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The Three Tiers

By Scott Kiloby.   You can take the Living Inquiries as deep as you want to go with them. They can be used to stop or quiet negative behaviors and issues (e.g., addiction, anxiety, depression, OCD, etc). They can help you take yourself and life much less seriously. They can be taken further into seeing the transparency of anything that is perceived as separate including self, other, the world, revealing a natural acceptance of everything that arises moment by moment. If taken even further, they can even be used to dissolve the core self contraction.

Many people stop somewhere along the way, especially before they have looked at everything that is separate. Many more stop short of dissolving the self contraction. I have written this article and created its corresponding diagram as a guide to help those who want to take this work as deeply as I have and beyond. I have seen no limit to the depths that simple, systematic looking with the Inquiries can provide. If you find a limit, let me know. But first, look for limit with the Unfindable Inquiry.

Three Tiers
There really are no tiers. If you went looking for a Tier in your experience with the Unfindable Inquiry, you wouldn’t find it. That’s the real beauty of the Living Inquiries – that whatever we conceive as existing somewhere independent of thoughts, emotions and sensations cannot be found. But, conventionally speaking, we can break up experience in certain ways. This can help show you where you are with the Inquiries and even how to go deeper. The three tiers discussed in this section are depicted in the diagram at the top of this article.

Notice that the diagram above has these three tiers: Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3.  I’ll proceed first with Tier 1, then Tier 2, then Tier 3 to explain how the self contraction (Tier 1) manifests as an outer layer of thoughts, emotions and sensations (Tier 2 – The separate self identity), which then manifests as activity or behaviors in Tier 3 – mainly seeking behavior.

Tier 1 denotes the basic energetic self-contraction (often felt physically in the body) which shows up mainly as a knot or knots generally in the area of the body from the throat all the way down to the bottom of the groin.  Contraction is often experienced in the stomach or lower abdomen. But it also shows up in various ways in the throat, heart area, pelvic area and other areas running essentially down the center of the body.

It is important to be really clear that Tier 1 denotes only this felt, energetic contraction. It is dense energy only (like a fist or knot). Tier 1 does not include the myriad of temporary thoughts, emotions and sensations that come and go throughout the course of a day. It does not include the story of self, the particular motivations and reactions of the self (commands and threats) or the outward layer of seeking towards things outside of oneself.

Those are all depicted in Tiers 2 and 3.  Tier 1 represents that basic felt contraction, from which all human activity arises, including suffering and seeking in all of its forms.  As long as it remains undissolved, we continue to experience seeking and suffering in various forms and degrees. I will come back to the self-contraction and how to dissolve it later on in this article.  For now, just note that I made a clear distinction between the energetic self contraction in Tier 1 and its effects in Tiers 2 and 3.

Tier 2 includes what could be called the first layer of effects of that Tier 1 contraction. Tier 2 represents the separate self identity as it shows up in thoughts, emotions and sensations in each moment.  We know ourselves on the surface as a story of past and future that carries with it corresponding emotions and sensations.

For example, if thoughts of past arise that are identified with, one might feel anger, resentment, hurt, shame, loss, sadness, grief or even pleasure in the body. If thoughts of future arise, one might experience fear, anxiety, hope or addictive seeking. This movement of self at Tier 2 contains, at its basic essence, a belief in a deficient self. This is one of the reasons for the development of the Living Inquiries arose. The inquiries are great at seeing through all forms of deficiency or lack.

For now, just note that Tier 2 represents the experience of separation, including the separate self identity, all of which is known, felt and experienced by way of temporary thoughts, emotions and sensations (both conscious and subconscious) that we identify with or buy into.

With the Living Inquiries, we tend to use the terms words, pictures and sensations instead.  This just makes it easier to facilitate people.  Thoughts are either words or mental pictures.  Sensations include emotions such as anger or sadness as well as bodily sensations such as pleasure or pain.  In this Tier, we also experience our basic reactions and motivations (both conscious and subconscious) like threats and compulsions.  Because of the Tier 1 contraction, we react in fear and are motivated to survive and to seek or reach outside ourselves to find comfort for our pain.  Tier 2 activity arises directly from the Tier 1 self-contraction. This is why I call the Tier 2 arisings “effects” of the primal self-contraction.  Tier 2 also includes all forms of separation.  It’s not just that we conceive of a separate self, but also separate others, a separate world, separate countries, days, flowers, etc.  The Tier 1 contraction gives rise to the sense of a separate self and the entire experience of separation.

