When I was nine years old, I grew intensely afraid of death. I was plagued by the thought, “Why was I born if only to die?” This terror stayed with me until I was in my thirties.
One night, my wife went out for the evening with a mutual friend. She was supposed to be home at 11:00 p.m., but had not yet arrived at 2:00 a.m., when I awakened from my sleep. Fear arose in me. Because I had been meditating for years, I did not run with the fear, but, instead, I got curious:
“Why am I afraid?”
“I’m afraid she was killed in an accident.”
“What am I really afraid of?”
“I’m afraid of dying.”
There it was, staring me in the face. The intensity of my distress compelled me to continue inquiring.
“What is death? What am I really afraid of?”
(Note: We often believe that we fear death because it is the great unknown. But, with reflection, you will see that it is impossible to fear what we do not know. There is always some thing we believe exists in the “unknown”.)
“I’m afraid of being all alone in the Universe forever.”
Inquiring into “What does it mean to be all alone in the Universe forever?” with ALL OF MY BEING opened my awareness: I found myself standing inside an immense sphere made of overlapping iridescent green plates, so huge that I could not see the top. And I was ALL Alone! In that exact moment, I experienced my Wholeness and my connection to everything in the Universe. Because the Aloneness/emptiness is infinite, everything is contained within it!
The next morning, I realized that I never had to be lonely again, because I could always be with myself in the Aloneness. And I have not been lonely since that moment.
This experience is a poignant example of a particular kind of reflecting. Normally, when I think of reflecting, it involves looking at some issue from the “outside”; a “me” is looking at an “it.” Instead, to truly understand something, I need to enter into the contemplation wholeheartedly, completely – from “inside” the question, becoming one with it. This often results in a psychological and/or spiritual insight that opens my Being/awareness to a deeper Knowing of a more spacious sense of “self.” This is a “transformational,” as opposed to an “educational,” process.
I first learned about Inquiry from a Meditation and Inquiry teacher, Toni Packer, in the early ‘80’s. Toni LIVED the question “What is this?” She never got stuck believing she had all the answers because the Truth kept revealing itself continuously. True Inquiry leaves no possibility for arrogance!
My Inquiry skills have been honed since 2000 through my work with the Diamond Approach, a contemporary spiritual teaching that works through psychological issues to access spiritual dimensions of being. Because this teaching came through the mind of a physicist, A.H. Almaas, it is very precise.
Inquiry is a dynamic exploration into the mystery of who we truly are. It is based on a simple principle: True Nature freely reveals itself to you when you love and are fully committed to the truth.
In Inquiry, the qualities necessary for deep understanding and transformation are brought together: presence, gentleness, strength, vulnerability, love, curiosity, courage, willingness, steadfastness, etc. One inquires with the WHOLE BEING: the head needs to understand; the heart yearns for Truth, wholeness, aliveness, love, and connection; and the belly keeps one focused in the present moment.
Inquiry both requires and develops a profound openness and a laser-like ability to focus awareness. Without these qualities, the truth will remain hidden behind the wall ego builds to protect itself from being revealed to be a fraud! The intensity of one’s focused awareness needs to be equal to, or greater than, the intensity of the wall. With patience and persistence, issues are bored into with the spirit of “What is this?” allowing for an ongoing revelation of deeper levels of truth.
An open-ended Inquiry requires one to stay present to the big picture of spacious, non-discriminating awareness, while simultaneously discriminating the parts of what one is inquiring into from the whole. This process is like looking at something in the dark with both a searchlight and a spotlight. If you lose the big picture of presence or pure awareness, you will not be able to inquire deeply into the heart of the matter. Rather quickly, you will get caught in replaying stories about yourself and the way the world is.
Deep feelings may arise in Inquiry, and one needs to be careful to neither suppress them nor get lost in expressing them, but rather to “impress” them. That is, to meet the feelings with as great or greater an intensity of awareness than the intensity of the feelings, dropping the story and simply allowing the feeling to completely fill one’s being. The ability to not suppress and yet not express deep feelings takes time to master and comes naturally as powerful presence develops.
In Inquiry, there can be no manipulation, agenda and or pre-conceived ideas about where it will lead. One needs to get out of the way and simply be with and surrender into whatever arises. By following the intelligence of the soul and surrendering to one’s deepest yearning, Inquiry takes one through layers of the conditioned self: ego structures and defenses, self-images and identities, and the incessant mental activity of thinking and reacting. “Following one’s thread” accesses increasingly deep states of Presence — including the non-dual states where there is no separation from the Universe/God.
Inquiry can be done alone or with others. The skill is learned only by experience—and lots of it. As one progresses, the way reveals itself. Eventually, Inquiry becomes a natural way of being. Whenever confusion or difficulty arises, instead of fighting or running away from it, one will automatically ask, “What is this?” or “What’s happening here?” Curious examination opens up space around the issue. Each question is a doorway to the next, deeper layer of insight and understanding.
When the commitment to the truth becomes stronger than the commitment to protect one’s self-image/ego, one becomes free in a most fundamental way.
When I am fully involved in an Inquiry, it inspires me. It is a great adventure into the unknown. My Zen teacher, Philip Kapleau, said, “The spiritual journey is one of going I know not where by a path I know not how.” Starting with the issue at hand, I then surrender, drawn into whatever the Inquiry wants me to look at and be with. Following my thread is often experienced as a falling forward into the next moment, or a feeling of being magnetically drawn toward whatever is next, like being caught in a tractor beam from Star Trek. In such an exhilarating experience, revelations come one-after-another. The Inquiry can be very calm or energetic and dynamic. The experience can be emotionally charged or deep and still. It is whatever needs to happen at that time.
Ultimately, I inquire because I have to. I need to understand Who I am and What this life/Universe is all about. It is a natural movement of my Soul’s to need to Know Truth. I am like the fisher king; I suffer continuously, except when I am fishing for the Truth. We all suffer a sense of insufficiency when we live from the ego consciousness, as opposed to our True Nature. Our True Nature exists beyond pre-conceived ideas of “self” and the world. By fully entering into the moment, this truth is revealed. As Jack Kornfield says, “The journey is not from here to there, but from here to here!” Inquiry is one of the best tools to open awareness into Presence, where the suffering ends.
Inquiry is one of the primary tools I teach people in “Heartwork”, the process I developed in 1981. I have written a book entitled, Heartwork: How To Get What You Really, REALLY Want, It includes a number of other tools, that work in a slightly different way to reflect on and enter into one’s True Nature. The tools work together to open all aspects of one’s being in a harmonious way. My website www.awakentheheart.org gives one a taste of many of these in the “Do it yourself” section.