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Dialogue on the Living Inquiries – Everything You Want to Know about This Work

By Scott Kiloby.  


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

 

The Aliveness of Feeling All Our Feelings

By Fiona Robertson.   

Many years ago, and in the throes of relationship turmoil, I went to see my wise friend and mentor. Having sobbed and complained about the behaviour of my soon-to-be-ex partner, I then went into a long diatribe about how I knew I was supposed to accept what was happening and that my inability to do so was evidence of my obvious and inherent flaws. Having recently encountered New Age teachings, I had unquestioningly swallowed the idea of unconditional acceptance and surrender. I believed – for a mercifully brief period, as it turned out – that all my suffering could be affirmed out of existence.

My friend listened, patiently. And then picked up a sharpened pencil from his desk.

“What would happen if I poked you in the eye with this?” he asked.

Flinching, I replied. “Well, it would really hurt.”

“Exactly” he said, and smiled.

It took me a few moments to realise what he was getting at. I was hurting, not because there was something inherently wrong with me, but because what was happening was hurtful. The behaviour I had presumed I should accept wasn’t acceptable. My feelings were there to guide me, rather than being inconvenient reactions that I should repress, censor or overcome.

The belief that we should not be feeling what we are feeling is a major source of distress. This belief may come from a variety of sources. We may have grown up being told certain feelings were unacceptable (in some families, for example, anger is always suppressed or grief goes unacknowledged).  We may have been taught by our culture, religion or spirituality that particular feelings are signs of deficiency, weakness or badness. Wider society sanctions or punishes feelings according to race, gender and sexuality. So when we find ourselves in the grip of rage, grief, envy, anger, fear, or any other emotion which has been unduly designated as ‘negative’, we think there is something wrong with us. We assume we need to fix, solve or get rid of the feeling. In addition to feeling the feeling itself, we also have to contend with shame or self-blame for having it in the first place. Our confidence is eroded; we doubt and criticize ourselves.

At the heart of this dynamic lies the internalised ideal self-image, the fictional uber-self which remains forever out of reach and unattainable. The ideal self-image varies for each of us, of course. Created in childhood and refined as we progress through life, we measure our actual selves against it and find ourselves wanting. Perhaps our ideal self-image is of a serene, calm person who can cope with any eventuality. We find ourselves raging and hostile and judge ourselves accordingly. Or our ideal self-image is adventurous, fearless and risk-taking, and we find ourselves trembling with uncontrollable anxiety and caught in a cycle of self-hatred as a result. Regardless of what we believe we should be and feel, we are stuck with the moment-by-moment reality of what we are actually feeling and being. We can find ourselves caught up in frantic efforts to try to make our real selves conform to the ideal self-image. Such activity is, ultimately, a violence to ourselves and often to others; we often attempt to keep our ideal self-image intact by making others wrong, lashing out in the process.

If we are willing to investigate more deeply, we can begin to unpick the strands of this Gordian knot, and allow ourselves to feel more honestly and deeply rather than suppressing or denying what is here. First, we notice the presence of a should or should not, must or supposed to. I shouldn’t feel like this. I’m supposed to accept this. I should not be jealous. And then we question it. What tells us we shouldn’t feel like this? How do we know we are supposed to accept this? In inquiry, we are not asking these questions from an intellectual perspective. Rather, the answers come from a deeper place; from memory, from the unconscious caches of data we have stored in both mind and body. It may be we discover we vowed never to feel anger because we had a raging parent who traumatised us. Or we were bullied in school for daring to show tears in the playground. The possibilities are endless; we each discover how such inhibitions, vows, rules and so on work within us.

In my sessions with clients (and in my own looking), there is often a moment when a previously denied, forbidden or taboo feeling is finally felt. In the safety of the space, the feeling can be itself at last. And even if it is excruciatingly painful, there is a relief in being able to be with the reality of what is here. The feeling can express, tell and show, its message being acknowledged after many years. We may be astonished to discover the wisdom that lies within all of our feelings. We become more honest with ourselves. We come closer to the realness of ourselves as we no longer cling quite so tightly to the ideal self-image. We find ourselves more willing to feel what is here, and less willing to buy into teachings and rules that tell us how to be or what to feel.

All our feelings – whatever their nature, and whatever our ideas or beliefs about them – are natural responses or reactions to experience. They naturally arise, not because we are wrong or at fault, but because that is what our systems are designed to do. They are an essential part of the experience of being human. Being judgemental about them – either our own or others – misses the point entirely. When we develop the capacity to feel whatever we are feeling – and we have a safe space either on our own or with others to do so – we no longer need to act out in destructive or harmful ways. By becoming fully conscious of what we are feeling we are able to be present to ourselves without the self-shaming or self-criticism that leads us into denial. We begin to feel the full spectrum of our feelings, and connect with our innate aliveness, freed from the rigidity of trying to fit into the shoulds and oughts of the ideal self-image we no longer ascribe to. Instead of trying to be Teflon-coated super-selves, we become fully and vulnerably human, embracing all aspects of our being. Life touches us – and we touch life – ever more deeply.