Tier 3 denotes the activities of seeking.  These activities are the natural effects of Tiers 1 and 2 (the effects of the experience of separation).   We seek outside ourselves for “long-term” goals such as safety, love, happiness, enlightenment/awakening, self-improvement, career advances, money, success, acknowledgement, praise, attention and connection.

Those are the Big Searches. We can spend a lifetime looking for these long term goals while never fully reaching them completely. All of this comes from the separate self identity and its motivations and reactions, as denoted in Tier 2, which – again – has at its very core the basic self contraction denoted in Tier 1.

There are also the Little Searches in Tier 3, which include reaching out moment by moment for immediate relief (instead of long term relief as in Big Searches). These momentary searches involved reaching for things like caffeine, drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, sex, pornography, cleaning, nail-biting, organizing, fixing others and a whole host of other substances and activities – too many to name.

Reducing or eliminating anxiety, discomfort, pain and depression are examples of Big or Little Searches.  All of these Big and Little Searches normally do not result in complete relief and satisfaction. Therefore, most humans are in a constant state of seeking for what cannot be attained.

Using the Three Tiers with the Living Inquiries

If you have already been using the Living Inquiries, you may already see how this diagram applies to the Inquiries.  Let me reverse the order of the Tiers in order to show how the Inquiries have worked in my life.
Using LI in Tier 3
Tier 3, as I said, includes activities or behaviours of seeking.  Some come to this work only to reduce or eliminate addictive seeking or other negative behaviours and issues like anxiety or depression.  This is a fine use of the inquiries.  And no one is required to take this work deeper than that.  These people may not be necessarily interested in thoroughly seeing through the self identity and its corresponding self contraction.  The Compulsion and Anxiety Inquiries are really useful in these cases.  With the Compulsion Inquiry, one looks for the urge or command to drink, smoke, watch porn, etc (Little Searches).  With the Anxiety Inquiry, one looks for the threat in drinking, smoking, watching porn etc.  By letting every word, picture and sensation be as it is and looking for the urge or command, one comes up empty.  He can’t find the urge or command.  This relaxes the compulsion.  By looking for the threat, one also comes up empty on that side of the equation.  The threat cannot be found.  This relaxes our aversion or anxiety around the addictive substance or activity.

The Compulsion and Anxiety Inquiries are certainly not limited to Little Searches.  They can be applied to both the Big and the Little Searches.  It is not uncommon for a facilitator to guide someone into looking for the desire for love, happiness or even enlightenment.

The key to remember is that Tier 3 is mostly about activity or behaviour.  Those who come just to quiet that kind of seeking sometimes leave the Inquiries when the Big or Little Search has quieted enough to make life more peaceful.  To go deeper, one has to start using the Unfindable Inquiry to examine the identities behind all that seeking and anxiety.  Inevitably, without going deeper, seeking and suffering will arise again in some other form.
Using LI in Tier 2
Tier 2 involves looking at the separate self and all forms of separation that are fueling all that seeking in Tier 3.  This is where the Unfindable Inquiry becomes useful.  The separate self sense includes a basic feeling of deficiency or inadequacy that may come in one or more of the following forms:  I’m unlovable, I’m unsafe, I’m disconnected, I’m weak, I’m not good enough, etc.  By examining these stories and being with everything as it arises, a particular deficient self cannot be found (e.g., one cannot find the self who isn’t good enough).  Some people stay at this level of investigation only, looking for particular deficient selves and really experiencing tremendous shifts in perception.  While using the Unfindable Inquiry, one can easily enter the Compulsion and Anxiety Inquiries, so that the investigation includes looking for the deficient self as well as looking for the urge to seek or various perceived threats.  This triple whammy can be quite powerful.

The Unfindable Inquiry can be used on anything.  One doesn’t have to look just for a deficient self.  Once could look for “this crappy day” or “my oppressive government” or “cancer.”  To truly see that the very thing that seems real and true is not there can untangle a lot of suffering.

Some people only use the Living Inquiries in the manner described above.  They experience transformative shifts.  But many leave before working with the basic self contraction in Tier 1.

“Can that self contraction be seen through or dissolved with LI?”  “And, if the basic self contraction is still present, isn’t the experience of separation still present on some level?”   I found that the answer to these questions in my own life is “yes.”  But working with the self contraction has to be done skilfully.  That brings us to Tier 1.
Using LI in Tier 1
In order to understand that Tier 1 work is different than the other Tiers, you have to first acknowledge that, at the core of your being, there is a self contraction.  If you looked for the self contraction with the Unfindable Inquiry, you wouldn’t find it.  And yet, there may still very well be this self contraction, this primal energy, playing itself out in various areas of your life.  And it’s painful, like a clenched fist.  Hold your hand out and clench a fist.  Notice that the tighter the clenching, the more painful it is.  I’ve come to see that as long as this basic energetic contraction is present and activated in one degree or another and as long as it remains undissolved, there are Tier 2 effects including fear and addiction and some basic feeling of separateness operating.  “It’s inevitable,” as Adi Da used to say.

