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.
Q: Scott, eventually I want to get to some more controversial and depthful questions about your work. But let’s start off with some basics. What are the Living Inquiries?
Scott: They are a set of tools developed by me and other facilitators to help question the beliefs, stories and identifications that create suffering. They are designed to help us feel emotions and sensations directly in the body, without the layer of words and pictures (i.e., thoughts) stuck to those emotions and sensations. The Inquiries undo what I call “the Velcro Effect” which is the experience of thoughts being stuck to emotions or sensations. There are three main inquiries – The Unfindable Inquiry (UI), the Anxiety Inquiry (AI) and the Compulsion Inquiry (CI). I first developed the Unfindable Inquiry. The Compulsion Inquiry was later co-created by Colette Kelso and me. The Anxiety Inquiry was developed by Fiona Robertson mainly, with some help from me and Colette in the beginning. But virtually all of the facilitators, especially the Senior Facilitators, have helped in the ongoing development of this work. It’s truly a co-creation in every sense. For more information about the Inquiries, visit www.livinginquiries.com.
Q: Please explain how the Unfindable Inquiry works.
Scott: It works through the process of naming it and then finding it. You start by naming what it is you are looking for. For example, you might look for the self or a more specific version of the self like “the person who isn’t good enough.” Where is it? While resting as and looking from awareness, you bring words, pictures, emotions and sensations (elements) into awareness, examining each of them in isolation, one by one. For example, if you are looking for the person who isn’t good enough, you ask that question towards each element. Let’s say a memory in the form of a picture arises. You look at that picture and ask, “Is this picture me, the person who isn’t good enough?” Instead of answering with the mind, you take note of whether there is any emotion or sensation stuck (or “velcroed”) to the picture. If there is, you answer “yes.” If there isn’t, you answer “no.” If there is a yes, you slowly move to that emotion or sensation and ask the same question towards that emotion or sensation, while feeling it without the picture on it. “Is this emotion, by itself, me, the person who isn’t good enough?” If you are experiencing that emotion without any words or pictures on it, you generally answer “no, that isn’t me” and continue resting and letting the emotion be as it is. If there are any words or pictures stuck to that emotion, you answer “yes.”
Then you slowly move to each set of words and each picture, one by one, asking the question. As you move through the various words, pictures, emotions and sensations, you often begin to notice that you cannot find that person. In not finding it, there is a release or relaxation from identification with that story. The key is to stick with the looking, trying to find it wherever you look, at whatever arises. Another important key is slowing your experience down, truly examining everything in slow motion. Trying to move quickly through an inquiry can result in skipping over important elements that continue to create suffering (i.e., bypassing).
For a demonstration of the Unfindable Inquiry, watch these videos on YouTube:
(demonstration of me doing the UI on myself, looking for the Self) and
(here, I am facilitating someone else through the UI).
The video “Understanding the Living Inquiries Before You Inquire” is a good explanation, rather than a demonstration:
Perhaps the best source for understanding how the UI works is in my book, “The Unfindable Inquiry,” which will be released in 2016. If you don’t want to wait for that book to be released, the book, “Living Relationship,” which is available on amazon now, also contains thorough instructions: visit: www.amazon.com. (Note: this is a republished post, the book “Living Relationship” is no longer available via Amazon)
Q: The Compulsion and Anxiety Inquiries work in a similar way?
Scott: Yes, those inquiries are specific adaptations of the Unfindable Inquiry. With the Compulsion Inquiry, the object you are looking for is an urge, desire or command to do something compulsively. The CI can be used not only on addictions but on any compulsive movements e.g., the desire to change your experience or even the urge to be right. With the Anxiety Inquiry, the object you are looking for is the threat, danger or attack that underlies fear or anxiety. The CI and AI work the same way as the UI with the only difference being that you are looking for one of those specific objects, rather than looking for the self. Once you become adept at all three inquiries, you can begin weaving them together, which is very powerful.
