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The Living Inquiries Blog

Seven Tips for Self-Inquiry by Scott Kiloby

By Scott Kiloby.

  1. Simplify thoughts down to either words or pictures. If you look into your experience, you can see that thoughts arise in one of two different ways—either as words or as pictures. Words are literally things, such as “Scott” or “I am a victim.” Pictures are mental images, such as the memory of sitting yesterday and feeling alone, or the picture of a body part or a knot. It is good to see the difference between words and pictures. Notice exactly which of these is arising to give you the sense of a separate person. It may also be helpful to frame the particular words or pictures. For example, imagine the words “I’m miserable most of the time” inside a picture frame in your mind, or on a road sign. Stare right at the words. Keep looking straight at the words, and then ask, “Are these words me, the victim?”
  2. Refrain from trying to answer the question “Is this me?” intellectually. Don’t think about your answer. Don’t analyze the question. Don’t refer to other parts of your story to find the answer. Just look directly at whatever is appearing, by itself, whether it’s a set of words, a picture, or an energy. Look at it in the same way you would look at a color without naming it—directly, with bare naked observation. From that direct observation, ask, “Is this me, the victim?” Intellectually, you may understand that words or a picture are not the person (victim). But these inquiries have nothing to do with an intellectual understanding. When you are looking at words or pictures, pay attention to your body. Notice when the body reacts with an emotion or a sensation. This is the body’s way of letting you know that, on some level, you believe that you are those words or that picture.
  3. Keep your answer to the question “Is this me?” to a simple yes or no. Don’t add detailed analysis to the answer. For example, if you are truly a victim, and if that victim is here, present in and as your body and your mind, then it shouldn’t be hard for you to find it. You should be able to find it right away, in your direct, present experience, without the need for elaboration. Take the example of looking for a pair of shoes in a closet. If you pick up a shirt, there is no need to give five reasons why the shirt is not the pair of shoes. You know that it isn’t the pair of shoes. No elaboration is needed; you just keep looking for the shoes. Treat this inquiry the same way. Stick to simply trying to find the person, with a simple yes or no.
  4. Remember that you’re looking for the person, not for evidence of the person, or for thoughts that point to the person, or for parts of the person. During the inquiry, it may seem as if every set of words, every picture, and every energy you encounter is “part of” the person, is evidence of the person, or is pointing to the person. Don’t settle for this kind of thinking. Go deeper. Look for the person itself. If all these temporary things point to it, then where are you—the real, permanent, separate, actual victim? If all words describe it, then where are you? If these appearances are merely part of it, then where are you? The you—the actual victim—is what you’re looking for. That’s what is unfindable when you look for it directly instead of thinking about it. For example, if you’re looking for the victim you take yourself to be, then it may seem as if the words “Life treats me unfairly” are part of the victim. Forget about finding parts. Look for the victim itself. Are the words “Life treats me unfairly” you—the actual victim? That’s the proper question. We often assume that these kinds of thoughts are describing or pointing to an actual, inherent victim that is really there, underneath the thoughts. To prove that the victim is not there, underneath the thoughts, just drop—relax—any thoughts that seem to describe or point to the victim. Notice that if you relax these thoughts, you can’t find the victim when you’re directly looking for it. But you can’t find it when the thoughts are there, either. You find only thoughts, one after another—no actual victim.
  5. If you’re looking at words or at a picture, and if the words or the picture seem to be the person, then this always means that there is some energy, some sensation or emotion, arising with the words or the picture. If the body reacts in any way to the question “Are these words me, the victim?” just say, “Yes, this is me.” Then bring your bare attention immediately into the body, and experience the energy directly, letting it be exactly as it is, without trying to change it or get rid of it. If you find your mind labelling the emotion or sensation with words such as “sadness” or “contraction,” ask yourself, “Is the word ‘sadness’ me, the victim? Is the word ‘contraction’ me?” If not, then relax all words and pictures for a few seconds, and experience the energy without any words. Simply rest with the raw sensory experience itself. And then ask, “Is this energy, by itself, me, the victim?” If you see that it is not the person, then let it be as it is, without trying to change it or get rid of it. This frees up the energy to move and change naturally, and it often dissolves. But the point is not to try to get rid of anything. That’s just more seeking. The point is to see that the energy is not the person. Once you see that no words, no picture, and no energy is the person, it no longer matters as much whether these things arise. Any appearance can come and go, yet the victim is never found. This allows the story and the emotions to quiet naturally and effortlessly. Suffering, seeking, and conflict show up in our experience from our unconscious belief that these appearances form a separate person.
  6. If an energy—that is, an emotion or sensation—in the body seems to be the person, this always means that there are words, pictures, or both words and pictures arising along with the energy. If this happens, notice the words or pictures that are coming up with the energy. Then look directly at those words or pictures and ask, “Is this me, the victim?” An energy seems like the person only when words or pictures are arising along with it. Pay particular attention to those subtle mental pictures, such as images of body parts and other forms and shapes in the body, that appear to contain certain emotions and sensations. If you see a picture when you’re experiencing energy, then ask whether that picture, by itself, is the person. For example, is this picture of a knot the victim? You can even imagine a frame around the image, if that will help you see that it is only a mental picture, not a person. Observe the picture directly until it begins to change on its own or disappear. As you see that these are just mental pictures, and that they are not the person, the pictures tend to change or disappear on their own. Even if they stick around, it won’t matter as much, once you see that they are not the victim. Don’t skip the mental pictures that may arise around emotions and sensations. They are very important in these inquiries.
  7. See that words, pictures, and energy are not actually welded together. When you think you are a separate person, notice that words, pictures, and energy seem welded together. For example, when the words “I’m a victim” arise, it can feel as if the emotion of sadness is welded together with the words, and that a picture of the stomach, for example, is welded together with the words and the sadness. All three appear at once, as if Velcro were holding them together. This is called the Velcro effect. Really pick apart the words, pictures, and energies, and for each one, each time, ask, “Is this me, the victim?” This is a powerful way to untangle the experience of words, pictures, and energy being welded together. When you’re not able to find the person in any one of these words, pictures, or energies, and when you allow these appearances just to be as they are, you undo the Velcro effect, and your suffering is released.

