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The Panorama Inquiry for Seeking

By Scott Kiloby.  

  1. Imagine yourself sitting in the middle of a room, with all the other people and things in your life placed around you in a circle.
  2. Scan around the whole circle.
  3. As you look at each person or thing, notice how it appears to reflect back to you the idea that you are deficient in some way.

In a way, your life is already designed as a circle. All the people, situations, and events you encounter are all around you, feeding you information about who you are. Imagining this circle puts everything and everyone around you into focus. It allows you to see how each person and thing is mirroring back to you some version of the story I am deficient.

Seeking in vain outside the self for what the self seems to lack is an impulse ingrained into the very fabric of the story of self. This impulse is based on one fundamental assumption: I am separate and deficient. We can spend our whole lives believing this basic assumption about ourselves. Until it is questioned, it tends to continue operating, driving much of what we do and how we act toward others.

When the basic assumption of separation and deficiency is undermined and seen through, fruitless seeking naturally relaxes, and we experience a stable sense of completeness with life as it is in the present moment. We can enjoy relationships, create things, express ourselves, follow our interests, and enjoy life in every way. We find that we can still move and fully operate in the world, but now without the belief that something is missing at a fundamental level.

Seeking is happening in our lives in so many ways that it can make our heads spin when we begin to look more closely at it. The Panorama Inquiry works well with useless seeking because it places all the people and things in our lives in a circle around us. By creating the circle, we can see that we are seeking in just about every direction.

Notice that when you rest in the moment, without emphasizing any thought, there is nothing to seek. There’s nowhere to go. Here you are, in the present moment. Your thoughts have relaxed, and you’re at peace. Even as you relax thoughts, you may notice that the energy in your body feels restless. Let that restless energy be as it is. Let it arise and fall without going back into the story of needing to seek something in the future, or from someone else. As the energy is allowed to relax, the mind relaxes with it more and more.

It’s worth repeating that these inquiries are not designed to create another avenue for fruitless seeking. They aren’t designed to get you something that you believe you lack. They’re here to help you see through the self that lacks. That seeing through is always a present seeing. The inquiry brings you right back to where you already are, resting in the present moment. There’s a stable well-being and contentment in presence. That sense of stable well-being and contentment is not based on getting to some later point, or getting something from someone else.

From The Unfindable Inquiry: One Simple Tool to Overcome Feelings of Unworthiness and Find Inner Peace

The Unfindable Inquiry is available on amazon.com

In Need of Satsang Detox

By Scott Kiloby.  

One reason I moved into the area of addiction treatment at the Kiloby Center was to get away from the satsang circuit. In and of itself, the circuit doesn’t necessarily create a lot of harm. But I remember getting numerous calls, texts or emails from spiritual seekers who had just attended a weekend or week retreat with a teacher. They would say, “The retreat was wonderful – I truly found peace” or something like that. But by Tuesday or Wednesday of the next week, the emails, texts or calls would change. “I’m suffering again right now, what should I do?” I would say, “Investigate for yourself, using the tools you have learned. Awakening is truly an inside job. Going to satsang and expecting to wake up and be free of suffering once you enter back into your normal life is like going to a drug dealer and expecting that temporary high to last forever.” So many times the person would not investigate for themselves. Instead, they would schedule and attend the next satsang or the next three to come to town. Then the cycle would repeat, with the high or peace of satsang replaced by the usual suffering days or weeks later.

I have to admit that I am biased. I never attended satsang back in my seeking days. Sure, I watched a DVD or two of a spiritual teacher giving satsang. But once I extracted some really valuable tools, I put all of that down and began investigating on my own. This made all the difference. When I’m talking to spiritual seekers who are heavily into the satsang world, they often cite “transmission” as the reason they keep going back. The notion behind transmission is that there is some recognition that is transmitted from teacher to student during satsang. I won’t argue with that. Perhaps transmission does happen for some people. However, continuing to go back over and over and over so easily slips into the realm of addiction, treating the teacher kind of like a drug dealer who is doling out the good stuff. In many cases, it stops being about transmission. It becomes all about addictive seeking.

I am not waging a war against satsang. It has value. But I think it is important to point out that investigation using skillful means is of utmost important, to finally put to rest the seeking that leads one back again and again to satsang. Most good spiritual teachers would agree, even the ones who are doing satsang regularly.

