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!
It’s easy to recognize non-dual presence and let it go to your head. The concepts start to replace the direct experience.
At about that time, non-duality becomes like a religion, something to defend, a kind of head game where one’s identity gets wrapped up in the concepts that try to prove that one is awakened, reality is all One or that awareness is all there is or something like that. These are all reductionists concepts when it becomes a religion. Even though these concepts purport to point to a grand and final realization, they actually create their own divisions in the mind and body and in relationships with other people. Quite often, this is done as a way to not have to deal with trauma or some underlying, very palpable, human issue that is still running the show on some level – usually in relationships. Something has not been included in the awakening. It has not been embodied. It is not being lived. Awakening is such a fluid, vibrant and ongoing discovery. It is alive in every sense. It cannot be pinned down with any concepts, including what is said here. It is not a state that one reaches, but rather an openness that just keeps on opening.
If one doesn’t remain complacent in these extreme viewpoints and the propensity to bypass these human issues, there is a magnificent opportunity to examine not only the underlying trauma and issues but also the spiritual concepts that act as a cover-up job or over-compensation for these issues. If this examination is done with as much diligence as one questioned the concepts around self or ego before an initial awakening, what is revealed is truly remarkable. There is a deepening that is undeniable. This deepening can’t truly be mapped out with any certainty or science. It is too fluid and so different in how it manifests for each individual. But the people around you will know it as the deepening occurs. You will know it. You will feel it down to your bones, in every fiber of your being. Awakening is not just about recognizing some changeless present space. There are real changes that happen on the level of body and mind and in all relationships.
The Living Inquiries are tailored-made to keep one from landing in these extreme views and overcompensation. They invite us to examine the trauma or issues that lead to these head games. They challenge us to question everything that we think we know, every landing point, every identity, every trauma, every issue. And this is not work. It is a natural act of love, an act that comes about organically just from being aware and open and not shutting oneself off from all possibilities.
Luckily, what is left when the investigation goes that deeply, is not a blank space or an intellectual head game around spirituality. It is very much an openness to all of life, as it shows up – the good, the bad and the neutral. Literally everything is transformed on every level – mind, body, spirit. There is a vulnerability at the heart of experience, where one can no longer hide in all the old escape mechanisms. Bypassing becomes impossible at some point. Relationships harmonize themselves as acceptance becomes the norm, not something we are striving for. Enthusiasm for the work we do in the world, whatever it is, shines through without effort. At that point, you could just as soon talk about your favorite TV show or music as talk about how you know what reality really is or what spirituality is all about. The awakening kicks the shit out of you on every level, in the best possible way. You embrace your humanness as much as you embrace the divine. They are both quite divine. In this way, you can embrace the very unique experience called you and where that leads you in life. Your purpose, if you will.
Those who have taken the inquiries deeply have discovered that, in the end, the awareness that is recognized is quite freeing, open and peaceful. And yet they also recognize that the individual expression of themselves as human beings is perfect just as it is. There is nothing to turn away from anymore, either through the intellect or bypassing. It’s this turning towards experience that holds the real gifts. In this turning towards everything, even the stuff that scares us or that we would like to pretend is not really there, true creativity and potential show up naturally. There is then no need to try to manifest anything, for life lives itself. It manifests abundantly just because we remained open and did not stop looking when we landed halfway up the proverbial mountain.
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
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.
“Just feel your feelings!” We get told this repeatedly, but if it was that simple then this world would be a different place. For many of us, dare I say most of us, there have been times when it literally hasn’t been safe for us to feel our sadness, or anger, and/or our fear. We didn’t have an adult who would support us while we felt these things so we didn’t learn that these emotions were an innocent part of being human. Then on top of that, due to our circumstances, we often weren’t safe to be with, or express these emotions.
