Are the Living Inquiries about getting results in your life or even ending suffering?
Before I can answer that from my own perspective, I have to provide some background. Everything I am sharing here is from my experience and not meant as a guide to the way someone else is supposed to experience this work.
When I first created what has now become the Living Inquiries, the spiritual seeking had already ended. What does that mean? Does it mean, “I was already done – I was awakened?” No . . . you see I don’t talk that way. I don’t subscribe to the club of “I’m inherently awakened.” I don’t see that as real. I see that as a conventional notion, a phrase we use merely for communication in certain contexts, not as a designation of who or what I really am. Stated in Living Inquiries terms, I have looked for awakened and couldn’t find that existing inherently, apart from the words, pictures, emotions and sensations that arise in a very illusory way, one by one, and apart from other notions such as “I’m not awakened.” And so to say that I was already awakened would be like saying, with a straight face, “I am not awakened.” Neither feels inherently true.
What a strange and beautiful matrix-like existence in which we live! If there is one thing I have come to see with the Inquiries, it’s that life is so very much like a matrix. I suppose that’s the main result of the Living Inquiries – to transform what you take to be a serious and fixed reality and then to see it as open, empty, not-fixed and not so serious.
Buddha spoke of the end of suffering. This begs the question, “If the Living Inquiries have their roots in Buddhism, aren’t the Living Inquiries all about achieving this result – the end of suffering?” The answer is not as easy as one might think, precisely because of the matrix-like nature of how things are perceived once this work is taken very thoroughly into one’s life.
What the Living Inquiries do, most of all, is refute what we believe so that we can live a life of peace, freedom, non-clinging – a life that takes it all much less seriously. Most of what I’m saying to folks when I work with them is this: “Can you see that you are taking this whole game (whatever the game is for you) so seriously that it creates suffering?” “If you can see that, are you ready to relax and take another look at the game (whatever it is for you) from a different angle?” Once they are ready, we can look at anything. We can look at who they take themselves to be, their anxieties, addictions, insecurities, world views — all of it. The whole matrix can be looked at. And the result may be, and often is, a reduction or elimination of suffering. That includes less or no addiction, less or no anxiety, less or no suffering – period. If this work were not ultimately about relieving the suffering of humans, I would have no interest in it. So, yes, it’s all about getting results. But not in the manner to which we are accustomed. That is to say, the way these results come about is virtually completely opposite of the way our brains are hard-wired to look for results. We normally look towards the future as an end point, a place to which we will arrive one day and reach the results we seek. But the Living inquiries challenge everything, including the whole notion of future results. When even the notion of future results is seen to be not inherently there apart from a few thoughts, emotions, and sensations, the results start arriving. The suffering begins to end or wane. But as part of the seeing of this matrix, even “the end of suffering” begins to be seen as empty, not-fixed, not real, and not something to strive for towards the future. To strive for something in the future, you first have to believe it is inherently findable and real.
When this work was created, I wasn’t looking for enlightenment anymore. I had already seen that the phrase was empty – not inherently real. It too was seen as a conventional notion. So I must have already been done, right? I must have already been enlightened? No, again, enlightenment is not inherently existing for me. It’s not as if I saw that the self was empty, but enlightenment was not. This work can reveal the transparency of all these things.
This work was created as a way to relax and simply look at present experience as it arises moment by moment – not for the purpose of getting somewhere but rather for the purpose of examining all the assumptions behind the need to get somewhere. Even though I often talk publicly about this work as having the potential to relieve addiction, anxiety, depression, spiritual seeking and a host of other things, the process of this work itself – the actual looking – is about simply investigating in a very relaxed, present way what is already being believed, what is already here.
Take for example the notion of dissolving anxiety (through the Anxiety Inquiry). It sounds as if the point it to use the inquiry to get to some end game where there is no more anxiety. If the Anxiety Inquiry did not ultimately reduce or eliminate anxiety, I would not stand behind it. I certainly would not facilitate folks with it. What would be the point? But the actual facilitation of that inquiry is not results-based. It is not about putting out ahead of yourself – in the future – the notion of a real state that you will reach where you will be free of anxiety one day. To treat this work that way would be to treat the matrix of self, itself, as real. Instead, the facilitation of this work helps anxiety by questioning all of “the assumptions in which we are drenched,” as Senior Facilitators Fiona Robertson and Nikki Freeburn have said.