At the Kiloby Center, we truly make no distinction between addiction to drugs or alcohol and addiction to spiritual seeking or satsang. They carry many of the same elements: wanting to avoid or escape the past or uncomfortable thoughts and feelings showing up in the present, continuing to go back to the “drug” even after recognizing the cycle of “high” followed by withdrawal, believing that there is something (a drug) or someone (a teacher) outside oneself that has the answers to life’s pain, and chasing certain states and experiences rather than letting all states and experiences come and go freely.

If you are a satsang teacher or someone who goes to a lot of satsang and this writing triggers you, there is probably something to examine. This writing comes with no ill will towards anyone. No trigger. My body is completely calm as I write this. This writing has more to do with feeling great compassion as I watch people look outside themselves repeatedly for what cannot be found outside oneself. I would say the same thing to either a drug dealer continuing to dole out drugs to addicted people and to the addicted people who are enslaved to those dealers. And I’m not saying that all teachers are drug dealers and all seekers are like addicts. This is mainly just a metaphor. There are great teachers out there who emphasize self-investigation. And there are seekers who do a lot of self-investigation. But, if you are triggered by this writing, chances are the shoe here does fit. So maybe take a look. Again, investigate for yourself.

This post is republished from the previous Living Inquiries website

Out of Proportion: How Over- and Under-Reactions are Equally Skewed

By Fiona Robertson.  

The phenomenon of triggering is widely recognised now that trigger warnings have become commonplace. We often know when we have been triggered because we experience some kind of unpleasant emotional and/or physical response to an event, situation or circumstance. We might not immediately understand exactly why we have been triggered – disentangling many years of trauma and layers of self-identity is an ongoing process – but inquiry enables us to at least be aware when we are triggered and gives us tools to look at what is going on.

We may be conscious that our triggered reaction is out of proportion – at least in some respects, if not all – to the actual situation. Intellectually, we can clearly see that the levels of distress, fear, anger, grief or shame we are experiencing are not fully accounted for by what is happening here and now. Around 90% of an iceberg is under the water, and so it often is with triggers. While the conscious 10% may be a proportionate response to circumstances, the far larger part is often hidden from view until we look. The intellectual knowing that our response is out of proportion may assuage the feelings a little, but often it makes no difference. The horse has already bolted – our systems have reacted spontaneously and viscerally – and we can’t think or reason our way to the response we think we should be having.

Generally speaking, it is easy to tell we are triggered when our response is an over-reaction. Over-reactions, by definition, are vivid, visible and easily felt. We cry, tremble, shout. Our hearts pound, we sweat, we feel strong bodily sensations and emotions. We think non-stop about the situation, going over and over it in our heads. Over-reactions can be intense and all-consuming. We might think about little else for a few days. And yet, when we take time to inquire and discover what has given rise to the over-reaction – be it a sense of threat, a feeling or belief of some kind of deficiency or lack in ourselves, a past trauma – the over-reaction quiets. The recognition and acknowledgement of the previously unconscious material that gave rise to the trigger allows us to put the present circumstance or event back into proportion. Our present-day triggers or over-reactions inevitably stem from unmet feelings from the past or the abandoned, suppressed or fragmented parts of ourselves which we have tried to avoid or deny. Once brought back into the fold, so to speak, and given space and time in which to be seen and felt, they are no longer triggered in the same ways.

However, our out of proportion response may equally be an under-reaction. Something happens to us which would upset or anger most people, and we shrug it off or say it doesn’t really bother us. Or we jump to spiritual teachings to put a positive spin on what has happened. Under-reactions tend to go unnoticed, of course. We may have a subtle sense of flatness, emptiness, deadness or inertness, but it may not be disturbing or concerning. In fact, we may even take pride in our lack of emotionality. Particularly within some spiritual circles, people aspire to respond to all life’s travails with calmness and serenity, as if non-reactivity were the apogee of spiritual attainment. I have heard many people – myself included – berate themselves for being emotionally reactive to situations, as if that were a bad thing which the people we deem to be more spiritually evolved than us would not do. Yet if we lose sight of the fact that under-reaction is just as skewed as over-reaction, we will fail to recognise that bypassing, denial, avoidance, over-intellectualisation or an unwillingness to feel might all masquerade as equanimity, when in fact they are nothing of the sort.