To read more about Scott Kiloby, click here.

Our Stories Are Sacred

By Lisa Meuser.  

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”  Rumi

I gently breathe in this quote. It has taken me a long time to know Rumi’s words. Most of my life I hid and denied my wounds, concealing them not only from others but also from myself. I repeatedly and systematically attempted to suppress, re-write, and/or rebuff the stories of my life experiences. This started when I was young.  I made excuses for and reframed others’ unhealthy and abusive behaviors. I learned to keep secrets to keep the peace.  Over time, I innocently abandoned myself as I learned to pretend that “all was well.”

I know I’m not alone in this. The majority of people express that they’ve had a great childhood. And yet, after a few questions, it is clear that what they are choosing to remember is coming from an act of self-preservation: it can be difficult to face the reality of our lived stories when we’ve denied them our whole lives.  We often prefer the story of “all was well”, even when it means we have to splinter ourselves to maintain that story.

While many of us always had a roof over our heads, food to eat, and clothing to wear, our more basic and fundamental needs such as emotional guidance and heart connection may not have been tended to. From the outside, I had an ideal childhood. And yet no one in my family was emotionally available or willing to really hear my stories, and after a while I disconnected from my experiences, from my stories, and made myself invisible as a way to cope. Maybe you too were a caretaker of others’ stories, as it was too hard to be with your own?

As I grew older I was bombarded with various social, political and spiritual messages that encouraged me to further forget about the past, and focus on the positive. Common phrases used in our culture include: “don’t dwell on the past”, “let bygones be bygones”, “look to the bright side”, and “be here now.”  Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that those phrases don’t have some wisdom sprinkled through them. But when we hold onto those mottos so fiercely that we aren’t allowed to be with our experiences, we violate ourselves. Over, and over, and over.

Would it be an act of loving kindness to tell a young toddler who has scraped their knee to “get over it”, or “just focus on the present!”, or look to the bright side of the experience? No. A kind heart would console, support, love, and guide a toddler through their pain, through their accident, all the way to the “other side”- however that may look.  A loving approach would ideally allow for the child to retell the story as many times as necessary, until it felt complete for them. We’d empathize. We’d listen. We’d help tend to the wound. We’d support them until they were ready to return to the playground. And they likely would. We’ve probably all seen that when a child is held and heard, they quickly resume playing, their needs having been met.

