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The Sceptical Art of Inquiry

By Fiona Robertson.  

I read today that the ancient Greek word for ‘inquiry’ is skepsis, hence the word sceptical. Sceptical philosophers, from around the world in both ancient and modern times, have doubted our ability to know, either partially or completely. Their view is some variant of the idea that we can’t know anything for certain, and we can’t even know that we can’t know anything for certain.

We inevitably come to inquiry with a knowing or belief that feels certain. In fact, we don’t usually call it a belief. We don’t generally say, “I believe that I’m not good enough”, but rather state it as a fact: “I’m not good enough”. There often comes a point in a session when a slight crack appears in the certainty, and we begin to entertain the possibility that what we thought we knew for certain may not, after all, be the case. Even though the belief in question has been painful, there’s a kind of security in the certainty, so it can be disorientating to open up to the possibility that maybe we don’t know what we thought we knew. There’s often a sense of fear – if I’m not this, then what? Or the realisation that we may have spent many years trying to solve an issue only to discover that it’s not the issue we thought it was. Inevitably, we end up feeling emotions or sensations that the belief or knowing has somehow shielded us from.

In a session, I once had an image of seeing the outline of an island through a telescope from on board a boat. I saw that I was seeing the hint of the possibility that maybe what I thought was the case wasn’t. And even in reducing the certainty to 95% (rather than the full 100%), there was some relief in my system. Even in asking the questions – including questions like, “how do I know that?” or “what’s telling me that?” we open up to the possibility of uncertainty, that maybe we don’t know for sure. 

For the ancient sceptics, the idea was that having an experience of not knowing led to the possibility of calm, which feels deeply familiar from our perspective. It’s good to know people have been inquiring in this way for thousands of years.

To read more about Fiona Robertson, click here.

Two Little Fussbudgets

By Sumitra Burton.  

This morning I was facilitated in an inquiry session where I was feeling “desperate” about needing to earn more money. Old, familiar story!

There’s enough money for today, tomorrow and probably a couple of years. But what about after that? I need to earn more, to save more, to build a large savings account so I won’t be a burden to my family in my old age!

I could feel the pressure of desperation in the left side of my belly, two small balls of energy there that seemed to know this was true – that were actually pushing me to try harder, to do something more, to earn more money. I sat with these energies, the two little balls, and allowed them to be felt, with curiosity. What were they all about?

And then, there they were. I could see these two little fussbudget owls, right there in my belly (I had seen this image of the little owls online earlier in the week). I could both see and feel them, fussing around, trying to stir up some energy. The more I stayed with these little fussbudgets, the more they became like cartoon characters. I started to laugh, and so did my facilitator. Their energies were contagious – so authentically busy, and at the same time going nowhere fast.

The laughter allowed me to relax a bit, and as I brought my awareness back to my body to look for this “desperation to earn more money,” these little owl fussbudgets had softened and become quiet.

It was clear then that whenever I wanted to be a fussbudget and worry a bit about money or anything else, these little owls would be there to “fuss” with me. We could stomp around, fluff our feathers and make squeaky noises all we wanted. And when we grew tired of fussing, we’d become quiet again and rest.

Ah, the wonders of inquiry!

To read more about Sumitra Burton, click here.

Both Individual and Collective: Meeting Rapaciousness

By Fiona Robertson.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read more about Fiona Robertson, click here.

Life Is For Me

By Sumitra Judith Burton.  

Life is for me (not against me).

There was a moment a few months ago that this realization began to dawn on me, and it feels like everything in my being is now shifting to make space for this truth.

I had been running in an unconscious fog much of my life, with a sense of being chased by some kind of darkness that I couldn’t understand. It truly felt (if I’d ever really stopped to think about it) that life was against me, that it was creating roadblocks and terrifying situations that caused me to struggle to try to change things. Nothing was going as I thought it should, and I felt like a victim of intense unseen forces.

Through many years of struggling to make sense of “the story of my life,” which wasn’t unfolding at all as I had hoped and planned, I fought these unseen forces, trying to pull the scenes back in line with my original dream. To no avail. The more I fought, the more I failed. Eventually I just gave up. And that giving up seems to have laid the groundwork for this new understanding.

In the past few years of working with the Living Inquiries I’ve been gradually learning to relax into allowing things to be as they are. What a huge change from the earlier battle to bring things in line with my personal desires! I’d been taught as a child that I could create my own destiny – could accomplish anything I set myself out to do. Sounds noble, right? But, in fact, all this trying and doing led me into the fog of confusion.

Now it feels more like “something else” is in charge, a force bigger than this little me. And I don’t have to resist and fight everything along the way. It feels safe to let go, to stop fighting, and to relax into life as it flows through me.

I simply need to Rest, Inquire and Enjoy Life (as Scott Kiloby has often advised). Rest out of the mind as often as possible, even for very short periods, inquire with curiosity and tenderness into anything that seems to argue with what life brings, and enjoy what’s already here.