Fiona has some great videos explaining how the AI works:
(Introduction to the Anxiety Inquiry) and
(self-facilitation using the AI). She and I are also writing a book on anxiety that will include specific instructions on the AI (to be released in 2016). (Note: this is a republished post, you can find Fiona’s book “The Art of Finding Yourself” by clicking here). The CI is not yet demonstrated in any video. However, my book, “Natural Rest for Addiction” contains specific instructions on it: visit www.amazon.com.
Q: How do you know what to look for with the UI – how to name it?
Scott: Trust your own experience. Who do you think you are? What identity feels really sticky, real or true – or creates suffering? Deficiency stories such as “I’m inadequate,” “I’m unlovable,” or “I’m unsafe” are popular targets for the UI. If you have difficulty naming what to look for, use the Boomerang or Panorama Inquiries (naming tools) to help. Explanations of these tools can be found in the upcoming book, “The Unfindable Inquiry” and also in the book, “Living Relationship.” Essentially, with these naming tools, you are asking what other people or things mirror back to you about who you are. For example, if my father triggers me, I might ask, “What identity is he mirroring back?” Perhaps the answer is, “I’m helpless.” Once I’ve named it, I can then use the UI on that identity. These naming tools work within the mirror of relationship and really help illuminate the root of the suffering. It looks like someone or something outside of myself is the source of the pain. But quite often, the other person is merely triggering a certain identity that is unconscious until I properly name it and then attempt to find it. The UI is not limited to looking for deficiency stories. You could look for anything, such as a table, a bad day, cancer or anything else.
Q: So, the point of these inquiries is to see the unfindability of whatever you are looking for?
Scott: Yes and no. The main purpose of the Inquiries is to allow us to bring into the light of awareness unconscious thoughts, feelings and sensations that create suffering and then to rest and allow them to be as they are. These thoughts, emotions and sensations often fall away naturally just from resting and looking at them. In this way, the Inquiries are providing a natural and deep acceptance of our entire experience. Transformation happens just from that resting, looking and allowing. It also happens through seeing the unfindability of whatever you are looking for. But if people make unfindability the main purpose, as if they are trying to reach an endpoint where they see something as unfindable, they may miss the delicious opportunity that the Inquiries truly provide, which is the experience of allowing everything to be as it is. Essentially, the Inquiries help us change our relationship to thoughts, emotions and sensations, so that we are no longer resisting, trying to change, fighting and/or avoiding whatever arises. Bypassing becomes virtually impossible once you become adept at this kind of inquiry.
Q: Do you suggest that people try the Inquiries on their own or work with a facilitator first?
Scott: Some will be able to read about the Inquiries or watch some videos and then be able to use them skillfully. But in most cases, I suggest people work with a facilitator first. A certified facilitator is trained to help a person spot the identities and other sources of suffering that are largely unconscious and then gently guide them properly through the Inquiries, so that there is no bypassing. Once you become adept at self-facilitating, doing the Inquiries on your own can be incredibly liberating. It’s like having a sword in your arsenal that cuts through suffering like a hot knife through butter. But the key is skillfulness. There are all sorts of pitfalls that people experience when they do not first learn how to properly use this method. This is why working with a facilitator first is so important. Facilitators can be found at www.livinginquiries.com.
Q: I know you did private work online for many years. Do you work with people in groups or one-on-one anymore?
Scott: I only work with clients at the Kiloby Center. It’s a full time job. I no longer work online or in person with people. But there are many, many very good facilitators available for online or in-person work. Occasionally I will do a retreat. But they are few and far between. I am doing weekly podcasts called RUF talks (note: this post is republished, the weekly podcasting has been stopped). They are free. You can listen to them here at www.kiloby.com.
Q: But why have a method? In the nondual community, teachings often say that liberation cannot be realized through a method and that methods often just create more seeking towards the future.