And yet what we often do with ourselves is pretend our scraped knees aren’t scraped (or that our hearts aren’t breaking). We often pretend that everything is just fine, and then to add insult to injury we judge ourselves when our hearts continue to be broken – which we then take as proof that “we’re broken.”

In my direct experience, it is never that we are truly broken[1]. I have never met a client who is broken. Rather, it is the way that we’ve learned to connect ourselves that is broken (and we can see how this is a cultural imprint, as culture does not connect with the wellbeing of mind/body/spirit, and instead often does the opposite).

Of course the way we’ve learned to connect with ourselves is broken! Most of us didn’t live in households that provided the level of emotional care, nurturance and guidance that we needed, so we never learned directly, or indirectly what true love and care was.

Even though we’re adults now, the need for a kind and loving response, the space to tell our story, and our needs to be heard and supported, haven’t gone away. They may have gone underground, or been buried, but our biological need for connection and love remain.

Shame kept my stories hidden, from myself and from others, and I see this with almost all my clients.  What I also see is immense freedom when people feel safe enough to honestly connect to their stories – to their actual lived experiences instead of the pretend life they held onto in their minds. This freedom multiplies when they feel safe to share their stories out loud in a safe container.

Repression is oppressive, and oppression is traumatizing. Telling our stories has the opposite effect. Telling our stories, first to ourselves, and then to another, has a liberating influence that leaves one feeling a sense of real empowerment – maybe for the first time in our lives.

Naming our stories to ourselves is deep work. It takes time, because it’s counter-intuitive based on all the strategies we’ve learned to keep silent. Naming and then believing our own stories takes courage. It takes time to develop the safety to be in our truth, after giving it away for so long.  For me, being heard by someone I trusted was an immensely important part of that. I was so used to doubting myself, that I needed a trusted guide to support me as the stories met the light of day, outside of the realms of my mind.

This is why we know it is crucial that as we heal from our wounds, we find safe spaces and safe people who listen to and believe in our stories – to our sacred, lived experiences. This produces a beautiful fertile ground “for the Light to come in.”

Find safe spaces. Find safe people. Your stories are the hallowed ground of your being.  When you find a safe person or group to share in, consider honoring your stories by connecting with what you need as your story is shared.[2] Our sacredness doesn’t need to be fixed, and yet a fixing paradigm is very common in our culture.  You may want to let your listener know that you don’t want your story to be treated as something to be fixed or changed, and instead received, as if your listener is being given a gift – because they are.

When stories are free to live in the light of day, something unanticipated often happens. As we release what we had been resisting all our lives, as we allow the stories to live and breathe, the stories themselves start to disintegrate. But this time it is from Love, not from denial.  This will happen on its own, although it’s often counterintuitive. I’ve found that the process can be supported and then integrated  through the guidance of an embodied somatic therapist, facilitator or guide.

I have experienced – directly and in my relationships with my clients – the immense freedom that comes when stories and wounds are allowed, named, spoken, expressed, and felt.  It is something far beyond what the linear mind understands, and births a sense of empowerment that is known from  being. Neuropathways shift, one’s sense of safety in the world changes, and relationships with life are transformed. Possibilities we couldn’t even imagine reveal themselves.[3]

It has taken my whole life to fully understand that that wounds and their corresponding stories are truly sacred. These days I experience wounds, and the stories of wounds, as sacred, grace filled, and also as the way Home.  I will be leading a deepening course this spring that will provide safety to explore our sacred stories. Please contact me to learn more.

I leave you with a poem I wrote after being given a prompt “If we could write a tomorrow which is wider than wounds we have worn”. Much love to you, as you share your sacred stories, on your way Home.

 

Stories Return Us Home

If I could write a tomorrow,
it would be wider than but include the wounds we have worn…
it would include my wounds,
it would announce my wounds,
it would put my wounds on display so that others too
could include, announce and
display their wounds,
as we move into tomorrow.

