Self-Inquiry is an essential stepping stone.
Like mindfulness, self-inquiry has been an essential stepping stone in my awakening process. During the time that I was intensely practicing mindfulness and being present, I used self-inquiry to undo non-essential identifications and discover myself more deeply. In sanskrit this is called a "neti neti" (not this, not this) practice.
Mindfulness practices use an objective focus to help empower our attention and soften identification with the thinking mind, whereas the self-inquiry tradition points us to the subjective beyond all objects. It can be valuable to combine these tools like I did, but it may be more helpful to start with the objective focus of mindfulness and become more empowered with your attention.
As I began to untangle my attention and identification from thought, it was very useful to add in self-inquiry. I began to recognize that who I am is not limited to thought and also not limited to “someone” being present. Self inquiry uses thought, such as “who am I” as a stepping stone to penetrate beyond thought. When we inquire, “who am I,” honest vigilance can reveal there is no objective answer for this question. The thinking mind depends on objects and self-inquiry has the power to open the mind to a subjective reality beyond objects.
My first true response to “who am I” was that I did not know who I am. Then my mind would jump in and list off all the identifications it had memorized, for example - I am a woman. Self-inquiry helped me explore what is essential, for example - Do I exist without my gender? When I stayed with this inquiry and really checked to see if any identification was more than a temporary appearance, my mind would end up having no-thing to identify with.
I got really honest through self-inquiry - Do I exist when I let go of all identification and without any thought? Yes, but I had never examined what this existence really is. I realized that what I am essentially is no-thing and objectless - this left enough openness for me to recognize the essence of what I am. Self-inquiry uses thought to lead us to a knowing that is beyond the mind. This is the beginning of spiritual awakening.
Self-inquiry is a very useful stepping stone and I love to use it in my subjective Awakening and Mediation Groups.