By Hanneke Geraeds-de Vries
These are challenging times, learning how to practice self-inquiry can help you ease suffering. There is a lot happening around us to take in. We may fixate on the screens that display news reports or Facebook feeds, or notice the surroundings when we have to venture out and be observant enough to keep a six-foot distance from other individuals. Along with everything that is going on externally, there is an equal amount going on internally that has a real impact on our minds and bodies. Yet somehow, we aren’t always fully aware of what’s happening on the inside (at least not of all aspects of it). Why? Because our focus is outward. That’s how we are conditioned. Often we are taught, whether explicitly or by example, that the best way to get through the inner turmoil is by turning away from it, denying it, or trying to change it.
What most people don’t know about self-inquiry is that turning inward, towards every aspect of that impact instead of turning away from it is not only a healthier and more effective way to move through it, but it often leads to unexpected healing and transformation. That doesn’t mean you get stuck in some kind of trance and problems don’t get solved. On the contrary; this is where (and when) love, insights, and creativity arise.
Whether you’re new to self-inquiry or you’re like me and could use some structure to help you keep track of the process when self-facilitating, this flow chart tool can help you effectively and gently face what you are feeling.
How does self-inquiry work?
To start, go to a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for a while. Self-inquiry requires focus. You could also set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, or longer if you want. Print the flow chart. Or if you can’t print, look at your screen and have a notepad or whiteboard (my personal favorite) at hand on which you draw the outline of the human body beforehand.
Start by identifying or noticing a problem or a trigger you’ve come across (e.g. I’m worrying about losing a loved one to Covid-19).
Just take some time to notice what’s there. It is either something you don’t want or something you want but isn’t here, right? (In this case, it is even not wanting an imagined future: I don’t want to lose any of my loved ones.) These are really the only two flavors of human problems…
You might also notice an array of other tendencies or compulsions: to fix it, talk to someone about it, blame someone or something, turn towards addictive behavior… all the very things we are conditioned to do.
That’s the old way. But this time let’s try something else. Self-inquiry is a very helpful process.
- Write down your problem or trigger. Really envision how this problem is showing up in your life right now (e.g. I’m worrying about losing a loved one to Covid-19).
- Then look – by following the steps on the flow chart, how thinking about this problem stirs your inner world at this very moment. What is happening with your thoughts or feelings? If you think you’re more of a feeling person, notice you might already have missed that thought, or, to be more precise, the words: “I’m more of a feeling person”. On the other hand, if you think you don’t feel that much, you might be surprised to discover this whole new world of bodily sensations when thoughts subside. This work is simple, but not always easy. To spot words, pictures, or bodily sensations, you need to be alert like a detective looking for clues. So take your time!
- Stay alert. Don’t look for something in particular, but be aware of what arises spontaneously. You know it is either words, pictures, or bodily sensations.
- When you’ve caught these words, pictures, or bodily sensations, notice this is done by different modes of awareness – for words and pictures that are seeing (or hearing), for bodily sensations it’s touching. This is all happening with your inner senses. When touching during bodily sensations, it is key to stick to just the touching mode, so bodily sensations can and will disappear on their own.
Keep in mind that this flow chart is not about a rigid structure. Read what you’ve written down regarding your problem again. Just go with what is most dominant for you right now, whether it is words, pictures or bodily sensations. That’s your compass. You simply follow the order these phenomena show up for you and then follow the corresponding path on the flow chart.
For explaining purposes I’ll go from the left to the right on the flow chart. By looking at the headings you can find the instructions that apply to your situation.
Words – self-inquiry
Is it words? Check if you see or hear them (e.g. some of them have a higher risk due to underlying conditions)..
If you see words, check the corresponding box on the flow chart, or write down ‘SW’ on your notepad or whiteboard. If you hear words, check the corresponding box on the flow chart or write down ‘HW’. Below this, you can write those words down. Look at the letters, the shapes, the colors, and also the paper or whatever background as well. Then close your eyes and check if something is left of these words. Look at the shapes, colors, and spaces in between and/or hear the tone of voice, the volume, the silences in between, and at the end, until they fall away naturally.
Then check if there are feelings or pictures as well.
Pictures – self-inquiry
So when you see pictures, make a quick sketch of them (e.g. a picture of a loved one on the ICU). Look at the shapes, colors, and background. Then close your eyes and check what’s left of the image. Notice shapes, colors, and space around until the picture falls away on its own.
What to do if words and pictures don’t fall away on their own or keep coming?
When this happens, you can do tapping. While you’re aware of the words and/or pictures, you start tapping your forehead with two fingers, just above your nose at the beginning of your eyebrows. Then you shift your attention from the words and/or pictures to the sensation and sound of the tapping. Feel it on your forehead, in your fingers, hear the sound it makes, until your attention is focused on the tapping. Then stop tapping and take a deep breath in and breathe out long and slow.
Then check if there are any bodily sensations.
Bodily sensations – self-inquiry
When there are sensations, feel into your body (e.g. pressure in my chest). How would you rate the power or intensity of this sensation on a scale from 0-10? 0 Meaning no sensation at all and 10 meaning almost unbearable (e.g. 6). Where do you feel it in your body? (In this case: in my chest). Localize it and mark it in the outline of the body.
See if this sensation has a shape or color and notice that this is a picture arising (e.g. an image of my upper body and chest). Notice you’ve moved from touching mode to thinking mode. Go to ‘Thought’ and follow the path through pictures. Draw a quick sketch of it and look directly at those shapes, colors, and background. Then close your eyes and check if something is left of the image until it falls away on its own.
