When I used to read the spiritual traditions that put forth the instruction to reach “no thought” or “no mind” it seemed like an impossible task. But I was just naive enough to try. And when I tried, I realized that a lot of thoughts came through. At first, these were mainly time-bound story thoughts of past and future, the kind that everyone experiences as “me.” But just sticking with noticing them coming and going, without clinging or rejecting any of them, brought the realization of “no mind.” Let’s call noticing thoughts in this way instruction #1. That realization is not the experience of having no thoughts. Those experiences of having absolutely no thoughts happened and continue to happen.
The realization of “no mind” is the ongoing, moment by moment seeing that thoughts arise and fall but none of them are “me.” They have no substantial nature. They don’t last. They come and go to nothing. They do not come and go in or to a mind. “Mind” is just another thought, hence the term “no mind.” In realizing this, all the fruits that the traditions promised revealed themselves in one way or another. There was light, love, bliss and all sorts of experiences of nothingness, Oneness and no self. But these too were just experiences. Like thoughts, experiences come and go. This became very clear.
All of that was the easy part. Despite these experiences and realizations, the body had a different way into “this.” It held all the pain that had never been processed. It stored the contractions that came with being an embodied human. It held blockages and all sorts of odd sensations, such that energy could not flow smoothly. It carried all the urges of my addictions and the perceived threats of my anxieties. In terms of the body, I began to notice the difference between emotions and the denser sensations that seemed physical, almost structural. The latter includes the blockages and contractions that made the body feel somewhat dense, even when the mind was empty of identification with story thoughts.
With regard to emotions, the key was just to feel them. And that meant feeling into them, without thoughts, and letting them just float freely without trying to avoid, fix or fight them. That too was fairly simple and straightforward. Let’s call that way of being with emotions instruction #2 because it is different than instruction #1. One isn’t noticing thoughts, but instead feeling INTO emotion, without thoughts, as if they belong to no one (because they do belong to no one). Whatever message an emotion sends, that insight can be gained and acted upon without clinging to emotion. I say that to answer all the folks who might ask, “But isn’t emotion there to tell me something or help me act.” Yes, perhaps. But there can still be a non-clinging to an emotion even when action is taken or a response happens.
When I say that instruction #2 was simple and straightforward, I do not mean that it was easy. It was simply intuitive. With each emotional wave, the tendency was to avoid, fix or feel at first. But in resting with and in each emotion, they too were seen to be “not me.” They too didn’t last. Feeling into them felt intuitively right since I had spent most of my life trying to avoid, fix or fight emotions. The clinging to emotions ended with the employment of instruction #2, just as the clinging to story thoughts ended with instruction #1.
This is not to say that, now and then, story thoughts and emotions do not arise. They do. But in the non-clinging, they are seen to be insubstantial. Not only do they not define me. But they are not me. What I am cannot be defined or grasped in any way. To even say that it is awareness or the Tao or emptiness is to go too far. Those thoughts come and go and there is no clinging to them. And if clinging arises, instruction #1 is the right medicine. There is no nihilism in this way of being, for nihilism is just another set of story thoughts that have not been examined with instruction #1.
But the body with its denser sensations was another story altogether, quite literally. I did not see at first that the body was a series of images in the mind. It was quite literally a story being told by the appearance of images. But again, I did not see this at first. Everything felt physical, from the blockages to the contractions, to the bones and muscles. And as long as these blockages were there, addictive behavior continued in one form or another. As long as there is separation sensed in the body, there will be a grasping outside oneself to medicate these blockages and contractions. But upon further investigating, I noticed that I know these things in the body and I know the body itself mainly by way of these images coming and going. Feeling into images makes no sense. How would one do that? They are pictures.