It sounds easy, though it’s not always so. Waves of emotion still come through me when something feels blocked. I don’t always remember to take time to rest, to really relax into “what is.” And I still find myself fighting with reality sometimes, afraid that relaxing into life is too easy a way out of the suffering.

But there’s a growing sense that Life is for me; is here to help me, not to harm me. And that’s amazing!

To read more about Sumitra Judith Burton, click here.

On Shame and Sharing

By Fiona Robertson.  

“The shame of being me was a frequent visitor during my dark night…It felt shameful to have all these feelings. The shame was difficult to feel, not least because it felt endemic to my whole being. Every cell of my body, every memory, felt shaped by humiliation. It had misshapen my whole being.”

The Dark Night of the Soul, page 81.

Several weeks ago, shame visited me again. Even though I am now usually able to meet emotion with minimal judgement, the density and intensity of it were stunning. Bodily feelings and vivid memories flooded in. As I looked and felt, I wrote:

The shame feels so deep. I am utterly mortified. Being this – me – is so utterly mortifying. I see everything through this lens. I’m mortified by everything; my body, my life, the house. Every inch of me, every memory. I’ve lived from this place of utter mortification. I am mortified at how my life turned out. So much of what I have or am is mortifying. My whole life has been built around this. I don’t know if there’s any disentangling from it. (I suspect we would almost rather kill ourselves than feel this.)

How do I get unmortified? How do I recover a shred of dignity?

By abiding and persisting. By sitting upright, breathing, and still being here.

I sat upright, music on, and kept breathing as the waves of mortification came and went.

So far, so familiar. I have tapped into this well of shame many times, a little deeper each time. Then came something I had not been conscious of until the moment it appeared: self-mortification. I began to see all the ways I mortify myself. Having been brought up a non-conformist protestant, I was only dimly aware of the role of self-mortification in Christianity, but when I read a little, I saw that I had unintentionally practised self-mortification in a variety of ways. The dictionary definition resonated strongly:

To mortify: to make death. To subdue by abstinence or self-discipline; to humiliate, to chagrin, to wound.

This is what has made me ill. I see all the patterns are self-mortification.  Now I feel like I can be here until it all comes home. I see images of my twenty-eight-year-old self, blown apart by traumatic events. I needed to become who I am now to be able to go back to her. Even with all the inner work I’ve done, I couldn’t get back to her until now. It’s a little shocking it’s taken this long. I have a sense of all the fragments coming together.

There is so much pain and shame in telling our truth. Yet it is in telling our truth that the pain and shame can finally be met. Shame (or mortification or humiliation) hides, believing itself to be guilty of heinous crimes or wrongdoing. When we are in the midst of it, we are convinced that what we are or what we have done is beyond redemption, as I have described. In reality, the sentence we have passed on ourselves rarely bears any relation to the supposed crime. At some point in our past, we were shamed or humiliated, made to feel bad for being ourselves or for some aspect of our being. Such shaming, coming as it does from outside ourselves, leaves us trying to cope with what has been imposed or projected onto our young selves without recourse to support. We develop a skewed and imbalanced view of ourselves and our imperfections. We believe there is something fundamentally wrong with us, and that we have no choice but to cover it up as best we can. Shame is convinced that we are on our own with our wounding, that it is inconceivable we could tell anyone else what is within us. Feeling shame evokes further shame. Trying to avoid or distract from shame sometimes involves activities or compulsions that bring about even more shame. And shame thinks the world sees it as it sees itself; it cannot imagine we could be seen from any other perspective.

Shame is a kind of death. Crippled by humiliation, utterly mortified (from the Latin mortificationem, meaning killing or putting to death), we die inside. How can we really live if we are unable to be ourselves? How can we survive when shame implies our complete isolation? Particularly if we were shamed as very young children, shame strikes at the very heart of our being, making it virtually impossible to be our true selves. We have a sense of how shame curtails our aliveness, but it feels as if feeling the shame would kill us. Indeed, people die of shame, either taking their own lives or via addictions or some form of self-neglect.

As I sat in my shame, I looked around the room. Everything was mortifying except for a set of headphones. I clung to them and sobbed. But it was in finding this one object – which for some unknowable reason was not tainted with shame – that it began to feel okay to sit and breathe and be with the feelings and images. The presence and touch of the headphones allowed a small aperture, a space through which the possibility of not-mortifying could emerge.

Shame believes that if we tell our truth, we will be rejected, ridiculed, hated, killed, or shamed further. We need to take it slowly and gently, allowing shame to feel its way towards safety, to find something or someone that will hold it as it comes fully into consciousness. Indeed, it is of paramount importance that we tell our truths in places of safety and equality. Places where our truths will be heard, honoured and respected. Places where our shame will be witnessed with love and understanding. The antidote to shame is sharing, telling the truth to ourselves or each other. When we listen to each other’s woundedness, when we hear each other’s stories of messing up, ending up in destructive patterns, not being perfect; when we hear the truth of each other’s lives, our shame begins to realise it is not alone and isolated. Our shame realises it can tell its truth and survive. Our shame realises it is deeply human, one amongst many. We can share our shame, and live again.

To read more about Fiona Robertson, click here.