We come to the practice of self-inquiry from all different backgrounds – and thus, different techniques will fit different people better.
This article will begin with a short discussion of CBT, but it’s not about mindfulness therapies or psychology; it will move on to finish the thought of the previous blog: using self inquiry to chase away beliefs.
For me, the easiest and most apparent way was through the various CBT and REBT techniques coined by Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck during the 19th century. They form the basis of modern Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Albert Ellis took great pride in the fact that his own form of “inquiry” was a very accessible one.
Ellis once held the belief that, perhaps, women would reject him. Rather than write on this belief or light candles or hold a seance to begin the inquiry and purification process, Ellis simply decided to use the scientific method to “test” his belief (yes, the empirical method is a form of inquiry!).
He sat on a park bench and began cordially greeting women (in horror, perhaps, at first). To his shock, they did not openly reject him, spit on him or humiliate him. His internal belief had been defeated through simple exposure. This is one simple method of inquiry that anyone can practice if they can pin down the belief in question and design a simple enough experiment to test it.
It’s not always so overt, though, and sometimes the spiritual ground becomes more slippery – especially as the self begins to disintegrate more and more, or, when we’re dealing with something much more subtle than an outright belief (maybe something like a sense, or an inkling).
Nothing is exempt from inquiry, though, by definition – not a single thought, emotion or sense (feeling) that passes through you is exempt from it. This is a good thing, in that it means that you need not suffer mindlessly. When a bad feeling or sensation or “inkling” arises; or even an absurd and irrational belief, it can be tested.
Distracting ourselves from painful thoughts is not a very good long term solution. It’s probably counter to the process of both basic and spiritual maturation.
One technique used by the guru “Adyashanti” was to simply write out an experience on paper, at a coffee shop – to practice inquiry this way. I’m assuming this didn’t happen in Australia; he wouldn’t have had enough money to sit in the coffee shop and continue this practice (no such thing as an endless cup – expensive lattes). This was something that happened in San Francisco … where he was able to write 2000 words in a go.
One method I use is based on CBT. One of the common fallacies about CBT is that it’s a purely “rational” process. That’s not true; at least not the way I practiced it, was taught to practice it, or currently practice it. In encompasses feelings, sensations, the whole gamut. It’s also concise, so you can get it done more quickly – before you’re chased out of a cheapo Sydney cafe that has a 10 dollar card limit.
Anything can bait you … and so, with the inquiry process of CBT, the goal is to find the thing that’s baited you … the sensation, thought, image, whatever.
The notion of “the mystical guru” is horse shit, for lack of a better word. Any given person can put on a magical robe and fancy shoes and claim their simple method for self inquiry is … based on a 100,000 year old tradition sent down by the heavens themselves, or by Buddha, through riddles.
You can use a simple CBT worksheet to begin; you can move past that and become more sophisticated, but that’s a fine place to begin (or an ACT sheet or any mindfulness sheet, doesn’t matter).
You don’t even NEED to have a worksheet or a computer or a writing utensil in front of you, though. I’ll use an example: The thought or feeling or gut sensation comes into my mind that says to me: “This person should love me.” Or … “This person should not be ignoring me,” or, “this person should be doing what I want them to be doing.”
The next step is to simply follow with a totally honest answer. This part is essential though – the answer must be HONEST! It might be extremely absurd or degrading … so do it alone. As long as you’re alone, though, it’s fine – do it, it doesn’t matter if the parrots hear it.
So, back again to “This person should love me.” But … the person, they simply aren’t doing this thing you THINK they should be doing! They’re not validating you. They don’t recognize your need. Maybe they’re ignoring you. And so here we have some thought-bait. What a horrible thing! What an awful person to ignore me!
You could break off here into different ways of answering this if you’re using CBT. You could stop and say … well, this person, they have their own perspective … their own life, their own business. Maybe my needs never even entered into the equation, and thus, they didn’t do it on purpose or maliciously.
However, with the spiritual self inquiry (the inquiry I’m calling a bit deeper than CBT, technically), it might be necessary to be a bit more subtle than this … or even a bit more irrational. We’ll go along those lines then. So we’ll GO with the thought instead!
Let’s take a brief moment here to acknowledge that we’re departing your typical western psychology, and moving into eastern practices a bit more – at least in the sense that we’re chasing away annoying little illusions (sometimes very illusive and paradoxical ones).
So … what SHOULD they (the person who should be paying loving attention to me) be doing instead? They should be … showing me love, of course! THEY SHOULD BE SHOWING ME LOVE, WAH WAH WAH. Ok. Alright, you can sit with the sensations and feelings that come with that horror – with the horrible revelation that you’re not getting love.
They SHOULD be showing me love … but they’re NOT. They’re IGNORING me! Ok … let’s say that they weren’t ignoring me; let’s say I got to have my way and use the powers of my will to FORCE them to do what I wanted instead! What would THAT look like? So … we’re trying to understand, what’s at the core of this desire (if there is any).
So, with this example, for instance, “they shouldn’t be ignoring me … because, I’M WONDERFUL!” … and so, instead of ignoring me, they’ll come to show me respect and admire my wonderfulness and give me overflowing love and validation. Ok, what would be the point of that?
Well … if they showed me love … by telling me how awesome I was … I’d stop feeling bad. Why? They’d have told me how wonderful I am! So … is that it? That’s all I needed? Someone to come and tell me that? Someone I hold in high regard (and maybe even not!) to come and tell me these things? Is that what this is really about? What I really wanted was someone to come along and say “Oh dear Michael, YES you have value, you’re so beautiful, yes you have value.” Once I get that … I’ll be ok?
Probably not. Once this person has given me all of this beautiful love … you might get a certain feeling that FEELS like happiness or warmth … but … you’ll also get the sensation that “this person needs to do that ALL the time now. ALL DAY LONG.” What the hell good is it for it to be a one off? It needs to be permanent!
So, now I’ve got this person as a full time servant. That’s what I needed – a slave!
Ok let’s step back for a second – what did I want initially? I just wanted them to pay attention to me … and it’s gone from that to … needing an eternal slave who will validate my needs in the most intimate ways forever.
So they let’s say I get even THAT. Will it be alright? Maybe … or … maybe I’ll want … MORE! Eternal validation.
So: Will I be happy if I have ETERNAL VALIDATION? So, now I’ve got this absurd scenario in mind … with this person (maybe a beautiful person you love, or maybe just anyone), and they’re now an eternal validation machine.
You’re wonderful Michael – you’re so perfectly beautiful Michael (forever). Now … at this point, some people might be ok to break off and realize it’s getting a bit absurd. Their wiser mind might let up the death grip on the desire at this point. But maybe you take it a step further?
So, now I’ve got my personal validation slave going with me everywhere all the time. Is that what I want? Is it?
You can start to come to the conclusion … it has nothing to do with the initial person. You can come to a conclusion; and it doesn’t need to be rational … but you can feel in your GUT at that moment the end of this line of rational thinking (that this thinking has now ceased to be anything resembling reasonable). You can simply sense it … no need to write or speak; you can even linger at that horizon.
You’ll find emptiness at that horizon … and if the emptiness is good enough spiritually, you don’t need it anymore. You can realize now that the initial thing you wanted; what you thought you wanted – you didn’t. You felt in your gut the essential untruth of that line of reasoning …
You’ve done self inquiry.
I’ll expand this idea further next time by attempting to take a more elusive thought (maybe something we consider even more central to ourselves), and dividing it against itself to produce flowers.