So, I went back to square one. If the body is experienced mainly as images, then these images are thoughts. And the rule with thoughts is to let them be seen, let them come and go and let them depart naturally just by seeing them in this way. Non-clinging. That made all the difference. I knew then that all the myriad ways people try to heal the body can be one big act of futility, for to heal the body by treating it as something more than images is a recipe for frustration. This is not to say that medicine, massage, acupuncture and various Eastern and Western approaches to healing the body were useless. No, they definitely helped. But if there is identification with the body, a 1000 massages or acupuncture sessions will only go so far. And the best medicine, East or West, will only heal or deal with a specific element of one’s experience. With identification comes a lifetime of suffering that cannot be dealt with until identification is no longer happening.
Once I began to see the body as images in the mind, I simply began to notice those images coming and going. And blockages began to undo themselves naturally. Energy that was previously stuck began to move, up and out. It became to flow more smoothly. The body was seen to be a story and when the story was no longer identified with, the body was no longer identified with. This is not to say that images of the body do not arise. Again, they arise, but instruction #1 is all that is needed. Sometimes those blockages released emotion, in which case I would feel into those emotions, without thoughts (instruction #2). The body began to feel transparent, empty and also “not me.” This was a major breakthrough in my pathless path.
There are some who claim that they see no pictures when it comes to experiencing the body. Maybe so. Trust your experience. But do investigate how you know that what you are experiencing is a body. Do you see the shape of the body or a body part within the mind’s eye (within awareness)? Do you sense or feel any shapes? Do blockages seem to have containers, edges or boundaries? If so you are experiencing the body by way of images. I invite you to do as I did, witness them for what they are. See them come and go. If you do not see images, investigate words that stream through awareness telling you that you are your body or that your body is this or that. Those are thoughts. And instruction #1 will work just fine.
This post is republished from the previous Living Inquiries website
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
It’s no secret – most of us humans are, to some degree, “control freaks.”
“Can we stop obsessing over the need to control everything around us?” I don’t know, but honestly I’m not sure we need to. That is, if we can learn how to be in relationship with this very normal human attribute. Studying the way we try to exert control or be in charge – as well as how we subtly or covertly resist throughout our days – can help us experience an increased sense of well-being because we are then in a mindset of engaging with, rather than of feeling overpowered by. Sound good so far? I think we can all use a bit more well-being these days.
What if it didn’t have to be so hard?
What if relinquishing control weren’t as complicated as we think it is?
There are all sorts of psychosomatic reasons why we unconsciously try to be in control, and my clients and I explore that territory intimately on a 1:1 basis or in group settings. But let’s break it down to something more universal: we all resist, control, and try so hard to be in charge because, fundamentally, (1) it’s become a habit and (2) no one ever taught us that there is another path we can take. Whilst being in control may feel good in some ways, it’s ultimately exhausting. And so, growing weary and ill under the weight of all this trying, we swing to the other side, desperately trying to not be in control. In other words, we struggle to surrender. But all that trying, even in the opposite direction, not only continues to be exhausting but can keep us stuck even more deeply.
We live in a fast paced culture which doesn’t give much attention to the mechanics of our interior world, so how we live in our bodies often evades us. We don’t realize, for example, how much muscular tension we’re holding, how tight we’re gripping within our body, and how much effort is being exerted even whilst doing simple tasks. What if we regularly took time throughout the day to reconnect with ourselves and notice, in our simple everyday happenings, ways in which we could experience relief? What if releasing tension and stress were simply a matter of curious exploring.
Let’s explore. Not to fix, but to connect. Not to control, but to discover.
Get comfortable because we’re going on an experiential journey, and I find that it’s useful to be comfortable while going on such an exploration. So plop into your favorite chair or couch. Grab a cup of tea and a blanket. Get cozy. (And for my Australian mates, turn on the fan!)
Pause right here. Yes, here. Here with the object on which you’re sitting, and you. Let’s start here. And let’s take a moment to ponder what’s here already.