Scott: Some methods do that. But the Living Inquiries are designed to reveal the emptiness of that self that is seeking as well as the object or future state that is being sought. For example, if you really looked for the one who is “unenlightened” and you looked for whatever you are chasing (e.g., enlightenment) you would likely discover that these things are unfindable. You would see that there is no inherent self and no inherent enlightenment. This would relax the seeking and provide a deep rest as present moment awareness and a natural allowing of everything to come and go without identifying with whatever arises.
Q: At the risk of beating a dead horse, I want to stick with this point. All these teachings that shun methods can’t be wrong. Doesn’t the very idea of using a method create the idea of an endpoint that you are trying to reach?
Scott: I’ve already answered that above. But I do understand where your focus behind this question comes from, so I want to honor it. Allow me to elaborate. If someone uses the Inquiries to try and get somewhere (which some do in the beginning until they learn the true purpose of this work) they are missing a key component. They are missing the opportunity to examine the very identity of the seeker and the thing being sought. You can only continue seeking if the identity behind the seeking and the thing being sought are not examined. Again, the main point of the Inquiries is not to reach the point of unfindability. Somewhere along the way, you start to see that the point is to rest and look from and as awareness and let everything be as it is. That’s what enlightenment is really all about. The fact that you can also realize the unfindability of whatever you are looking for is like icing on the cake. The cake is the resting, looking and allowing. The inquiry questions are designed to bring about a more gentle, thorough and directed examination of the elements that make up suffering. They are not intended to make the process heady or overcomplicated. When done skillfully, the questions make looking much easier.
Q: But don’t those Inquiry questions just get in the way? Why not just rest and allow? Isn’t that enough?
Scott: Before the Inquiries were developed, I spoke a lot about the value of just resting and allowing. I still do, as resting and allowing lie at the heart of the Inquiries. The problem is that it just doesn’t go deep enough for many people. Many of us are not consciously feeling emotions and sensations directly as they arise. By directly, I mean feeling them directly in awareness without the veil of thought on them. The Inquiries are designed to help us feel into and rest with whatever arises in the body directly. Our default state is to focus on and identify with thinking. Many teachings focus too much on just watching thoughts or resting as awareness. They do not point people to how to be consciously in their bodies. This is a big miss because so much of our suffering arises in the body. We feel the past and the future in a very visceral way. If you check into your own experience, you will find that you identify with thought mainly when there is an emotion or sensation stuck to it. The stronger the emotion or sensation, the more you believe or identify with the thoughts. The Inquiries help to undo that Velcro between thoughts and the corresponding emotions and sensations. I have noticed that many people who have been involved with nondual teachings for decades are still suffering and seeking some future state, mainly because they haven’t yet developed the skill of truly allowing the emotions and sensations to arise and dissolve without thoughts on them. They wonder why they are still suffering so much and still seeking. But it isn’t rocket science. It’s just that a big part of their experience (the body) remains unconscious. The Inquiries help everything come into the light of awareness. No stone is left unturned. You cannot learn the Inquiries and use them skillfully and continue to suffer and seek.
Q: What do you mean by suffering? Are you saying that the Inquiries eradicate all emotional and psychological pain?
Scott: The trajectory of this work is the natural diminishment or elimination of emotional and psychological pain. But suffering is not the same as temporarily experiencing negative thoughts, emotions and sensations. Suffering means to carry identification over time – to identify with something, believe it, feel pain over it and continue identifying with it for hours, days, weeks, months or even years. Thoughts, emotions and sensations are natural, temporary arisings in our experience. This is not about trying to eradicate them through the force of personal will. It is not about trying to get somewhere, including to a future place where you feel no pain. It is about allowing every arising to be as it is and undoing the velcro that holds the arisings together. It is about seeing that what you perceive to be real and true and to be the source of your suffering is actually unfindable. It is about seeing that thoughts only stick around and make you suffer when you do not notice and fully, gently allow the emotion or sensation stuck to it. As you begin to see this more and more, in the midst of whatever is arising, suffering diminishes or even vanishes. But again, it’s not a seeking game. It’s a game of resting, allowing and asking a few skillful questions to truly face and resolve what makes you suffer.
