Deep Self Investigation

Discovering your true nature as awareness

Introduction to DSI

You probably believe yourself to be a “person,” a bodily-contained self, a separate 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 that 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 overlooked. The deep self investigative approach will reveal to you the truth of what I am stating here.  Coming to an unwavering understanding of the truth of your identity, knowing this without a doubt, 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 is that of a transcendental, divine, blissful condition that is not the life we know.  I will continually point out 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 lifetime. Only then, will you reach a point of doubtless recognition of what you are.     

The approach I present here will help you to 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 from thinking you are a person to knowing that you are awareness. The point of this book is to encourage anyone to wake up to who they are and then see how this affects 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," there are many teachings and methods 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 what you actually are could very likely improve your life, but not necessarily in the way you might imagine.


Preparation for Doing Deep Self Investigation


“That which is before you is it, in its 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 evidence that supports your existence 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 suggests 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  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.  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.


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 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 whether 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 the role, or the “me” iwho 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 as 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 not.  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 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, breathe  and take a break from the exercise until you are ready to resume.  My experience is that 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 that 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.  


Additional Considerations:

The Body/Mind As a Remarkable Computerized Biological Robot

You will hear me refer to my body, mind, and conditioning as the “character.”  It can be helpful to consider adjusting your beliefs about being bound within what you think of as you and begin seeing this self of yours as a remarkable version of a computerized biological robot.  Upon awakening, this model of having a character in this form seems to represent well what your body/mind actually is.  Further, its relationship to you is one of “association” rather than a container for you or even a possession of yours.  You can consider that, just like any robot, your body is a mechanical system which includes a computer (your brain/mind) that operates to gather and organize information and to control the activities of the robot body.  All that it does is based on its design and programming.  It does not appear to require a personal “you” to run it, and this is what you can find out for yourself.
What Is Really Going on Here?

The bottom line is that there is not an actual separate self, and never has been. Then, what is going on here?  The “mind” seems to be made up of, and is a combination of, awareness and thought processes.  The body is simply an occurrence in physical nature which also appears to have a connection to the mind and awareness. This all seems natural, to have some form of purpose, and to be as it should be.   

What is realized upon awakening is that the idea of personal control, action and effect, is an illusion.  It’s the kid in the back seat playing with a toy steering wheel and taking credit for his mom’s control of the car as she drives.  There is no one to take credit for how things are, so no doer or doing, so no choice or control as we think of it.  What you are is “involved” in existence, just not in any way that you are used to thinking of being as a person in life. You then want what is, not some ability to manipulate it.  This is just a loose approximation, but you are not exactly “controlled by” some force, but are rather “involved in” a form of collaboration.

Another point to make here is that there is a sense, a “feeling,” that subtle levels of being, or absorption in awareness, are available “out there, nearby.”  At some point, if those conditions are where awareness/attention is drawn to be, it would be on the level of “samadhi” or those subtle realms.  Reading about “enlightened beings” in literature, it appears as if one could, upon awakening, simply withdraw into awareness and disconnect from the body and physical world. While there is a sense that this option is always a possibility, my inclination is to participate in playing things out in the world.

What seems to be true is that no “place” or condition is better to be in than any other. The idea of “better” just seems to be a result of ideas about “higher” or more subtle conditions of reality.  I don’t care that I’m involved in this human play rather than sitting in a cave absorbed in an objectless state of nirvana.  Joy and freedom are available everywhere.  Life flows, the “now” unfolds, things appear and disappear, the body/mind character is part of that, awareness is, and it all works with an innate appropriateness, intelligence and synchronicity. What could be better?

The Layers of Belief
As I mentioned earlier, what I discovered was that the sense of being a separate self is really just made of something like thin layers of relatively fragile beliefs that only seem like something solid and significant when presumed to be true.  By “presumed,” I mean viewed indirectly or accepted as true without question.  Beliefs are fragile because there is really no factual evidence that supports them, only unsubstantiated, second-hand information.  And when investigated directly and questioned, you begin to see this insubstantial quality.  Early stages of investigation generally just skip around the outer “atmosphere” near our beliefs.  This atmosphere is made of the world of superficial, self-centric, secondary beliefs, imaginings and activities.  In other words, what appears as the world “I” live in.  Insecurity, incompleteness, separation, fear, etc. all combine in appearances of our story to create this dream atmosphere. This imagined reality continues to be referenced around an assumed separate “me.”

It’s easy in the culture of spiritual opinion to get the idea that waking up to the reality about your self is shrouded in complicated and mysterious forces.  I don’t find that it is this way at all. The issue is simply one of mistaken beliefs.  If you are confused about your identity and feel the desire to know the truth about what you truly are, then you must question the assumptions about what you believe yourself to be.  Knowing the truth of what you are not, as well as what you actually are, is at the core of “waking up.”  This knowing involves learning the truth by questioning and clarifying beliefs, leading to understanding.

Exploring Body, Mind, and Awareness

DSI will involve questioning any evidence in the body and mind that there is a separate you.   Often what you find in response to DSI questioning will be a combination of belief, sensation, spatial location, or some other physical or mental feature.  What no one has ever found is an actual “I” behind or connected to the thought or label of “I.”  DSI exploration is not just about sending one probe, noticing something and then stopping.  It’s more like asking a question, noticing the answer, asking another related question, looking at the issue from a slightly different angle, noticing the new information, asking another question or the same one if it seems necessary, going deeper, and so on.  We are repeating the practice over and over as we change investigative position, depth and angles.


This is Perfect Awareness

This is very important to realize early on.  There is only one perfect awareness, enlightened consciousness; and this awareness that you experience now, with which you know experience, is it!  It's very important to avoid going down the investigative rabbit hole of looking for some kind of grand “enlightened consciousness” beyond your present awareness.  Confused and misguided by many of the teachings and teachers I came in contact with, I held onto this idea for years that I would awaken somewhere else to a new enlightened awareness.  Because I thought my present experience was not what I was looking for, I dismissed this awareness right in front of me.  Because I had this fantasy of “reaching enlightenment,” I rejected the simple, marvelous awareness right here in present experience.  The truth is, this ordinary awareness is perfect awareness.  There is no awareness other than this.


About Dan Kelso

Dan has worked for over 30 years refining techniques in self inquiry into an approach he termed "deep self investigation." He has studied with many of the well known non-dual teachers along the way. About ten 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 facilitating the ongoing "integration" of consciousness with everyday life, sharing the path to this natural state of being with those who are drawn to it.