tends to be over looked.   The deep self investigative approach will reveal to you the truth of what I am stating here.   When you come to an unwavering understand the truth of your identity, knowing this without a doubt, that is what the great spiritual teachings call “enlightenment” or “awakening”.

It is important to demystify your understanding of awakening as being some sort of elevated condition or state beyond or outside of your present experience.   The impression many of us have adopted is that of a transcendental, divine, blissful condition that is not the life we know.  What I will continually point out is that ultimate awareness is completely available to you here and now, and is always a part of your present experience.   And this means you have been experiencing it all along without really knowing what it is, or that it is what you are.  The awareness through which you know the world is perfect awareness. And the sense you have of yourself as being a limited, separate person in a body is simply a mistaken identity. 

I should clarify that saying the truth of you as awareness is available and part of your everyday experience does not mean you can easily and permanently establish this knowing of your identity.   My experience is that it takes significant focus and intent applied persistently over time to work through the beliefs and conditioning of a life time.  Only then will you reach a point of doubtless recognition of what you are.     

The approach I present here will help you explore and understand what is actually a quite fragile structure of a personal you, and at the same time you will begin to recognize the living awareness that makes up what you truly are.  The DSI process leads to the dissolving of the beliefs that suggest you are a separate person in a body and mind, as well as beliefs that ignore your existence as awareness.  “Awakening” is a clear and permanent shift in identity thinking you are a person to knowing you are awareness.   The point of this book is to encourage anyone to wake up to who they are and then see how this effects the way you understand and interact with the world.  

DSI Is Not About Self Improvement

Just a reminder, the process of deeply investigating the sense of self is not about self improvement, it’s about waking up to the truth of what you are beyond all personality traits.  If what you really want is to improve yourself and be a better “you”, then that is fine, but please just recognize this and enjoy improving your self!   There are many teachings and methods out there to help with self improvement.   I just don’t want you to confuse them with this process of waking up.  In awakening, self improvement becomes irrelevant, because there is no such thing as a self.   However, what might be considered evolving of the character continues in the “light” of awake awareness.  So knowing the what you actually are could very likely improve your life, but not necessarily in the way you might imagine at this point.

Preparation for Doing Deep Self Investigation

You do not need to get or finally possess your being as awareness.   It’s not that you do not have it.    You just need to see through what is absorbing your attention and distracting your view of what you have been all along.


“That which is before you is it, in it’s fullness, utterly complete.   There is naught beside.  Even if you go through all the stages of a Bodhisattva’s progress toward Buddhahood, one by one; when at last, in a single flash, you attain to full realization, you will only be realizing the Buddha-nature which has been with you all the time; and by all the foregoing stages you will have added to it nothing at all.”


~ Huang Po



Deep self investigation (DSI) is primarily a process of uncovering and questioning the core evidence that appears to support the assumption that you exist as a separate entity, a separate self.   The sense of being a separate self is made up of a combination of sensations and thoughts/beliefs that suggest a presence and location of a “you” central to your experience, usually in or near the body.  These conditioned habits of how you think of your self can be reinforced by continuing to dreamily accept and give attention to them, or dissolved by being alert and noticing directly that  they not only do not represent a personal self, but that they are not what you are.   


Only by carefully investigating these beliefs and sensations “as they exist,” bare and exposed, can you begin to understand that they in no way represent a “person,” “I”, “me”, or self.  As this is seen clearly on more and more occasions, in many varied life situations, there will be increasing periods of the experience of no self, and also direct sensing of your existence as present, living, boundary-less awareness.  Below are the key guidelines for working with DSI.


1.   Stay with the present moment, just what is happening now.   


2.  Trust your direct experience above all other information.   Your own perception of the actuality of who and what you are is the primary source of accurate information about you.  There may be some writings and teachers who can help you at certain points to understand what you sense directly, but in the end, the presenting evidence for “you” in your awareness will reveal what you need to know to awaken.


3.   Recognize the difference between what you perceive directly and what you think about your perceptions. Simple perceptions are stripped of  interpretation, imagination or any form of conceptual overlay.   What you sense perceptually is generally immediate, presently evident, and does not require thinking to see.




Introductory Level Self Investigation

If you have never done this type of inquiry before, you may want to start with some simple questions about the roles you play that describe you.   At this level of DSI there can be an equal amount of questions to simple direct looking for the answer, but this shifts to much more looking than thinking of questions as the practice develops and deepens.    