Q: How deeply can one take the Inquiries? It seems as though someone could use them in only a surface-level way, dealing only with some painful thoughts and emotions. But couldn’t one also take them deeper than that, into seeing that everything is unfindable?
Scott: Yes, this work is influenced by (but different from) the Madhyamaka School of Buddhism, a rarely translated school. I first learned about the teaching of unfindability from my friend and teacher, Greg Goode. In this school, the point is to refute the notion that things exist inherently. Inherent existence makes us suffer because we are constantly misperceiving reality and the people, things and circumstances of our lives as being objective, fixed and permanent. If you take the Inquiries very deeply, you begin to see the emptiness of everything. This is incredibly liberating. If one does not want to take it that far, the Inquires can be used to simply deal with some pesky addictions or anxieties or deficiency stories that create suffering. It’s up to each individual to gauge how deeply he or she wants to go.
Q: Emptiness – a confusing term. In awareness teachings, emptiness is often considered to be the same as awareness. Is this what you mean, that life starts feeling like a big empty space?
Scott: No, even that big empty space is unfindable if you look for it using the UI. Emptiness here means that whatever object you were perceiving to be true, real, objective, fixed and permanent does not exist that way at all. Seeing the emptiness of a thing means that you cannot find it when you look for it. If you then come to rest in what feels like a big, open, empty space called awareness, you can look for that awareness and see that it too is empty and unfindable. This helps from landing on the notion that life is one big void (which can bring about nihilism or dogmatic thinking). The big void is as unfindable as the self or a threat or urge. All things are equally unfindable.
Q: If one takes the Inquiries that deeply, wouldn’t life start feeling meaningless? Everything would seem to be untrue and illusory right?
Scott: As I answer these questions, keep in mind that I am speaking from my own direct experience. I am not assuming that everyone comes to see things as I do. Meaningless only becomes a landing point when you refuse to look at it. Meaningless is unfindable also. Life is full of meaning. Every word I type has meaning. Every story we tell has meaning. The difference is that you see that nothing has inherent meaning. This “means” (see the irony?) that all the stories in life continue showing up but you are not identified with them. You are not grasping and clinging to them anymore. You can play in this world with all of its stories. Tell them. Listen to them. Enjoy them. Argue with them. But you also see the illusory nature of all these stories at the same time. It’s paradoxical. For example, if you looked for the self and didn’t find it, you would still refer to yourself as “Joe” including all the stories that pertain to Joe, but you would do so with a lightness and non-seriousness about it all. Life becomes joyful play, rather than the serious and heavy sense that everything you are thinking about a Joe and about everything else is objectively true and real.
Q: But how does this help the world’s problems? How does this end terrorism, for example?
Scott: It doesn’t, unless terrorists start to inquire into the inherent beliefs that propel them into violence. Inquiry is something you do for yourself. As Michael Jackson sang, start with “the man in the mirror.” You begin to change the world by changing your relationship to thoughts, emotions and sensations. With that investigation, you begin to see the world very differently. Until the terrorists and murderers of the world begin to inquire, we have to look at more conventional ways to address these problems. I’ll leave that to the politicians and I’ll vote for those politicians who are aware of the possibility that even their own beliefs are empty. Inquiry opens the door to more transparent, compassionate, loving and harmonized relationships. Right now, the world is largely involved in a lot of outward pointing. It’s always someone else’s fault. Something or someone else is seen to be the source of pain and suffering. Inquiry encourages us to go deeper into the triggers, beliefs and identifications behind all that outward pointing. It would be amazing to see two world leaders engaged in inquiry about each other or two dogmatic religious people inquiring into their beliefs. But inquiry is very threatening to our most precious beliefs. That fear alone stops many people from taking a deeper look.
Q: Relationships are so challenging, including the relationships between people and between groups, nations, religions and political parties. Is there any hope that we will all begin to investigate our perceptions more thoroughly to help harmonize these relationships?