The hoisting of rationality and non-reactivity above all other qualities has profound and detrimental consequences, in my experience. It leads to judgement and manipulation – both inter- and intra-personally – and cuts us off from the truth and aliveness of our deeper selves. It supports existing power structures by framing the proportionate responses of oppressed or disempowered peoples – outrage, anger, grief to name a few – as unreasonable and over-reactive. It paints our natural, human emotions and responses to the large and small tragedies, shocks and joys of our lives as something to be ashamed of or to shrink from. A lack of reaction to our lives and the world around us is no more or less out of proportion than an over-reaction, but it is much more readily sanctioned by the powers-that-be, both temporal and spiritual.

Inquiry, therefore, is not about investigating our triggers in order to dampen or quiet our responses, either now or in the future. It is about giving full rein to our humanity and admitting to the whole extent of all our emotions and reactions, including the ones we have previously attempted to avoid or deny. As we do so, our responses begin to become proportionate to events and to the circumstances we find ourselves in. For some of us, this may manifest as a greater sense of calmness. For others, it may manifest as more emotionality. There is a time for calmness and a time for perturbation; a time for peace and times for rage, anger, and indignation; a time for happiness and a time for grief or misery. When we are willing to be with our experience just as it is in each moment, the idea that there is a state at which we need to arrive no longer makes sense.

To read more about Fiona Robertson, click here.

Changing the Paradigm Around Awakening – Our Desire Not to Feel

By Scott Kiloby.

I do wonder if the search for awakening or enlightenment is really about something different than what it is often made out to be.

Every time I have watched someone use this kind of work we do to start resting with and making all emotions conscious, letting them be as they are, inevitably the spiritual seeking begins to wind down right alongside that practice.

I think it is much more than a coincidence.

It would seem to be that it might drastically change the entire conversation about enlightenment or awakening if we all began to experience that this is indeed the case, that the mechanism of avoidance and escape of feelings is very much behind the drive to awaken. It seems the conversation around awakening would be much different, more pragmatic, if we began to view the search to awaken as merely an extension of our desire to avoid or escape painful emotions. It would no longer be about being special or being “those who are awakened” or any of that. And really no more about gurus. There would be a very practical view of it, helping everyone to reorient themselves systematically and begin addressing this desire to avoid and escape what is quite natural – emotions.

It seems that identification with thought itself diminishes greatly, once these feelings are owned fully. The Kiloby Center has become a lab for me to test out this theory. And it seems very accurate.

The focus for those who search for awakening often centers on the notion of awareness as something prior to the arising of thought, emotion. The focus is often on thoughts themselves, or identification with them. The idea is, “If I identify less with thought, I will recognize my True Self as this Awareness.” Ok, fair enough. But what will that give you? What will that show you ultimately? Is there something about the human experience itself that is driving this idealized search for something beyond? Virtually every mature awareness teachings says that even awareness (as something prior to thought and emotion) falls away at some point. So recognizing an Awareness prior to phenomena is not even the final frontier. It seems to me that recognizing awareness ultimately must come with a full-on acceptance and allowance of all phenomena to be as they are – all thoughts and emotions. And this results in less identification with thoughts and emotions. Could it be that it is our relationship to thought and emotion that is the key factor here – not some transcendental notion of awareness?

In the last few years, I have been focusing much more with people on the Velcro Effect, which is the experience of thoughts being stuck to emotions and sensations. The Inquiries undo this stuckness, not through avoidance and escape, but through the bare naked present allowing of all emotions, both conscious and unconscious. And at the Center, when clients become adept at this skill, their spiritual seeking fades. They come naturally into alignment with the present moment and the natural acceptance of all that arises. Identification with thought decreases with the undoing of the Velcro. And although many report a shift into present awareness, it ends up being not something prior to thought and emotion. The whole idea of “prior to” starts looking like an escape or avoidance of thought and emotion. As the Velcro Effect is undone, even thought and emotion are totally ok. Everything is allowed. And so the whole paradigm of awakening is blown out of the water. The word “awareness” and all the other words thrown around about awakening begin to seem silly and unuseful. What people actually come to see is that they just didn’t want to feel. And they had spent their whole lives trying not to feel. As feelings are fully felt and the velcro is undone, life looks different.

There is no longer a state in the future that looks so appealing, either as a state of only positive bliss or a state in which emotions are absent. There is nothing to seek. There is nothing to avoid or escape. There is no specialness to this. It’s a matter of simply reorienting themselves to emotions that were stuck to thoughts. Learn to undo the Velcro, and the avoidance and escape stops. Therefore the seeking stops.