My approach to awakening has been through insight. I think there are other approaches which I’m not very familiar with (devotion, surrender, extreme suffering, selfless service, spontaneous, and so on).
Insight comes from observation and investigation. I get a pointer from someone, I take it as a hypothesis and I look for the truth of it in my own life and experience.
It’s been important to develop self-honesty and humility.
It has not served me to just mentally agree with a pointer. It’s only useful if I recognize or realize it in my own experience.
Equally, it has not served me to take fixed mental positions against spiritual assertions or practices or ideas. I’ve done this, and realized that often I’m just not ready to see the truth yet.
Awakening is a first-person science. Consciousness investigating consciousness. Science is a third-person science, where scientists investigate what they believe is objective phenomena and get external confirmation. With awakening, there is only you.
Awakening is fully rational. That is, I have no insight or realization or recognition which is based on faith or belief.
Awakening rational but cannot always be conceptualized. Concepts can often even be obstacles. This makes it bit tricky, particularly for people who start with intellectual egos.
Awakening a process. It takes time and work. For me anyway.
I don’t know exactly what gets people started. I think it’s the realization that dissatisfaction with life many of us feel is indicative that there’s something fundamentally wrong with our understanding of existence. About 20% to 30% of people I’ve met are thinking about their existence in some way. That’s quite a lot. I’ve been twice to Vipassana meditation retreat (dhamma.org), which is a ten day residential retreat. It’s rigorous and requires high commitment. I was surprised that there was a waiting list!
I think I am fortunate that when I started I had a very open mind. I was in emotional pain and so my ego was soft. I understood that if my approach to life had already been right, my experience of life in the last 45 years would have been very different. There must be something fundamentally off in my outlook.
Awakening/Spirituality makes certain assertions about consciousness, mind, ego, thought, belief, emotion, feeling, conditioning, attention, intention, fear, desire, acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, judgment, attachment, presence, the nature of physicality and so on. Probably the main assertion is that consciousness is all there is.
Some of these insights can be pretty wild, in the same way that the assertions of quantum physics are wild. Still, the insights are completely rational.It can be confusing and depressing and exhausting at times. I’ve found that I only need to know my very next step. Right now, I’m investigating the truth of the hypothesis that consciousness is all there is, and my physical reality happens in consciousness, not the other way around.
Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now is a pretty good place to start. I do have some criticisms of it. I would say to Tolle that he’s made enough money, and the book does not cover fear and self-inquiry adequately, and perhaps it over-demonizes the mind and ego; and, importantly, as Davidya covers in the comments below, Tolle’s awakening was spontaneous, and it may be more helpful to listen to those who have worked on it, like Nisargadatta, John Sherman, Jed Mckenna, Anthony de Mello and others. But still, the Power of Now covers the basics in simple and easy language.
Possibly the most important tools of awakening are self-observation and self-honesty.
The three techniques I recommend (look-at-you, release, and, observe) are techniques of specific types of observation. All forms of meditations which I’m familiar with are techniques of self-observation.