Scott: We are far from that right now. You don’t see Inquiry on CNN. You don’t hear about it in presidential speeches or debates. You don’t often see couples who are mutually engaged in inquiry instead of reacting from the usual triggers. Part of it is education. Many people don’t even know about the possibility of inquiry. They heve never even heard the word “inquiry.” The more we speak about inquiry and the value of it and demonstrate its effectiveness in our own lives, the more other people will catch on to it. Freedom is very contagious.
Q: Couldn’t inquiry result in someone staying in an abusive relationship instead of taking action to leave or speak up more?
Scott: Not if it is done thoroughly and effectively. Most people find they are able to take clearer action after inquiring. For example, just looking for the “victim” can dissolve the victim identity. And that identity keeps many people in relationships that are harmful or destructive. Inquiring into one’s own suppressed voice or expression can bring about a greater ability to speak up in relationship.
Q: Do people experience a sort of nothingness about themselves after inquiring, such that self-love becomes irrelevant?
Scott: Quite the opposite. Speak to facilitators who have used the Inquiries on the deepest identifications. They will most likely tell you that there is much more self-love and compassion now. That’s another paradox. One might think that the result is just seeing no self or self as like an empty space. But in a very mysterious way, inquiry brings about a compassion, love and acceptance for how we show up in life in any given moment.
Q: How has Inquiry helped you personally?
Scott: The previous deficiency story that ran my life – I’m unlovable – is nowhere on the radar for me. It feels like a faint memory with no velcroed emotion or sensation with it. This allows me to experience more unconditional love towards myself and people with whom I am in relationship. I feel much more comfortable being whoever or whatever I am in any moment. Yet I cannot truly define what or who I am, which allows me to take myself and everything else much less seriously. It has also helped tremendously with trauma, anxiety and addiction. Addiction has virtually been wiped off the map for me. I still indulge in some pleasures, but I don’t feel shackled to them.
Q: What would you say to those readers who are reading your answers here, but who still feel reluctant to learn and use the Inquiries?
Scott: Just try it. What do you have to lose? Even if you have no money to work with a facilitator, there are plenty of free videos explaining how the process works, so that you can try it on your own. If it doesn’t work, you can abandon it. But it is very rare for someone to try it and find that it doesn’t help at all. Mostly what stops people from trying it is fear, close-mindedness or some idea that methods generally don’t work. Some people are just not ready for this work. They need to suffer more. But suffering has a way of leading people to what works. So they may eventually come to the Inquiries after a few more years of suffering. Any resistance one experiences towards this work can be examined through inquiry. For me, life is too short not to have a skillful way of examining the source of my suffering.
Q: Aren’t some people really stuck in their heads around spiritual concepts and not really experiencing what nondual teachings are truly pointing to? How can those people be helped with Inquiry?
Scott: Yes, we call this overcompensation. It is safer to cling to the concepts than to examine them. Overcompensation is a way of avoiding the deeper, more painful emotions and sensations in the body. It’s often a way of masking unresolved trauma. It’s always a question of readiness. Do you want to strengthen your ideas and your knowledge about spirituality or do you want to directly experience freedom? Do you want to continue bypassing and overcompensating or do you want to examine and resolve the pain underneath all of that? For me, the choice is very easy. I know that during times in which I was trying to understand all these spiritual concepts, I was bypassing. I was not ready to examine the deeper pain. But life has a way of showing us how we are not going deep enough. The suffering continues until we open the door to looking more skillfully. That’s when Inquiry can help a lot.
Q: Do you still inquire?
Scott: Much less than I used to. The less suffering there is, the less there is to examine through inquiry. And now I am experimenting at the Kiloby Center with new avenues of exploration, ways that incorporate the basic foundation of the Inquiries but add new elements, especially elements that address deeply rooted contractions and trauma in the body.
Q: What does Scott still need to examine? Is there any suffering left for you?