Connect to the absolute simplest of happenings that is right here, right now. Your butt on the object you’re sitting/lying upon. Your back, resting against the bed / the chair / space. Your body is making contact in lots of ways. Feel the contact. Do nothing with it. Just notice the sensations of connection that are already happening
Most of us take for granted that our bodies are always making contact with solidity, but we are! I mean, have any of you ever walked on air? Or sat a few feet off the ground? Or slept hovering over your bed? Have you ever wondered, as you got out of bed in the morning, “I wonder if there will be something under me when I roll out of bed!” Of course not. We don’t question it, we don’t give it a second thought. We know that, due to this thing called “gravity,” we will always land on the floor when we get out of bed. The same goes for when we sit down. We don’t need to think about it. We just plop down and there’s the chair… holding us. Ditto for our beds at night. We don’t figure out how to lie down, we just do. We live under the influence and impact of gravity for pretty much every moment of our lives, and we can curiously study this so as to bring ourselves into present moment awareness.
We take the energetic experience of gravity for granted. But what if we didn’t?
What if, instead of unconsciously sitting, walking, and lying down, we consciously connected with these experiences? I remember what happened when I started to notice the presence of gravity, and it was pretty cool.
Maybe you’ll discover something totally different, but what I discovered was a space of holding that was coming not from within me, but from around me. The force of gravity literally holds us, and we can explore that in a direct experience kind of way.
Whether we want to be or not, we’re all subject to this energetic presence of gravity. If we choose to, we can consciously connect to this gravitational experience, and in doing so we can become more intimate with ourselves and be more present in our experience. We can also come to know how we resist in both our present moment experience and in our physiology.
Let’s start with our present moment and our physiology. While you read, include the rest of your body.
Let’s continue our experiential journey. Bring your attention back to the chair, the bed, the ground – wherever you’re positioned. These solid objects that we’re sitting/standing/lying upon are holding us. If you’re sitting in a chair or on a bed, it might be curious to notice that these objects have literally been created to hold our bodies. And yet, how often do we lie tight and tense in bed at night, or hold ourselves rigid whilst sitting in our chairs? Sure, I know posture is important, but holding our muscles tight and tense is not posture. It’s rigidity that comes from being disconnected from our actual direct experience that a chair is holding our body. We’ve practically forgotten that we don’t actually need to be tight and tense all the time.
Take a moment to breathe, and let the chair hold your body. Yes, that’s it: hand yourself over to this object which is already holding you, which has been designed to hold you, and which does hold you, no matter whether you’re rigid or soft. So, why not soften a little? Just for the fun of it… Breathe, and feel. Feel, and breathe. Keep it simple. There’s nothing to figure out, no problem to solve, and nowhere to go. Feel the sitting already happening, and the breathing already underway.
Invite the body and breath to catch up with each other.
To assist you in this – because sometimes we actually have to be taught how to not hold our bodies tight – keep your attention on your breath. Don’t alter it, just include it in your field of noticing. Notice and feel how the breath moves the body. Notice how the breath moves the body upwards (as if against gravity) upon inhalation, and how the body falls downwards with the exhalation. Stay with this cycle for awhile. Breathe in, body up (and often outward). Breathe out, body down (often with an inward sensation).
Now, as you feel your exhalation, really let gravity have you. That’s right. Hand your holdings, your tightenings, your efforts over to gravity as you exhale. You may try some sighing or audible exhalation to help yourself really feel this. With each exhalation let the body release, fall, empty, and soften.
Breathe in, breathe out. Notice what you experience. That’s it.
Are you bored a bit? That might be the case, because there is nothing to solve here and the ego mind loves having problems to solve. But keep your attention leaning towards curiosity, and let’s continue.
There may be nothing to solve here but there is loads to be curious about, and even more to discover.