If I could write of a tomorrow,
it would have less denial, less hiding, less pretending…
By naming and sharing our wounds,
we would weave something so bountifully amazing,
taking us wider than the wounds we have ever worn.

If I could write a tomorrow,
I would use my wounds
and all that I have learned,
to springboard into creating a world where
community and connection is paramount,
from birth to death,
woven into the very ways we value the
ways we spend our days
and deeper into the way we view
our very selves.

If I could write a tomorrow,
humans would not be commodities
or things.
Worth would not be earned but known.
Sharing would be common place and
love would be given,
not bought or sold in the guise of
consumerism and exploitive capitalism.

This may be my soap box, but it doesn’t feel like an
impossible dream.
When I
slow down
and
take a look
towards pain and suffering.

I look at it in the eye,
feel pain burrow into the
caverns of my heart.
As I do
something widens
and deepens.
Something called Love

takes it all,
filling me with a sweetness of now that
exists at the very same time as
sorrow, sometimes in the very same place.
Reminding me another way is
indeed possible.

I write of another way…
where we know and
live knowing that,
in our shared plight of
being human,
there is Love.
The joy, mystery, pain, and
beauty of
being human.

I write of
lessons
being learned from the
wounds of yesterday.
Creating an amazing
tomorrow to be a part of.
I commit

to staying with
these wounds, honoring these wounds,
taking responsibility for these wounds,
and the wounds that my foremothers and forefathers
were born from,
have created,
which birthed me
and which I have birthed.

I write of a now,
inviting all to share
unique dreams and unique pains.
To share without needing to fix or problem solve
but to celebrate.
A recognition that each
story is sacred and powerful
in its very essence,
as we return Home.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

 

[1] And yet, I honor the phrase “broken hearted”.  The sense of the heart being broken references the wound of which Rumi writes, and is, in my experience, our ticket home in the telling of our stories.

[2] You might, for example, ask your listener;  “please just listen,” or “please validate what you’ve heard,” or “please say you believe me,” or “please hug me when I’m done.”

[3] “Every time you tell your story and someone else who cares bears witness to it, you turn off the body’s stress responses, flipping off toxic stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine and flipping on relaxation responses that release healing hormones like oxytocindopamine, nitric oxide, and endorphins. When we tell our stories and others bear witness, the notion that we are disconnected beings suffering alone dissolves under the weight of evidence that this whole concept is merely an illusion.” – Lissa Rankin

Longing For Love

By Sumitra Burton.  

While looking back over my life recently to see what kind of “credentials” I had gathered along the way, I recognized a core thread that has permeated my experience from the very beginning: a passionate longing for love.  Somehow I had never been aware of it in quite this way before.

As a little girl, I was deeply moved by a picture in our church’s entryway of Jesus in his long robe with children around his feet.  Jesus was looking at the children with deep love.  I can feel now the sense of longing that arose in my heart to experience that kind of love in my life.

Early on I somehow got the idea that pleasing others was the best way to find the love I so dearly wanted.  I tried to make them happy, so that they would love me.  My mother once said to me that I was selfish, which struck me deeply as I took this to mean that “I” was selfish, rather than simply my behavior in that moment.  The desire to not be selfish translated in my young mind to mean that my own personal needs and desires must be subdued in deference to others.

I married very young (19) and was excited to feel loved by my young husband and the support of a dream that we would somehow live happily ever after, loving each other unconditionally (those were the vows we took when we married – through sickness and health, joy and sorrow, etc. – right?).

It wasn’t long, though, before this dream started falling apart as I often experienced a lack of love in our relationship.  We were both so young, and my husband had had a traumatic childhood and needed lots of support.  Neither of us had the skills to communicate our feelings and work through the difficulties that arose.  Over the years we had four children together, were separated many times, and actually married and divorced twice.

By the time of the second divorce, I was totally devastated – confused, grieving and alone.  I had tried so hard to love him, and had failed, and my longing for love (still very strong) seemed to have reached a dead end.  The harder I tried, the worse things became.  I had given my all, and it wasn’t good enough.  Something was deeply wrong, and I was convinced there was something deeply wrong with meI must be unlovable!