To learn more about Fiona Robertson, click here

The Reality of Embodiment: Coming Fully into Form

By Fiona Robertson.

During the nineteenth century, phantasmagoria – or theatrical horror shows – became a popular attraction throughout Britain, Europe and the United States. The creators used lighting, projectors, smoke, sound effects and electric shocks to conjure all manner of apparitions and frighten audiences. Sequences of terrifying images played on screens and theatres were often decorated accordingly. There were even rumours of patrons being drugged.

As I was inquiring last week, the word phantasmagoria appeared. I realised – to a greater extent than I had done previously – the exact nature of the phantasmagoria going on in my mind. I’m sure it’s the same for many of us. We play and replay scenes from the past. Imaginings of future catastrophe or suffering take hold. These images can be vivid to the point of occupying most or all of our awareness, in spite of what we are doing in physical reality. They seem all the more real when accompanied with thoughts and feelings, of course.

The capacity to fantasize and imagine is a wonderful aspect of the human psyche, in my view. The mind’s creativity brings us such wonders, including art, drama, music and literature. And yet this same capacity appears to torment us too, at times. Is it possible to turn off the projector and smoke machines, to leave the apparitions behind and simply exit the theatre?

My hunch is that the phantasmagoria takes hold partly because we have not been able – thus far – to face what is actually here. When we have been traumatized – particularly as children – it is natural to dissociate, retreating from the painful reality of the body into the supposed haven of the mind. At least, here in the mind, we can imagine what could or should be. We can imagine what we want and haven’t got. We can fantasize about what might have been or what might yet be. In our imagining, we retain a sense of control in circumstances in which we are otherwise powerless.

Even though the phantasmagoria is frightening, it often feels less painful or terrifying than actually facing the truth of our experience. Facing the truth means letting go of the possibility of something other, even if that possibility exists only in fantasy. Facing the truth means coming into the feelings and sensations we have tried so hard to not feel. Facing the truth means admitting to ourselves exactly how bad it was.

Coming out of dissociation and denial in this way is not easy, yet it feels like a relief. It is certainly a relief to the body, which has inevitably been holding the truth of our experience even as we have been unconscious to it. It is natural that the mind – with good intentions to protect us from the reality of painful truths – is sometimes reluctant for us to face whatever is here. It whispers or shouts warnings. It attempts to distract us. And yet, at some point, despite the warnings and distractions, we become willing to clamber onto the stage and look at the mechanisms that lie behind the phantasmagoria. We become aware that we are sitting in the theatre, projectors whirring, smoke machine billowing.

The more we look, we more we come to realise what lies behind the horror show. As we feel unfelt feelings, the projectors begin to power down, at least a little. As we admit how it was  for us, we are able to make contact with our bodies in a deeper way. As I continued my inquiry last week, having acknowledged just how low my self-esteem had been throughout my life, I began to see how mesmerized by the phantasmagoria we tend to be. Once fully and deeply acknowledged, the reality of our past no longer needs to hold sway in the same way. We are left in now – this body, this moment, this chair, these sounds.

What happens when we start inhabiting actual, physical space rather than the phantasmagoria? It seems our focus shifts into the reality of the body and we begin making direct contact with the world around us in a subtly different way. There’s a deliciousness to embodiment which goes overlooked when we are hooked by the phantasmagoria. For me, subtle levels of dissociation have continued to lift and I’ve been able to enjoy the pleasures of the senses more deeply. There is a joy to coming more fully into form – both our own form as well as the solidity of form around us. We are no longer held hostage by the theatrical spectacle going on in our heads, yet neither are we dismissive of it.  As we become ever more incarnated, the separation between mind and body lessens and we inevitably feel more inclusively whole. Our relationship with ourselves, our bodies and the physical stuff of life begins to transform. It seems there is no end to this journey of embodiment.

 

On the Perils of Certainty and the Wisdom of Doubt

By Fiona Robertson.  Lately, I’ve been reading about certainty addiction (or bias). Our brains are apparently wired to perceive uncertainty as a potential threat to our survival, so we go looking for certainty wherever we can find it. We prefer certainties – however painful or uncomfortable – to the unknown and uncertain. We will ignore facts, reasoning and arguments – however compelling – that seem to threaten our sense of certainty. We see certainty addiction playing out in many areas of life, including politics and religion. It is also evident within spirituality.