Turn your attention now to your jaw, your cheeks, and your mouth. Are your lips pursed together? Is your jaw hinged shut? Or is your mouth open, your jaw unhinged, and your cheek bones soft? I don’t know about you, but personally (and for must humans that I talk to) I hold an awful lot of tension in my jaw. The thing is, however, I didn’t know this until I knew it. So don’t be too fast to respond to these questions. Take five minutes and breathe, and feel, and explore into the experience of your facial muscles. For you thinkers out there: thinking is useless for this experiment. You’ll need to shelf it for a few minutes, and hand attention over to the body to feel.
As you just sit and breathe, invite the lips to part, the mouth to open, the jaw to soften, and the cheek bones to release. Keep breathing, particularly noticing the exhalations. When most people start to explore their jaw and head regions in this way, they are quite blown away by how much unnecessary holding has been going towards nothing useful at all. There are no useful reasons why we need to be efforting, holding, gripping our facial muscles in this way most of the time, but we continue to do so out of habit. Please try it– you have nothing to lose, except perhaps any headaches or jaw issues you might suffer from.
Thank goodness for conscious awareness.
By utilizing your ability to be aware of your experience, that which was invisible can now become known. Holdings and exertions that ran the experience of you can now start to loosen. By continuing to consciously explore your body throughout the day, you’ll be able shift these stressful laden habits into new habits that will facilitate ease and bring increased well-being into your life.
It may seem simple, and that’s because it is. But it’s not always easy. Just like with all new practices, the more you change one thing, the more you’ll notice a slew of other things that you never realized were connected. (Pssst! Those tight muscles are connected to the need to be in control, in charge, and/or in some version of ego identity.) One of the hardest parts of being more intimate with your body will be the incessant thoughts that try to convince you that spinning out of control is a more useful way to spend your time. (Pssst! Don’t believe everything you think!)
A possible outcome of this increased consciousness of your body is that, in the process, you may develop a more friendly and intimate relationship with yourself and the present moment. This means less “spinning out” and living from your hamster-wheel thoughts, and more living in the direct experience of now.
Now drop down lower into other areas of your body. In fact, while you’re at it, you might as well find out what’s going on with your body from head to toes. Why not engage in a full body scan? You will deepen your awareness of yourself, bit by bit, discovering all sorts of things that you hadn’t previously noticed.
Just below the head is another favorite place where people (including myself) unnecessarily or habitually hold tension: the shoulders. A year or so ago I’d randomly started to find my shoulders inching up to my ears. Bringing conscious attention to this habit allowed it to release, and as that happened I experienced fewer neck and shoulder aches, and less stress overall.
Move your attention away from your shoulders now and let it curiously explore other areas of your body. Are you clenching your hands? Your stomach? Your back? Your inner thighs? Your toes? All day long we unintentionally and habitually grasp, and hold, and exert. We just do this stuff, out of habit, thinking we have to. And sometimes we do. But whilst just sitting and breathing in a chair? We don’t have to tighten and hold so much during those times. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have to hold less and less once we realize that we can hold less and less.
Whilst exploring, continue to notice that there is always this field gravity here, in every second. You are either subtly or overtly fighting against it, or surrendering to it. (This applies to walking, sitting, standing, or lying down.) In every moment, you can notice how gravity is here. You can play with this experientially, and feel the dramatic relief of curiously exploring the body, rather than being caught in a hamster-wheel of obsessive thoughts.
Notice and commune with the simple.
Most people think that our experiences, or these states of being, are coming from the mind. We’re used to having most of our attention on our mental activities/thoughts. But there are corresponding sensations in the body, so keep dropping your attention below the level of the hamster-wheel mind, and come to the direct experiences of your body.
As you continue to play with your own experience of yourself – and by the way, how cool is that!!? – keep being curious. What is holding now that wasn’t a moment ago, or vice versa? How is a sense of unnecessary exertion, trying, grasping, or holding happening in this moment? The mind loves to complicate things, so keep coming back to simple.