I stayed alone for the next 30 years after the second divorce, practiced yoga and meditation as best I could while being a single mother, eventually living and working in an ashram retreat center for many years.  I found a sense of peace while I would sit to meditate, but in my daily life there was still much confusion and even desperation as I tried to make others happy so that I would feel loved in return.

One day I remember so clearly, a spiritual teacher remarked, “We have to love everyone, including ourselves.” I was shocked to hear the part about “including ourselves.”  Of course, this made perfect sense, and why had it taken so long for me to realize this?

From that moment I began wondering what it would mean to love myself – and very gradually began to explore how to do this. There wasn’t much support in those days for this kind of endeavor. I found myself eventually gravitating towards a philosophy of relaxing more into who I already am, rather than the old paradigm of disciplining myself to become a better person.  I began to have glimpses of being okay as I was.

When I finally discovered the Living Inquiries and the tools of resting and inquiry, the old beliefs of “unlovable” and “not good enough” arose dramatically to be explored, and slowly began to unwind.  It’s been a dynamic process over the past seven years of working to unravel these old beliefs and learning to relax into my natural sense of being-ness.  A main component of this quest has been the gradual shift from looking outside myself to looking inside for the love that I long for.

While there is a sense that the inquiry process will always be needed (no end in sight!), there is also a deepening awareness that innately I am okay and lovable.  Any time I notice I am looking for love outside, I recognize the old feelings of unworthiness creeping in.  Deep inside there’s a growing understanding that not only am I lovable, but that I am actually Love Itself. No separation.

This morning I am taking time to simply allow the longing to be felt.  The intensity of the longing is immense, filling my whole inner torso like a vacuum in a cavern.  It feels like I will be engulfed by it if I allow it to be fully felt.  Go ahead, I say.  Let me be consumed by that longing!  As I sit with the sensations, an image of a gate appears.  And as it opens, Love is Here.  Love is calling me Home.

To read more about Sumitra Burton, click here.

Both Individual and Collective: Meeting Rapaciousness

By Fiona Robertson.  

When we engage consistently and deeply in inquiry, our experience of it changes over time. Embodied inquiry develops and evolves, the process itself deepening as we individually and collectively deepen. True to its name, this inquiry is indeed living.

I’ve been inquiring for over seven years now. While self-focused beliefs took up much of my looking in the early years, what comes up now is often collective as well as personal. There’s a sense that what I’m looking at isn’t just mine; sometimes it’s obviously from my family system or ancestry, and sometimes it feels like an aspect of the archetypal human pattern.

Last week, for example, I was aware of some strong energy that felt like a residue from the old beliefs about myself. I sensed that it belonged to my creature-self. (When I’m inquiring, I often find words and descriptions arise that I wouldn’t ordinarily use, and which I may not understand intellectually). As I stayed with this residual creature-self energy, little spurts of emotion or thought sprang up, then quickly faded into almost-nothing.

After a while, the word ‘rapaciousness’ came and fitted the energy perfectly. Not entirely sure of its exact meaning, I looked up the dictionary definition:

Rapacious: from the Latin rapare, to seize. Grasping, extortionate, given to plundering or seizing by force, predatory.

Yes. This was the energy of never-ending rapaciousness, of covert, manipulative wanting, of taking what you are not entitled to, the energy of predation. As I felt it through my body, I sensed how I had cut off from it, how consciously I abhorred it, yet here it was within me, as it is in so many of us. As I felt it, I began to see memories of times when I’d taken more than my fair share, times when I’d lied to get what I wanted or to conceal my greed. I had to acknowledge this rapaciousness had manifested in me over the years in all kinds of ways. Taking that extra doughnut while no-one was looking. Lying to myself that the brief dalliance with a married man was justifiable because we hadn’t had sexual relations according the Clintonian definition. Staying in relationships that I knew weren’t right because having something felt better than the nothing I assumed would result if I left. Minor crimes by comparison to the more extreme expressions of this energy, but expressions of it nonetheless.