Now, to the question of dissolving this self-contraction: this is perhaps the trickiest and most subtle form of work.  Using LI at this Tier must be skillful.  It is easy to over-inquire, adding too many questions.  Over-inquiring will keep your attention away from the contraction.  You will know you are over-inquiring when you are becoming obsessive about it or still trying to reach a later state with LI (i.e., still seeking).  Still, LI is quite useful at examining the various Tier 2 effects of the contraction (the continuing stories, threats, desires which keep us focused away from the contraction itself).  We spend our whole lives in Tier 3 seeking and then, when we begin to use LI, we spend a great deal of time looking at Tier 2 stuff.  This is necessary in order to clear away a lot of stuff, so that we can begin with Tier 1 contraction work.

During this point in my investigation, I used many different forms of inquiry, investigated it from many different angles.  I would “sit with” or “rest with” the contraction for long periods of time.  I used tapping, meditation and many other practices.  I would say to the contraction, “Thank you for arising, I love you, stay as long as you’d like.”  And to some degree, all of that truly helped loosen the grip of the contraction.  I would notice that the contraction was not me while using the Unfindable Inquiry and that it was just appearing in awareness.  Still, the point was that it was still there.  And as much as I knew that wanting it to dissolve was just keeping it there, I kept trying, trying, trying.

I think a lot of folks who follow spiritual teachings or engage in practices end up in this weird place where they have experienced powerful shifts in perception, including realising that there is no self, but they still experience some form of this energetic self contraction.  This is bypassing.  I have had many conversations with non-dual teachers who have told me privately that this is their experience.  I think we, as humans, easily get busy again with Tier 1 Little and Big Searches when we come face to face with this contraction.  Or we stay busy in Tier 2 inquiring, when it is really time to move onto Tier 1 work.  We are essentially running from this core contraction.  Even if you leave LI, you take the contraction with you.

If you are ready to move to Tier 1 work, first make sure that you are not bypassing.  Bypassing is moving your attention away from something prematurely, as a way to avoid pain and discomfort.  If you move too quickly to Tier 1 work, in an attempt to bypass addiction, depression, anxiety, pain or deficiency stories, you are likely to be unsuccessful.  That stuff will continue to run the show, keeping your attention away from the self contraction.  If you experience an “abiding as awareness,” you may be bypassing.  Your attention has moved too quickly to that recognition, while the self contraction is still operating.  Be careful of bypassing.  If there is mental and emotional pain there, be with it.  Inquire into it.  Let it be as it is.  You will know when you are ready for Tier 1 work.  You will notice that this primal contraction is more obvious, more conscious, and you will begin to really see that it is the root of all of that activity.  You are then ready for Tier 1 work.
Here is how to dissolve that contraction:

1. When you are alone in a quiet place (away from the daily triggers), use UI, CI and AI only to inquire into the Tier 2 effects of the contraction. Use the process of mining to pull out the words and pictures that seem to be stuck to or embedded in that contraction.  Even notice that the word “contraction” is not you.  All that is left at this point is the felt-experience of the contraction, appearing in pure space that surrounds it.  At this point your mind is quiet.  Stop inquiring.

2. While alone in a quiet place, and you have mined everything out of the contraction, begin to feel yourself as this contraction itself. When there are no words or pictures on the contraction, continuing to inquire sets you apart from the contraction, as if you are separate from it and trying to do something with it, which often keeps it in place or solidifies it. Witnessing it from awareness also sets you apart from it.  Conceiving of it as something that is happening to you sets you apart from it.  Conceiving of it as happening within the body sets you apart from it.

These attempts at setting yourself apart from the contraction are attempts to dissociate from the contraction.  If any of those attempts to set yourself apart from it arise, go back to using inquiry to see that awareness is unfindable and that all those thoughts about it “happening in a body” or happening to you” or that “you are feeling it” or “resting with it” are not you.  They are Tier 2 effects of this basic contraction.