Be curious, and ask yourself questions. “What is holding now that doesn’t need to be?” “What else can I let go of?” “What would it feel like to release this habitual holding in this moment?” “Can I surrender the holding of my muscles into gravity, into the chair, into space, in this moment?” “What is it like to feel the breath move through my body?” Keep being available to simple noticings.
It may also be useful to curiously play with questions such as “What am I releasing the tension into? Where does it go?” “What (or who) seems to “catch” or hold gravity itself?” Ask these questions not to get definitive answers, but to find out what arises.
As you’re experimenting, notice that this is all happening in relationship. There is never just you and yourself. There is always a sense of a “you” who is relating to a sense of something else. You’re never really on your own, even if it seems that way. There is always attention, tending to something. Get intimate with what that is like to know that.
Most often we gravitate (no pun intended) toward thoughts as if we were solipsistic creatures. But we’re so much more than that, and we live in a universe that is so much wider and deeper than that. We can explore the depth and width of the universe by remembering to consciously connect to this presence of gravity that is already here. We’re habituated to hold and tighten our bodies, to try to control almost all the time, but we don’t have to. We can experience a kind and gentle relationship with our very being and with our universe.
Remember- this gravitational presence is always here. We trust it every day of our lives. Why not lean into- ground into- this trust, with your whole self, and experience ease and spaciousness in the process?
Keep playing and let me know how it goes!
What have you been habitually holding all these years without knowing it? What is it like to release these habits?
P.S. Sometimes we need a little support.
I have loads of audio rests that guide through this process. Send me an email if you’d like to receive them!
What we resist, persists. This is age-old wisdom. When it comes to body contractions, this bit of wisdom is, perhaps, the most important insight. A body contraction is dense sensation usually in the throat, chest, stomach or pelvic area. I’ve always seen the various contractions experienced in my body as unfelt emotions/sensations that have crystallized into dense, solid energy over time. Sometime long ago, probably in early childhood, certain emotions and sensations were simply too much to bear. Something in my system shut down and contracted against the painful emotion/sensation and suppressed it. I came to find out later that, as long as there was some contraction in the body, there was usually some addiction operating.
I spent the earlier years of my life just trying to survive in the face of these painful emotions and sensations. My system unconsciously solidified contraction through those years. I then spent years reaching out towards addictive substances and activities to distract myself from, medicate or cover up these painful energies. It didn’t seem like I had any other choice. This was how my system learned to cope with what could not/had not been fully felt. These substances and activities gave only temporary relief. The contraction would come back, emerging out of nowhere, apparently screaming for more of this substance or that activity. Vicious cycle!
When I met the possibility of releasing these contractions through spiritual teachings and therapeutic modalities, I made an innocent “mistake” that so many make. I know, I know, there are no mistakes. But just hear me out.
I was trying too much. My very intention was to get rid of the contraction. I spent years doing everything in my power to relax, release, rest, explore, meditate inquire into, and transform these contractions. I didn’t realize that most of my efforts were, at the very least, keeping contraction in place, and often actually strengthening it.
Before the Living Inquiries were developed, several of those contractions had already released just through the recognition of awareness and the allowing of everything to be as it is (all words, pictures and sensations). But some of the more stubbornly dense energies remained, as did the addictions that went with them.
Even once the Inquiries were developed, I continued to make the same innocent mistake. I was trying to release contractions with these new tools. This was my conscious or unconscious intention. The fatal error. I noticed that if I had any intention at all to get rid of that energy, it simply stayed around. What I resisted, persisted.
As facilitators of the Living Inquiries, we often encourage clients to rest and let everything be as it is. This is a great instruction to help relax the trying. But sometimes it is just not enough. It wasn’t for me, at least not with respect to these denser bodily sensations. My mind heard that “pointer” but somehow the unconscious intention to get rid of the energy was operating beneath the “rest.”