Initially this involves asking, “Who am I?”,  and as you think of answers like, “A man, a woman, a mother, an artist, a smart person, friendly, etc.”, question wether these descriptions are what you actually are, or are they just something you do, a role you play or an ability you have.   Your target is to directly identify what the “you” is behind doing the role, or the “me” is that possesses the ability.   What exactly are “you” in all that?
This approach is not a mental analysis process where you think extensively about the answers to investigative questions.  You want to ask simple questions and then look like you would look at a cup on the table to confirm it is there.  Very simple and direct.  Then you can simply confirm whether your assumption is true or now.   As an example, you might ask, “Who am I?”, and answer, “I’m a father”.   You can now question, “what is it to be a father?  Does ‘Father’ describe the me that takes care of my children, or is it just a label, a role or an idea?”   Look closely at your sense of “you” right now and the sense of “father” and see which feels more like what you are?   Isn’t “father” a thought about you, that you have about what you do?  Notice that when you are not thinking about being a father, for example when you are at work, or watching a movie, or when you go to sleep at night, you do not essentially change.   Isn’t it the same “you” that does “fathering”?  

The simple level of self investigation can go on for a time, but if you are working on it regularly each day you will fairly quickly discard any of this type of description of you as central to your sense of self. You are now ready to move into deeper self investigation. 

Deeper Investigation

Now that it is clear to you that the common labels about you are not proof of a separate “I", you can go on to deeper self investigation.   

To begin, turn attention to where you feel the strongest sense of you to be, and keep attention there as continuously as possible.  It will usually be somewhere in the torso, chest or head, or on rare occasions, nearby in the area outside the body.  When you feel that it is fairly clear what is your “you center”, begin to question this.   “ Is this really what I am?”   Look for proof, see if you can find any area that feels more “you” than another.  Question what you find, “Is this really me….?,  “Is this a person… or something else…...?”   Look for the answers.   If you drift off of that focused point of attention, get caught up in imaginings or thought, just recognize that and come back.  Find the “I sense” again and bring attention back to it, scanning and probing and exploring and questioning.
You will notice beliefs about what you are, not as clear thoughts, but rather as a sense that something “feels true”.  An example of this is the feeling that you are “behind your eyes somewhere”.   It may seem like the way things are, but if you look and investigate it you find this is just a sensation in the head combined with the subtle belief, “I am behind my eyes.”  As you put attention on these indicators and question whether this is you, there will be a clear sense that these appearances cannot be what you are, and that you are always actually noticing everything that arises.   “You” are somewhere else, sensing it all from another perspective.

Over time during your sessions, attention will stay focused in investigation for longer and longer periods.   The sense of “I” or “me” will change or seem to move around.  You can use questions to find it.  Examples are, “Where is the I?”,  “What am I?”, “ Who is walking or sitting?”, “What is ‘me’?” “What is this appearance?” This is very important:  Don’t think the answers, look for the present evidence!    

As your investigating develops, you will have temporary recognitions of “no self”, not being located anywhere, and feeling open and spacious at your center.  This is fine, but just keep noticing and questioning your experience.  “Who is looking?”  “What notices this ’no self’?”  Look and see where you are seeing all this from.  When you look back where you are viewing things from, there is no object there, but it will begin to feel like what you actually are more than anything else. 

In time there will be brief or even extended periods of “waking", where the sense of being the body or sense of "me" vanishes and you feel your existence as simply present, alive awareness.   Thoughts may cease completely, and awareness may seem to expand and fill the space around you, accompanied by energetic sensations, bliss, joy and a deep sense of connectedness to all life.  Usually this is a pleasant experience, but on rare occasions at the beginning it can be a bit overwhelming.   If the experience becomes uncomfortable ”, just relax, breath and take a break from the exercise until you are ready to resume. My experience is, uncomfortable feelings or energies are quite rare and subside quickly.   And over time all strong blissful and unpleasant sensations become less and cease occurring, and only clear seeing of the way things are is present.

Making Good Use Of The Teacher

For the serious seeker, the availability of an awakened teacher can be of great help in clarifying and refining your self exploration.    If you are fortunate enough to know of someone who can help you in this way, is of mature, independent character (wants nothing from you), it can be of great assistance in navigating the often confusing terrain of deep self exploration.   Over time this process often looks like a heavy reliance by you on the teacher as you develop the strength of your practice, gradually decreasing in the need for their assistance as you progress.    After a few months of serious practice and instruction, you may find you go from regular one on one meetings each week to perhaps weekly group meetings to address occasional obstacles that arise.    If your teacher requires regular financial support from you, or devotional or similar attention to her/him personally, you may want to question their motivation and consider finding another teacher.  


About Dan Kelso

Dan has worked for over 30 years refining techniques in self inquiry into an approach termed "deep self investigation". He has studied with many of the well known non-dual teachers along the way. About 7 years ago he experienced a permanent shift in the sense of identity to living awareness. He is now involved in teaching others to awaken through instruction, dialogues using DSI, and facilitates the ongoing "integration" of consciousness with everyday life, sharing the path to this natural state of being with those who are drawn to it.