- Am I conscious now?
- What was i last conscious of
- How does it serve me?
- Is it true?
- How do I know it’s true?
- What if it’s not true?
- It is useful?
- Does it lead to more suffering or less?
(note – these 8 questions aren’t all related to one practice or process or type of inquiry. The first two are used together, the middle 5 are used together, and the last one I ask myself (ideally, but not nearly as often as i should) before I act (or react) to anything at all.
Here is a link to download these as slides. (I’m adding a whole bunch of PDF files to this course, along with audio and some coaching for those of you who are interested in this stuff as well)
Some extra parenthetical thoughts about this process below.
Mind wandering is the enemy of aliveness.
And I have always had a mind that won’t sit still.
The more my mind wanders – the less of my life I live.
When i’m thinking about tomorrow, or what i should have said, or what i could have said, or what i will say next time should that same scenario arise again….i’m missing the moments of my life that are unfolding as i live in a past that isn’t there.
Or a fictitious future that is nowhere to be found.
Or any place that is outside of the present moment, which is in fact, the only life that is ever being lived.
It’s trite…..but it’s still 100% true.
When we aren’t there – quite often, we aren’t even aware that we aren’t there.
Stumbling and fumbling our away through life trapped in a stream of thoughts that sap our spirit and hijack our happiness.
This is your life.
And for most of us, it’s blurs and buzzes by in a hazy, lazy mindless malaise.
There is a great practice called “noting” in some meditative traditions that essentially asks us to note our mental chatter, in order to diminish it.
The idea is, when you start to “name” the noises that the incessant voice in your head makes when left to it’s own devices, the chatter starts to sound like a stream of silliness tha gets easier and easier to recognize as “ not me”.
When you methodically notice, name and “note” your fears and phobias, insecurities and inadequencies as merely the machinations of the monkey mind……it gets easier and easier to separate yourself from your stuff.
Over time, those fears and phobias begin to fall away.
I’ve heard monks with a whole lot of mindful mojo actually SAY (outloud) things like – “mom issues” or “body image” or “not good enough” or “self esteem” or whatever arises for them moment to moment, when describing or doing or demonstrating this practice on their own. (trust me though – you don’t want to drink with a monk with mom issues – the conversation gets weird after bottle #2)
What starts to happen is you create DISTANCE from destructive emotions and chatter – and see them as arising in a stream of thoughts that is separate from self.
Paradoxically, the more you note your thoughts….as sort of insane as it sounds the more moment to moment mindful awareness you accrue – and the more the self starts to see itself as separate, or distinct from the continuous word salad of non stop self critical silliness that most of us struggle with every day.
So that’s just a wee bit of background to the practice i’m outlining here, which is the art of awakening through asking empowering questions.
And I truly mean AWAKENING with a capital A – as most of us spend so much of our lives sleepwalking through life only mildly aware that we aren’t awake, that just the simple act of ASKING, is akin to jolting the energy of aliveness back into the body.
My favorite questions below (and these are just a few of more than 20 I’ve collected for the mindfulness made easy course I’m teaching) is “Am I conscious now”, always followed by “What was I last conscious of?” This is a great exercise I picked up from the well known UK scientist Dr. Susan Blackmore. (who is ironically BEST known for her work on “debunking” many spiritual experiences, but who is a pretty avid meditator who writes about spiritual practice beautifully.
The last question, to me, is the most important. “Does this lead to more suffering, or less?”
You can filter any reaction you make through that question, and if you answer it honestly and truthfully, you’ll find it tells you exactly what move to make, and what move to avoid as well. (do I give that guy the finger for cutting me off in traffic, do I yell at my kid because he knocked over the iced tea, do I mow the little bit of common space by the nutty neighbor, etc)
After all, we can all agree that LESS suffering is better than more. And that our lives our enriched and improved when our minds are clean and clear of the sort of thinking that negative minds states cultivate.
And how we show up in the world ripples in wide and wild and often weird ways. So choosing the path of LESS suffering and more mindfulness is always the right decision
Acting in the interest of reducing suffering in the world is the essence of the Boddisatva vow – surrendering to spiritual service and the awakening of all beings – and the commitment to make the world a better place for ourselves and others. (which after watching Donald Trump and Ted Cruz go at it all afternoon on CNN, feels like a pretty good plan for us all)
These questions always feel like a good place to start on that path for me.
Download the slides here. (and you’ll get access to FREE follow up updates, audio files and more handouts, 100% free)