As I traced back my lifetime, and saw what had happened, I noticed that there was a sort of default pattern in the body and mind, a bug in the operating system, if you will. The pattern showed up in the moment like this:
Whatever feels really uncomfortable
I don’t want it to arise
I don’t love it when it is here (in fact, I hate it)
I want it to go away
When I first started using the Living Inquiries on some of the leftover contractions, this bug was still operating. And I had no idea! No matter how much I noticed that the thoughts, emotions and sensations were not me – that I was aware of these things coming and going – the contraction remained. And it remained because of this unexamined default pattern.
I knew the Inquiries were a great tool for investigating body contractions – the best tool I’d found so far. But I knew I needed to stop and back up, so to speak. A little debugging had to take place first. I knew it wasn’t even about recognizing awareness anymore, because the pattern was so unconscious that it was running even as awareness was clearly realized.
Instead, I simply began to say the following phrase every time the contraction would arise, while being aware of sensations and the shapes/pictures that went with those sensations:
“Thank you for arising, I love you, you are welcome to stay.”
After stating the phrase, I would just rest – do nothing! Go about my life!
I began saying this about two years ago, after I had read about Ho’oponopono, a Hawaii practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. I simply revised the practice and turned it towards body contraction.
Why was it helpful? If you showed unconditional love to a friend who showed up at your door, wouldn’t your attitude be, “Thank you for coming, I love you, you are welcome to stay?” Anything else is resistance. And what we resist, persists.
Just saying this phrase changed the game. It was like deprogramming this deeply-held and unconscious belief that “I don’t want it to arise, I hate it and I want it to go away.” What I noticed is that, once I said that, I didn’t need to inquire into the contraction, at least not at first. Everything was just fine, sweet even! Even the pain just was, whatever it was. Not a big deal when there was no resistance to it.
I even noticed that sometimes the very intention to inquire after I had used this saying carried with it the intention to get rid of the contraction (again). Using inquiry in that way could have merely solidified the contraction. I noticed there was very little inclination to check to see if the contraction had gone away after saying the phrase. That was clearly not the purpose of the saying. The saying was meant to reveal a natural, loving acceptance of the sensations, an acceptance that felt beyond the mind.
This had a deprogramming effect on the bug. Ironically, this phrase, after repeating it quite a bit, began to release the contraction – not necessarily all the way. But it was like it didn’t matter anymore. The bug had loosened its creepy little arms and legs from the energy that was arising (there is no bug, it’s just a metaphor). When there was no intention to get rid of whatever was left of the contraction, I would gently begin to inquire. Inquiry was much more effective at that point. Inquiry felt like restful play or exploration without any result or expectation in mind.
There are other tools that facilitators use during guided inquiry to help clients relax the tendency to try, try, try. This is just what worked for me. When you don’t feel tied to inquiry, you remain open to these things.
I share this with you not as a guarantee that this phrase will release the contraction. Again, that’s not the purpose of the saying (even if the result is a release). For that deeper release, inquiry is often needed after this phrase fully soaks into your being. I share this so that maybe you will pick up the saying and deprogram the belief that “this shouldn’t be arising, I don’t love it, and I want it to go away.” If you have the same default pattern, maybe this saying will help you to stop the game of trying, trying, trying. You can then inquire in a more playful, restful way, using the inquiries in the way they were intended – as a gentle investigation that does not seek to change anything, but merely to relax and lovingly and gently allow everything to just be.
Maybe you will see the irony too: that although what we resist, persists, what we allow (truly allow), changes and even dissolves sometimes. Despite our best efforts to make change happen, change mostly happens when we drop our best efforts!
Somewhere along the way, the Living Inquiries facilitators and I developed the process of mining. I can’t even remember how it started, but I’m so glad it did. It’s truly been the greatest gift.
Mining is a process within the Living Inquiries of pulling out unconscious words and pictures, one at a time, from an emotion or sensation and then letting those words and pictures be seen, allowed, and then letting them dissolve away naturally.