Certainty feels good. In fact, certainty evokes the same kind of feel-good feeling as sex, gambling and other addictions. It also tends to reduce anxiety; the more certain we are, the more our sense of threat diminishes. No wonder we are attracted to certainty. A lack of physical certainty– food, shelter, warmth – can indeed be a threat to our survival. However, we often act as if our belief structures are equally necessary to our survival. An attack on our beliefs – even hearing an opposing viewpoint – can feel viscerally and powerfully threatening. We invest our ideas and beliefs with certainty, and proceed to defend them come what may.

When we go into defensive mode, we act as if we are defending the beliefs themselves, as if it is the content of the belief or viewpoint that is so important to us. In reality, however strongly we think we feel about a topic, we are also driven by our addiction to certainty. The more certain we are, the stronger and more determined our defensiveness will be. We will do whatever we can to hold onto our certainty, desperately trying to not feel all that comes with uncertainty.

Our addiction to certainty, while it gives us a sense of self and a feeling of security, also confines us. Having a sense of the known – even if the known is unpleasant or painful – is often less frightening than entertaining the unknown, yet it keeps us bound and unable to see wider potential or possibility. One of the many things I love about inquiry is the ability it gives us to question everything, to cast the light of doubt on anything we take to be certain truth. When we inquire, we come face to face with our certainties. I most definitely am unlovable. Yes, I’m better than him. Yes, my opinions are right. We discover just how tightly we are holding on to all our beliefs and opinions about ourselves and the world because we can’t conceive of what or who we might be without them.

Asking the inquiry questions opens up the possibility that things – including ourselves – may not be as we’ve believed them to be. Whatever our answers, the questioning itself can pierce the armour of certainty, or at least open up a slight chink. Sometimes, entertaining the possibility that we may not be X or Y is feels challenging, subversive or scary. At other times, it is liberating or exciting. It is also humbling to loosen the reins of certainty and allow other possibilities and perspectives to come into view. Either way, questioning our certainties connects us with the emotional pain that inevitably resides beneath. Once certainty is no longer obscuring it, the pain can finally emerge. As we continue to feel what has been previously unfelt, we develop the capacity to simultaneously hold certainty and uncertainty, surety and doubt. We ascribe less to an either/or model of the world and see the potential for both/and. We find a place of much deeper wisdom beneath the brittle veneer of certainty, a wisdom that only emerges when we are willing to doubt.

Inquiry does not leave us without opinions or viewpoints. It does not render us incapable of discussing issues or taking a stand on what we feel is important. It does, however, release us from the burden of having to defend our viewpoints in service to our own sense of certainty. We no longer need to be certain, because we are less addicted to certainty and the promise of security it seems to offer. As our need for certainty recedes, our relationships inevitably change. We become less defensive, less attached to our particular certainties.

Whenever we meet certainty – particularly absolute certainty – we see certainty addiction at work. Inquiring into our own certainties injects a healthy dose of doubt into our constructs and concepts. What if? What if this isn’t the case? Is this what I think it is? Am I what I tell myself I am? Again, we don’t need to come to a conclusion. There is not necessarily a definitive answer to these questions. It is the act of asking them in the first place that is most important. Can we stand not knowing? Can we rest in a place of doubt, resisting the temptation to land in a place of certainty?

In our increasingly polarised world, many people seem deeply entrenched in their certainties and unwilling or unable to question them. It seems incumbent on those of us who are willing to do the deep work of questioning to bring the wisdom of doubt to bear on all our beliefs and certainties. Perhaps together we can open up possibilities previously hidden by our collective addiction to certainty. Humbling and painful though it can be to question our sacred cows, how much better it is than to be trapped in our addiction to certainty.

http://www.beyondourbeliefs.org/perils-certainty-wisdom-doubt/

Inquiry and the Ego: Listening to All Our Voices

By Fiona Robertson.

There’s a lot of talk in spiritual circles about the ego, the problems it causes, and how to deal with it. Ego is seen as the cause of our suffering, the root of conflict and pain. But what is the ego, exactly? And does it really deserve such pejorative labelling?

In Latin, ego simply means ‘I’. Over time, the word has accrued many and multi-layered meanings. In my experience, the ego isn’t a single, uniform entity, but a collection of voices or self-identities, each with their associated drives and feelings. We could say that the ego is the stories we tell about ourselves, the selves that we believe we are, whatever their flavour. We might believe, for example, that we are someone who is not good enough, or wrong, or better than others, and we act in the world as if that was the case. We could also say that the ego is the inner, critical voice (often called the superego), the part of us that judges, cajoles, exhorts, criticizes. There’s inevitably an interplay – usually conflict – between these two parts or voices. The self believes itself deficient, and the superego judges and demands and strategizes and plans in an attempt to somehow fix or deal with the perceived deficiency.  We’re all familiar with the inner dialogue that ensues when these two voices or parts are engaged in a struggle with each other:

Deficient self: I know I won’t get this job. I’ve always been terrible at interviews because I get so nervous. 