Then come back to feeling the sensation. Is it still there? Touch it with your ‘inner tactile organ’. Feel into the sensation, notice how it could be described as a cloud of energy. Feel the space around that cloud. Discover how you can kind of travel through that cloud of energy. Starting in the space on one side, traveling through the cloud, noticing any differences in density, or intensity, or temperature, on your way to the space at the other side of the cloud.
All sensations change or disappear in the end. Some quickly, others take longer.
Be careful not to have an agenda here to get rid of them. That would just be the old, conditioned way of not wanting what’s here now.
If you feel your sensation would never go away, notice that you’re not purely feeling anymore, but thinking has sneaked back in here. Did it show up in words or pictures? Go back to that side of the flow chart and jot it down. Look at the shapes, colors, and background and then with your eyes closed until it falls away naturally. Then come back to just feeling the sensation.
What to do if bodily sensations don’t fall away on their own?
- See if you can make it stay just by feeling it.
- See if you can breathe into the sensation and out from the sensation.
- You can also use metaphysical hands to hold the sensation. If it changes, follow along with it.
In the end, all the words, pictures, and bodily sensations arise, stay for a while and disappear in their own time. Like all phenomena do. You keep repeating this process until it feels complete.
Suffering and the Velcro effect
Notice, when you are aware of a problem, how thoughts and feelings arise together. This is what Scott Kiloby calls the Velcro effect. It seems as if those thoughts and feelings are velcroed to each other; always showing up together. And this is what makes you call it a problem and suffer from it.
If that Velcro effect means you suffer, you probably want to know how you can undo this Velcro effect, right? Well, if you have been following along and looking at the words, or hearing them, if you have been looking at the images and feeling the bodily sensations, separately, then you already started this process of undoing Velcro.
So far, you’ve worked with the words, pictures and bodily sensations that showed up easily at the surface.
To do this work thoroughly, you want to work with the deeper, subconscious words, pictures, and bodily sensations as well.
Self-inquiry to make conscious what’s subconscious
How do you find words, pictures, and bodily sensations if they are subconscious? That’s where inquiry comes in. To get you going with this I’ve added three forms of special inquiry tools that I find very helpful.
Again, there is no rigid structure here. Just follow your own intuition about where you want to go next. The structure is just here to help you focus on undoing Velcro – looking at words, pictures, and feeling bodily sensations, without needing to worry about losing sight of where to go next. I’m just following it top to down to explain it more clearly.
I’m not afraid/angry/sad/ashamed at all (Reverse Inquiry)
The first tool is a Reverse Inquiry. You can pick that very emotion (fear, anger, sadness, or shame) that is staring you in the face or the one that seems to hide just beneath the surface. You can also check them all out, one after the other. I like doing the latter because I’ve learned that surprising discoveries can be made here and I’m fond of un-covering those little treasures.
Read the sentence out loud. You might want to add ‘regarding this problem’. Watch the thoughts and feelings that arise. Let them pop up naturally. See if they are appearing as words, pictures or bodily sensations and follow along in the flow chart until they fall away on their own. Until it feels complete.
What do I believe about myself or the world? (Boomerang Inquiry and Reverse Inquiry)
What do I believe about myself or the world regarding this problem? Write it down. This Boomerang Inquiry helps you discover the beliefs you’re holding onto, e.g. ‘I’m not good enough’. Holding onto that belief is causing suffering. And where there is suffering there is Velcro happening. To start to undo that Velcro, you need to make conscious what is subconscious. You can use the Reverse Inquiry here again. Simply state the opposite of your belief, e.g. ‘I’m good enough as I am’. Formulate it in such a way that it doesn’t feel true at all. Exaggerate even, e.g. ‘I’m perfect as I am’. Otherwise, it’s more of a positive affirmation. That’s not what the Reverse Inquiry is about. You want to use it to dig up subconscious words, pictures, or bodily sensations in order to undo Velcro instead of building new Velcro, even if it’s more positive this time.
Look at the words and pictures and feel the bodily sensations arise, stay for a while, and disappear again by following the flow chart until it feels complete.
I’m not getting anything out of believing that at all (Utility Inquiry)
The Utility Inquiry is an excellent way to shine the light of consciousness on what’s there, hiding in the shadow. Say aloud to yourself, or write it down first, ‘I’m not getting anything out of believing [e.g. I’m not good enough as I am] at all .’ This tool challenges your brain to do what it always wants to do: finding proof that the statement is wrong. It will come up with words and pictures, velcroed to bodily sensations. Let them arise, stay for a while, and disappear again by following the flow chart for each one of them until it feels complete.
Then after you’ve done all the different reruns of this flow chart that you felt like doing, and it feels complete, check out how this ‘feeling complete’ actually feels like. Look back at your problem. How does that feel right now? What genuine treasures have you uncovered? Feel free to share in the comments below if you’d like.
Let me know if you have any questions or need some help with doing self-inquiry by using this flow chart.
Wouldn’t it be great if we all approached our problems first by looking within before pointing our fingers outward to the people or things to blame, talking endlessly about it with family and friends, having sleepless nights, numbing ourselves out with addictive activities or substances, etc.?
I’m still amazed how the old, conditioned ways of reacting lose their pull after doing self-inquiry. It doesn’t mean we’re not taking responsible action regarding the problem if it still exists. On the contrary, now we are responding to the problem instead of reacting to it. This response is often original and creative, informed by the deepest genuine treasures — peace, wisdom, and love.