There are many strategies we learned to counter this lack of safety, to give us the appearance of safety; to be self reliant, to submit, to rebel, to try to disappear… Being angry, or sad, or afraid were often either demonized, we’d get in trouble for being this way, or opened us up to more attack. So we did everything possible to avoid certain emotions and/or to fear them. If we were bullied as children, for example, it was safer to pretend we weren’t afraid- the hope being that if we were “strong” then we’d not be preyed upon or be vulnerable to attack. This strategy may have actually saved our lives! Pretending we were strong kept us safe on some level, at least in certain ways, for a little while. Pretending to not be afraid was innocent. But over time this led to us shutting down on what is actually a healthy emotion- we unintentionally developed an unhealthy relationship with something that is healthy- and led us to repress fear because of our fear of fear.
This is how it looked in my house: My dad was often gone during the week so my mom was the main caregiver. For various reasons my mom was often in a state of overwhelm, which meant that in order to handle her own feelings, she turned away from mine as well as subtly or overtly shamed me for having them. I wasn’t allowed to be angry, and I got negative feedback for crying. Not only would I not be comforted if I showed emotion, showing emotion would get me in trouble. So I learned very quickly that no one was there to support me emotionally, and that emotions were not acceptable. One way to deal wit this was to pretend I wasn’t upset, or to hide when I was upset. After all, I didn’t want to be a bother to my mom, plus I knew my emotions wouldn’t get acknowledged anyway. AND I might get in more trouble for having them. It was best to just stuff them. I grew up not know how to feel my feelings, because I had no one to support me when I had them, and because it wasn’t safe for me to feel them. My best option was to stuff/ repress them.
So yeah, it’s not as simple as “JUST feel your feelings!” There are so many reasons they haven’t seemed safe over the years. It’s no wonder many of us have repressed emotions. And yet, this has happened innocently- we innocently repressed innocent emotions due to our circumstances, conditioning and belief systems.
The good news is that our brains and neural pathways are malleable – trauma, conditioning and belief systems can be explored and journeyed into so as to bring integration, returning us to healthy expressions and healthy ways of being.
There can be a lot of self-loathing, guilt and shame in not allowing ourselves to experience healthy emotions- emotions that all human beings experience from time to time. When we demonize, try to avoid, or fear anger, sadness and/or fear, they get repressed, and as such resisted. As we’ve all heard, what we resist, persists! They tug at us, under the surface, influencing our lives.
Almost everyone has experienced trauma in our lives in one-way or another. Just to name a few, trauma may have been experienced from having emotionally neglectful or over baring caregivers, from being bullied by people in our childhoods, or from having physically or sexually abusive people in our lives (developmental/complex trauma). For some people they’ve had trauma from a one time event (acute trauma) such as an act of violence, a natural disaster, or an accident/death.
There are many safe ways to explore trauma. As a somatic therapist, I help clients explore trauma every day by gently exploring their day-to-day challenges in ways that include their somatic system. Since trauma can be stored in our bodies energetically and/or in the fascia network, it is important that the somatic system be a part of any kind of trauma work. There are many ways to explore the somatic system. Two methods that I have a lot of experience with are: (1) John F. Barnes Myofascial Release works with the fascia web that can hold trauma (this is a hands on approach), and (2) The Living Inquiries is a hands off somatic approach which explores belief systems and their felt resonances. There are many other methods. Many libraries have books on somatic processing/ exploration and you can also do an internet search for “Somatic Therapy” or something similar. Many somatic therapists work with people using skype or zoom, or even by phone. If you’d prefer someone local make sure you ask the practitioner if they have a good understanding of how trauma and belief systems can reside in the body. (If they don’t know what you’re talking about then chances are they do more of a cognitive-based therapy.)
When our past traumas and experiences have been honored and gently explored, when our vigilance centers have released a bit, allowance is possible.
There is so much freedom that comes with allowance. We are able to open doors to compassionately love and honor ourselves as human beings- being who are literally designed to feel and experience a vast array of emotional expressions and states of being. What a relief to celebrate our humanity!