Scott: No, I don’t carry things over in time. Occasionally, a small trigger will arise, but it is usually seen very quickly, resolving itself on its own. When my mother passed, I felt tremendous waves of grief. But the inquiries helped to remain conscious of the deep pain. They allowed me to see that grief is really just love, disguised as pain. But there was certainly pain there. It resolved itself naturally but the grieving process had to be fully explored. The pain has not been carried over in time. When I think about my mother, I feel only love and compassion. In the last five years, I have focused more on some of the deeper contractions near my spine, remnants of earlier trauma from growing up gay and being bullied. But those have largely released. There is still some energy in small pockets near the spine. They are dissolving naturally through simple rest and occasional inquiry. It’s been quite an amazing process to watch, as previous deficiency stories, addictions and anxieties have fallen away, resulting in the deeper contractions and blocked energies coming into the light of awareness and slowly dissolving. Life is great! There is no end to the depth of freedom. It hasn’t always been easy. I have dealt with a lot of pain through the years. But I feel so blessed to have found this approach. I can’t imagine a life without it. This is why I’m so enthusiastic about this work. This is why I write and speak about it so much. I just want others to know that it is out there and that they don’t have to suffer anymore.
This post is republished from the previous Living Inquiries website
By Melanie Balint Gray. I’ve been exploring deprivation as I walk through the twists and turns of my convoluted path from unconscious overeating to… to simple, joyful eating: eating that is easy, enjoyable, and restorative.
A sense of deprivation has been a core experience throughout this journey. It was what I told myself sometimes—since you can’t have such and such go eat because you can always have food.
But, an attitude of deprivation also informed my approach to food. Deprive yourself of sugar so that you don’t get fat from all those empty calories. You can substitute zero-calorie, artificial sweeteners instead. Deprive yourself of this fat, but allow yourself that kind of fat. Stop eating sugar and flour. And on and on and on.
I hoped that cleaning up what I ate would leave me feeling satiated after every meal. It did begin to physically satiate me.
But, this pesky deprivation kept creeping back in. I can’t have this. I can’t have that. I can’t do this. I can’t do that.
I sat with this gnawing deprivation awhile and memories floated upward into plain view; memories not of when I’d been deprived by my parents or by some circumstance, but memories of when I had deprived myself. Of what? Of allowing deprivation the room to fully express itself. Of squashing deprivation, making it wrong, alienating it.
I learned quite early that displays of emotions other than happiness were not welcome. I grew up with training from that song “Put on a Happy Face.” Even as a young child, no matter what feelings lurked beneath my façade, I was to smile, say I was fine and be cheery.
So, early on I received advanced training in keeping a cheery veneer. It’s as if there was a lockdown underway inside, disallowing any other feelings. If they did venture out, some feistiness or some sadness, a scolding resulted so I put them on lockdown again. I cheated myself of feeling them.
Deprivation keeps knocking on that thick, metal prison door these days. And now, I’m beginning to attend to it. It wants release and it wants to bring all of its prison mates along. A total breakout! The list of prisoners is long, too—spanning the spectrum of feelings from ecstasy to despair. You see, happy, is only one, small sliver of the spectrum of emotions. So many emotions were cut off then and are blunted these days out of habit when they do escape for a bit.
There is one night in my childhood that deprivation still inhabits and it has taken me back there few times lately. I’m beginning to feel into the depth of the aloneness I felt that night when there was no one to turn to for help, only myself. There is fuller understanding of how everyone involved was crippled by this “Put on a Happy Face” command, so that no one could begin to untangle how they felt, revise how they behaved or have any shred of a healing conversation about it. Deprived. We were all totally deprived of the capacity of allowing genuine feelings to emerge. Feelings that could open hearts and heal wounds. That was just how it was. It could not have been any other way.
So, this feeling of deprivation has kindly led me to compassion; compassion for all of us.
It seems that deprivation still has some life within me. I’m more ready to sink into it now. What else will it show me? What’s the next gift it holds?