Superego: Can’t you pull yourself together for once? Why, after all this therapy and meditation, are you still so anxious and lacking in self-esteem? And why are you still eating too much? 

Deficient self (feeling even more deficient): There’s clearly something really wrong with me. I’ve never been good enough, and all of this just goes to prove it. 

Superego: Right, well, I’ve got a plan. Let’s start dieting tomorrow, and book onto that ‘Big Up Yourself’ course that you saw online the other day. Then perhaps you’ll be able to be the person you should be. 

We all know the drill. These kinds of inner conversations can go on interminably. And when we discover spiritual teachings, a third voice is often added, one that denounces both of the other voices, and that believes it should get rid of or ignore or somehow disallow whatever it perceives as the ego. It’s hardly surprising that we find ourselves completely entangled in all of this, often feeling bewildered and at the mercy of these seemingly unstoppable and argumentative voices. It can feel as if they are fixed, unchangeable givens that we somehow have to manoeuvre around, overcome, or vanquish. When we find ourselves unable to do so, we heap yet more judgement or shame upon ourselves.

When we inquire, we can begin to pick apart the threads of conflict, and give space and time to each of these ‘ego’ voices. Not only do we meet the pain of the deficient self, but we also hear the anguish of the superego and its valiant efforts to keep it all together, to make sure that we get through life as best we can. The superego, after all, often does what the deficient self feels it could never do, as these extracts from my journal reflect:

The deficient self says: That Fiona (superego Fiona) has been clever, and interacted with people, looked after me, talked when I didn’t know how, kept me in line, kept me motivated, kept me from the pain before I could really face it. She couldn’t do all that without despising my weakness, hating my pain, and loathing my failures. 

The judge in me speaks: I’ve been trying to protect you. I’ve been so afraid for you. I’ve been so angry with you for being so stupid sometimes. I love you, but I’m resentful of you…resentful of your sweetness and prettiness, resentful of your gentleness and kindness, resentful of your dreaminess and your imagination. Nothing would get done if I left it to you. Everywhere would be untidy, and a mess, and dirty. I’ve just been so exhausted, having to look after you. Sometimes I hated you, I just wanted you to leave me alone and to stop having needs and wants, and to stop needing me. 

Here’s the thing: both of these voices are essentially part of the self structure that developed in childhood in response to whatever circumstances we were in. Both, ultimately, came into being to protect us on the deepest level. It may not feel like it when your superego is berating you yet again, but it is there for the best of intentions. It took its cue from the people around it, believing that if it could somehow be more like them and less like itself, it’d be okay. We introjected the behaviour and beliefs of the adults in our lives, creating a mesh of inner demands, commands, and expectations against which we measured ourselves. Years ago, while doing some inner work at a retreat, I discovered that my superego solidified definitively when I was around eleven years old, and its primary concern was to make sure that it avoided making my mother angry or displeased (something that happened frequently, to my detriment). When seen in this light, how can we possibly continue to label the ego in all the ways that we do?

As we inquire, and the stories of deficiency unravel, we meet the pain that lies at their core. As we do so, the inner voices of deficiency and judgement begin to quiet. This happens not because we make an effort to control or dispel them, but because once the pain is truly felt, the voices are no longer necessary. Their job was to ensure we didn’t feel the pain, because when we were young children it was impossible for us to do so. The job of the ego was always to ensure that we were kept safe, to ensure that the pain stayed under lock and key. Yes, this suppression is ultimately deeply unhealthy, but we don’t need to blame the jailer just because the prison system itself is flawed. Rather, as we open the prison gates, the jailer – along with all the inmates – is also freed.

Gradually, we find our inner voices – the parts we often refer to as ‘the ego’ – become more benign and unified. In my psyche, the previously harsh voice of judgement seems to have been replaced by a wry commentator. One morning recently, as I was switching on the kettle for the first cup of tea of the day, I found myself caught up in anxious thoughts. The commentator merely said, Starting early this morning, are we? The kind humour made me smile, and the anxious thoughts – left uncriticized and therefore not needing to defend themselves – simply ebbed away. The ego itself, like everything else, is made up of words, images and sensations and feelings. As it unravels, it becomes naturally healthier, neither needing to proclaim our deficiency nor criticize ourselves or others. We discover that it is not the enemy, but simply self-fragments that, once tended to, effortlessly transform.