Disassociating leads you back to reframing yourself as a separate self in the Tier 2 effects, in words, pictures and sensations.  It can also take attention away from the contraction and back into Tier 3 seeking.  We spend most of our time in Tier 3 seeking, which is dissociation.  We then spend a lot of time inquiring into the Tier 2 effects, still dissociating from this primal contraction.  Tier 1 work is about no longer dissociating.  It is about feeling the contraction as yourself.  Drop even those pointers like “let it be” or “do nothing.”  Those are Tier 2 words about a separate person.  Standing as the contraction means feeling it as yourself.  It does not mean thinking about it as yourself.  Thinking about it would be a Tier 2 effect – in words or pictures.  To feel it as yourself, your mind must be quiet and the contraction must be felt as an energy standing alone in the pure space that surrounds in every direction.  Again, do this when you are alone in a quiet place.  Take plenty of time each day – hours even – to be alone doing this work.

3. Throughout the day, when you are busy in your life around all the usual triggers, stand as that contraction – feeling it as yourself in each moment. Just watch the activity of that contraction, watch all of its effects and inquire only when helpful.  For example, watch the reactions and motivations of the contraction.  See those thoughts just come and go.  Rest as the space between the thoughts, feeling yourself again as this contraction happening in the space.  Use the inquiries throughout the day, when you are not sitting alone in a quiet place.   AI looks for the threat – this is the reactivity.  CI looks for the urge or command – this is the motivation of the contraction.  UI looks for the self thoughts.

4. Whether you are sitting quietly alone or around the daily triggers, look for any thoughts like this: “I don’t like this;” “I want this to go away;” “This feels uncomfortable.”  These are ways in which the mind tries again to dissociate from the energy, which leads back into seeking.  Inquire into those or just let them be as they are – watch them come and go.

5. Once you are doing Tier 1 work, the key is readiness. Is there a readiness to feel that energy as yourself in every moment?   Notice when there is no readiness, when you are reaching for comfort or reacting again to perceived threats.  Be easy on yourself.  Let all that arise.  Use the Inquiries at that point.  Go back to feeling yourself as this energy.

6.  Sometimes there is an unconscious resistance to the contraction (preverbal). Using the phrase, “Thank you for arising, I love you, you are welcome to stay” can release the unconscious resistance.

This practice released the contraction for me.

Many people leave LI or other spiritual practice too soon.  They come face to face with this core contraction and the flight response kicks in, along with seeking.  If you are experiencing that tendency to run, speak to someone who has experience taking this work very deeply.

I am not suggesting that this is the only way to work with the Tier 1 contraction.  It is simply the way I have worked with it.  This has been singlehandedly the most important realisation for me.  LI has been very useful.  But knowing when to use the questions on the effects of the contraction and knowing when to stop asking the questions was very key for me.  Virtually everything else I tried only solidified the contraction or kept it there.

I won’t go into lots of details about why this Tier 1 work is so valuable.  I’ll simply say this:   sweet, sweet peace, freedom and well-being.  If you read those words and it creates seeking, just notice that it is Tier 3 operating again.

If you are ready to work with this basic contraction, please do it skilfully.  I suggest working with a facilitator who has navigated all this territory or come to work with me at the Kiloby Center.  I do this work every day there.


  1. Michael says:

    I found this a good way to look at this work. I myself have not fully resolved tier 1 but parts of it. The thing i also realized is that we have to become it consciously to resolve it. for me techniques do not help much it is more about becoming it, which activates the univers to bring the excact outer expierences that breaks part of the core away. I have also found that it is an energetic sensation and one cannot elicit anything out of it but when certain outer things line up suddenly deep, very unberable emotions come up and after that parts of it disapear. One thing i have also noticed is that when one is open one can find imprints beyond that core contraction.
    Thanks for writing and sharing this article!!!

    All the best

    • Hi Michael. Yes, that’s my experience too – there’s a conscious becoming of it to resolve it. And yes, it is fascinating to see how external events or situations can trigger the deep emotions so that we can access them and resolve them. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Warmest wishes,


  2. Michael says:

    Hi Fiona!

    Thansk for your reply!!
    I have found this conscious becoming a great “tool” (for a lack of better word) to deepen understanding of how objects relate to pure awareness. For ex. consciously becoming the body until the body releases some stagnant energy and becomes more transparent and with that an understanding of how it is created within and out of awareness and somehow awareness then can move more deeper into the body. For me that is a great way to deepen and undertand emobodiment.


    • Hi Michael

      Yes, absolutely. In my experience, this is all about deepening into our experience moment by moment. Recently, the phrase ‘be in your being’ came to me. That has taken me even more deeply into what you describe, that it is all created within and out of awareness somehow. What an exploration!

      Warmest wishes


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