I realised during a recent self-inquiry that I had been feeding my deficiency story – literally.
As I sat down to inquire, I saw the words there is a choice. In that moment, the choice was palpable. It can sometimes seem – particularly when we’re in the grip of fear, compulsion, or intense feelings – that there isn’t a choice. When choice becomes an option, however, we get to see in intricate detail exactly how we make our choices. I saw the moments in which I choose deficiency habits; I reach for the chocolate, or watch yet another episode, or leave the washing up until the next morning.
None of those things are – in themselves – a problem. I don’t have anything against chocolate, television or mess per se. The point is that as we continue to inquire, our ability to discern the difference between compulsiveness and non-compulsiveness, deficient or non-deficient behaviour, gradually increases. The piece of chocolate brownie shared with my sister over a cup of tea and warm conversation the other day? No shred of compulsion or deficiency. The two pieces of chocolate I had after dinner every night the week before? Definitely compulsive and linked to a sense of inner lack. Don’t be fooled by amounts or degree. Yes, the magnitude of the compulsion may be large or small – three family-size bars of chocolate versus two squares of 75% Ecuadorian – but the underlying movement of compulsion is the same. When a deficiency story is running, we make deficient choices.
More words came: There is a choice in each moment. Heaven or hell. It’s in my/your hands. I saw that – when choice is available to us – we can access true self-discipline. This isn’t the punitive, masochistic discipline of should, ought, or must, the inner critic task-master, but the kind discipline of a self that transcends and yet embraces all the stories we tell about ourselves, a self that knows what we truly need or desire because it knows that we are completely whole exactly as we are.
Suddenly, the original intent of commandments and precepts became apparent; they give us a supportive framework to keep us in integrity whenever we are tempted to indulge the deficient self in ways that may harm ourselves or others. Just at that moment, my deficient self (keen to emphasise its deficiency, in case I’d forgotten) said Yes, but I made the wrong choices. Despite its protestations, it became very clear that all that matters is now, where the choice is being made. What are we choosing in this moment?
The deficient self is often lax and indulgent. It wants to treat itself because life is so _____ and it deserves more ______ (fill in the blanks). It has a tendency to talk or think endlessly about its past suffering or inevitable future calamities. It is good at indulging, justifying and punishing itself, often in equal measure. And our cultures cater to or even reward such behaviour. Expensive cosmetics ‘because we’re worth it’. Constant temptations – based on blatant appeals to our deficient selves – to have or get or be more or better.
As I inquired, it became clear that it is time for me to stop feeding or indulging the deficient self, and that this requires a modicum of self-discipline because the deficient self is, in part, a habit. A well-worn groove of choices made over and over again from a simple lack of awareness, a misunderstanding about who I really am. As I stayed with my experience of the deficient self in that moment – a feeling of immense hurt throughout my body – it became very clear that this feeling didn’t want cake, chocolate, television dramas, or any other kind of indulgence. It wanted goodness and a major change in perspective. It wanted to no longer be defined as a self. A sense of self-discipline or ‘moral fibre’ arose, a sense of being able to discern where goodness really lies in any given moment. I saw a cartoon-like image of a cage in a zoo, complete with the caption Do Not Feed the Deficient Self.
Since this session, I’ve noticed significant changes. The uneaten chocolate is sitting here on the shelf and the ‘I’ve been working hard so I need a reward’ snacking has ceased. I’ve had unexpected surges of physical energy and I’ve been moving and holding myself very differently – more upright, less apologetically, more solidly.
Inevitably, each time we unravel a sense of deficiency, we grow up a little more. We have fewer excuses to not be who we really are. We no longer feel as if we’re on the margins, defined by our suffering. We act in integrity much more of the time, and yield to the temptations and indulgences of the deficient self far less often. Our long-suffering bodies no longer have to bear the burdens of deficient choices and behaviours. We learn what it is to truly nourish ourselves. We come out of the cage of deficiency and fully into being, into life.