I remember giving talks years ago and people would ask about dense and persistent emotional energy or sensations (e.g., contractions). The question was usually, “What do I do with this?” The standard nondual answer of “do nothing, just feel it, be aware of it,” was great. After all, sensations and emotions tend to persist because we remain perpetually unaware of them, placing our attention instead either outside ourselves or in the mind as a way of distracting. Many of the denser contractions in the body seem to have formed from years of turning away from the inner awareness of our bodies. These energies then crystalize into dense matter, contributing to addictive seeking, depression, pain, anxiety and a host of other states and conditions. They are often directly linked to unresolved trauma. But the pointer, “do nothing, just feel it and be aware of it” often resulted in people unknowingly “sitting with velcro” instead. Sitting with velcro means that a person believes they are just feeling or being aware of pure energy, sensation or emotion, when in fact they are sitting with unconscious words and pictures stuck to that energy, sensation or emotion. The Living Inquiries are all about undoing this velcro effect. And mining is an even more precise way of pulling out these unconscious words and pictures.
Let me give you an example of mining from my own experience. Many years ago, I visited an acupuncturist to help ground and release some dense energy in my sternum. He said, “I can do acupuncture in that area but the best thing to do is be aware of it.” Without even thinking, I said, “That’s easier said then done.” How can I be aware of something that is largely unconscious? The contraction in my stomach did not exist in a vacuum. It was there for a reason, as a result of feeling as though I had to protect myself from some perceived threats out in the world. Simply sitting and being aware of that contraction would have been like entering a cave without a flashlight. The density was there because of what I could not see.
While lying in bed one morning, I began breathing slowly into the sternum area. I could feel the density. It was painful. It felt too overwhelming to face. But slowly certain elicitation questions began to naturally arise. In the Living Inquiries, an elicitation question is any question designed to elicit unconscious mental material from a stuck emotion or sensation. The first question was, “What am I afraid of?” Once the question was asked, pictures of being bulled in sixth grade arose. I looked at them one by one. I stayed with each picture, gently watching. I saw that the pictures had a theme. I had been mostly afraid of people – certain people who had bullied me. I asked to each picture, “Is this picture a threat?” This is a question from the Anxiety Inquiry. Seeing that no single picture was a threat, each one of them dissolved, one by one. Eventually as the pictures ran out, the sternum sensation dissolved. Then I began to feel dense sensation under that, down in the belly area. At that point, a different elicitation question arose, “What am I ashamed of?” A storm of pictures began to arise, and some words. I gently watched each arising, asking “Is this the shame?” Seeing that no single picture or set of words was the shame, each one dissolved one by one. Eventually the mind became quiet and no more pictures or words arose. The belly sensation then naturally dissolved.
I remember thinking, “Wow, that was easy.” What makes a process like that easy is having the right set of skills. Had I not had this process of mining, I might have sat with those sensations for many, many years – like being in a cave without a flashlight. Sensations like that are persistent only when we lack the requisite skill to mine out the unconscious material in them.
These days when I’m working with people at the Kiloby Center, I never assume that just sitting with sensation is the answer by itself. Chances are, there is unconscious material embedded in that sensation. Asking the right elicitation question is key. But it isn’t rocket science. Usually any of the following elicitation questions will work:
• What does this sensation mean?
• What are you afraid of?
• What are you ashamed of?
• What is this sensation connected to?
• When was this first created?
• What is this protecting you from?
Asking the right question is like having a magic key to a door that has remained closed and locked for years. The right question naturally elicits a lot of unconscious material. Once that material starts to arise, the key is just to watch the words and pictures, one by one, and maybe ask an inquiry question.
Never again will I go into the cave of my body or another person’s body without a flashlight and a good key. I invite you not to enter blindly and unskillfully either. The right set of skills can make the difference between suffering for many years and liberating the body from a lot of unconsious material. “Being with” or “sitting with” is often just not enough. Use skillful mining instead.