Here are just some of the assumptions operating when anxiety is present and when there is a desire to be free of anxiety sometime in the future – a desire for future results:
Anxiety is real.
The threats I am experiencing are real.
Someday, if I work hard enough on my anxiety, I will be free of it.
I am unsafe right now. This feeling in my body is unsafe.
Other people scare meI need to be fixed.
These are all assumptions that can be examined with the anxiety inquiry and other inquiries. But the actual examination, the actual process of resting and looking for the threat is not about getting to a later state. It’s about challenging the present assumptions that are arising. In fact, a good facilitation session on anxiety has, as its only goal, to look at what is arising right now. The facilitator asks, “See that picture?” The client responds, “Yes.” In that moment, when the picture is seen, that goal has already been met because previously that picture was not being made conscious. It was not being seen. As it remained unconscious where one couldn’t see it, it was being given power. As the session continues, the facilitator asks, “Is that picture the threat?” The client responds, “Yes.” And in the moment of saying yes, the goal has been achieved. The client is answering honestly about their own experience, the perception of that picture as a threat. Experience is not right or wrong. It’s just experience. In the moment of saying “yes,” the opportunity arises to then see and begin feeling the emotion under that picture. The facilitator then guides the client to feel that emotion. And in the moment it is being felt, the goal of the Living Inquiries session has been met. Previously, that emotion was unfelt. So feeling it is the achievement of the goal.
As the session continues, the point is only to rest, see, feel and answer some questions. During the sessions, any and all assumptions about a future state in which the client will either be free of anxiety or will still suffer from it are examined. No stone is left unturned.
Ultimately, quite often, the threat cannot be found in any words, pictures, emotions or sensations. When the threat cannot be found, the very looking for a future state of freedom from anxiety is seen to be irrelevant. It was part of the matrix. But the freedom comes not from saying to oneself, “I can’t find the threat,” for those are just words. The freedom comes through the moment by moment process of simply seeing and feeling what was previously unconscious. Meeting experience directly. The process is the result. They are one in the same.
One might ask, “So then the client achieved the result of relieving anxiety through the session, right?” No. We cannot thwart off the future arising of thoughts, emotions, and sensations. We can only look now. Once we are looking now, we have achieved the point of the inquiries entirely. The point is to be conscious now – to see. The point is not to see through it in one session with the idea that now I am fixed forever. To think we can do that is to get back into the game of treating time and self as inherently real, as if we are truly selves that can be fixed forever. These are the assumptions that are examined in the Living Inquiries. They are not fed into and taken to be real. They are examined as they arise – moment by moment.
To understand fully what I’m saying, one has to dive into this work thoroughly and examine all the assumptions about what results are, how they are being chased, and what sense of self underlies the very chasing after results.
When we first come to this work, we may see it as a method that we do for the purpose of getting to a later state where there is no more suffering. But if we stick with it, we see that it is something else entirely.
It is so very much NOT about chasing results that we finally start seeing results – ironically. Most of our game of chasing results comes from reliance on the story of ourselves in time as being what we really are or being inherently our identity. We naturally want to fix that self because we take it to be real and true in the first place, as our identity. As long as we believe that, we think of results as something we achieve at one point in time and never suffer from later. We play back into the game of time and self as inherent things.
The irony or paradox is that this work does bring about results. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be interested in it. But the results look very different than what we might have imagined from the get-go. We stop trying to fix ourselves. We stop looking for the future to fix us or even the Living Inquiries. We stop looking for the hand of time to swoop down and pull us into the perfect future state. We stop looking for all that stuff and we just begin looking now at what arises. For what reason? Just to look, that’s all – to see what assumptions we are drenched in.
When we shift away from seeing time and self as inherently findable, we are swimming in the results of this work. Things shift – sometimes dramatically. We may feel more peace, freedom, compassion, love. Who knows what will be realized. We have to dive in to see. We often find either the end of suffering or at least the reduction of it.
How can that happen if we aren’t chasing results?
It happens BECAUSE we aren’t chasing results. We are just exploring in a completely different way, seeing the matrix for what it is.
Then we get to live in the matrix anyway, with all of its stories, words, people, things, relationships and everything else. But now it is being increasingly examined, seen, and allowed in a totally different way. Maybe that’s the ultimate paradox – that we find that there was never anything wrong with the matrix to begin with. We were just taking it way too seriously.