After a while, it became apparent that the rapaciousness tries to magnetise things and people, pulling them towards itself. It wants to take things without having to make any effort to earn them. Recognising this rapaciousness as the energy of abusers, predators, conquerors and takers – the energy that fuels capitalism, putting profit above all else – I began to sense that monks, nuns and their ilk withdrew from the world in an effort to control this energy, attempting to rein it back by taking vows of chastity, poverty and simplicity. As we know from the history of the church, both ancient and modern, this strategy didn’t work too well. We cannot simply lock out or deny the rapaciousness, because it gets through in whatever ways it can, and will not be naysaid.

More insights came as I continued to feel the energy of rapaciousness. Envious of others, it is underhand and conniving, finding loopholes, justifications and get-out clauses, sneakily framing events or situations in ways that allow it to believe its actions are okay, or even noble. It has no idea what or where ‘enough’ is. It is very different to desire; desire feels simple, natural, gentle. Rather, this energy is greed and avarice, unchecked appetite which knows no limits. I saw that some people who are bad at controlling their rapaciousness end up imprisoned or vilified, while others, equally bad at controlling it but afforded privilege by dint of their class, race, gender or background, end up in powerful positions, feted around the world. A question came with a wave of emotion: How did it come to this, that we are run by our rapaciousness?

Suddenly, I noticed: the rapacious energy is utterly desperate for attention. Its mantra is like me, like me, like me, with the emphasis on me. But however much attention it gets, it remains insatiable; in fact, giving it unquestioning attention seems to make it even more pronounced. I sat with the energy for a long while, unsure how the session would unfold. Even though it was deeply uncomfortable to feel, I began to feel grateful to have identified it, to have seen it for what it is. Gradually, another part of me emerged, a part that can’t bear the pain the rapaciousness causes. My sense is that more and more of us are connecting with this part within us that cannot countenance what the rapaciousness gives rise to, both within ourselves and the world.

Over the next few days, the rapacious energy itself began to change. An insight into its origins came; when I was young, my creature-self needed support to be itself but no support was forthcoming, so it became rapacious as a way to support itself. The rapaciousness developed as a way to deal with the pain of not having my dependency needs met. It is a distorted outgrowth of that original, natural need for support. Only by becoming more fully conscious of it, and meeting it as it is – neither denying it nor feeding it – can we hope to integrate it and so end its excesses, however great or small those excesses may be.

Fiona Robertson is the author of The Dark Night of the Soul: A Journey from Absence to Presence and a Living Inquiries Senior Facilitator/Trainer.

To read more about Fiona Robertson, click here.

Broken Hallelujah

By Colm Burgoyne.  

A tight, controlling anger, with a secretive, yet rapidly responsive mind in defence of its vulnerability, is the thread that my inner looking has been directing me towards much of the day.

I take my time, as I know from experience that rushing inquiry leaves me open to bypassing the more subtle signposts attempting to direct my path into the deeper chambers of discovery.

As I dive deeper, the words come, “I’m not doing it right mum” – a core deficiency of mine – uncovering an agonising pain of loneliness which reaches right back to the loss of my mother many years ago. This recognition, accompanied by a subtle astonishment, comes mixed with a verbalised really? The body responds with yes really, the floods of tears and tightness releasing within my gut being the affirmation of that. The firmly sealed flesh of my heart area starts to loosen a little, as my awareness begins to expand towards other parts of the body that feel tethered to the contraction in the heart, like the bottom of my spine and the muscles in my head. I feel and I notice as images appear from the root of my spine. My awareness however, begins to shift again to a shame attached to the heart area and after giving it a little time to be acknowledged, I ask “is there anything the shame is asking of me?” The word intimacy whispers instinctively. Not intimacy from something external, but an intuitive sense of an intimate togetherness with myself.

Many times in the past, I have made an enemy of shame, innocently misdiagnosing it as something to be kept locked away from prying eyes, not recognising the wisdom underneath. With inquiry, I get to see both sides of shame’s coin. On one level it has served as a protection in a loving way against any perceived harm. Yet, if I turn the coin over, I see how rapidly the freedom of my expression can become enslaved by shame, if I would continue to turn away from facing it. In seeing this, my brokenness turns out to be a signpost that, when followed with enough gentle investigation and patience, a soft Hallelujah appears.

To read more about Colm Burgoyne, click here.