Inquiry is our topic this week. Inquiry is fundamental to what we’re doing here whether we are investigating “Sex & Romance Today”, which is the topic we are dipping into in February and March, or unraveling our stuck relationship patterns or simply being happy. It is both a spiritual process, as well as a psychological one, which harmonizes and optimizes our experience, even our past experience! We will explore how and why inquiry works and what makes it different than simply thinking about something.
If you look through the spiritual literature you find inquiry in many traditions whether it’s Yogi’s like Ramenamaharshi last century or Zen masters today. We owe a debt of gratitude to the current author and teacher A.H. Almaas for his deep work in uncovering what inquiry really is and can be. We often call it the psychological method because we usually apply it to our immediate inner experience for the purpose of gaining freedom from psychological conditioning, early imprinting and even instinctual conditioning. There is significant overlap with what is meant by the psychological slogan of “making the unconscious conscious”.
But it’s more than that, it is immediately perceiving our experience, with an emphasis on immediate. It’s a here and now experience so it is always full of life… full of presence. When we are inquiring or immediately perceiving life is full of aliveness and all the qualities of life, strength, objectivity, clarity, love and so on. It’s not thinking about our experience or making judgments about our experience; it is immediately perceiving our experience. It is not conceiving it or thinking about it, which implies a certain distance. So the word perceiving is also essential in the statement I made about inquiry.
What is perception? Perception is experiencing something immediately with our bodies, hearts and minds. We sense it tactilely, we might see it or hear it or even taste or smell it. We feel it in our heart center and how it impacts our heart and how we feel about it. Our head center or intellectual center is open to it and what is going on without taking the usual intellectual distance or fitting it into our prior conceptions, i.e. we are open minded in relation to what we are perceiving. So perceiving something is a very full experience, full of sights and sensations and feelings, as well as cognitive perception. And perception is always happening now. When we are perceiving we are present.
Perception can be outwards toward the world around us or inwards into our inner experience. This inward perception can also be applied to thoughts or conceptions that we carry, in other words, our story or relationship blueprint. We can perceive what we have conceived, our conceptions. This is where inquiry is particularly useful because instead of getting bound up in the thoughts and believing them, we perceive them and experience them for what they are: pre-conceived conceptions. Our experience is not structured by them the same way. Pre-conceived conceptions, and the meanings they imply, are the units of our relationship blueprint. Our relationship blueprints are sets of fixed positions and associations (memories, sights, sounds, etc.) from the past. Perceiving these thought positions or conceptions penetrates them. It unpacks them.
Conceptions always carry meaning. The conception of a chair means that something in a particular configuration is a chair. Obviously conceptions are very useful. For example, we don’t want to constantly rethink what a chair is. But there are many conceptions that are detrimental, conceptions that we formulated when we were very young or that we inherited from our family or culture, which may not be beneficial to us. For example, “I’m a better person than others” or “I’m the worst person” or “life is dangerous” or “men are this way” or “women are that way” and so on. We want to perceive those conceptions (those beliefs filled with meaning), so they are penetrated and unpacked. Memories, other conceptions, sights, smells and all kinds of associations will fall out of those concepts. This is liberating in that it unpacks or dissolves our blueprints but it is even more liberating that that because simply being in a mode of perception means that we are present now, alive now, awake now… even with issues that are unresolved.
Something magical happens when we switch from conception to perception as our primary means of operation. Things begin to unfold. If I bring a bunch of pre-conceived ideas to the topic that we’ve been focusing on recently “Sex & Romance Today” then we will end up with something that basically fits my past conceptions, it won’t have much at all to do with sex and romance today! But if I perceive sex and romance today, I actually investigate openly I learn something new, my old thoughts are not reinforced, rather sex and romance today is revealed.
This is even more relevant when we focus inwards and investigate our relationship blueprints or our psychology. If we think about our psychology with a set of conceptions then we’re only going to reinforce the prior structure which conditions our mind. For example, if I look internally into my experience through the unperceived conception that I am a bad person I will only find bad stuff. But if we perceive the concepts or units that make up our conditioning in our inner experience, in other words pay attention to what we are sensing in our bodies and our hearts with an open mind, then the concepts or fixed forms get to be what they actually are: pre-formed concepts. They don’t occur as the truth. They occur as “old knowing”. They occur as something fixed from the past that we are experiencing now. That experience might be pleasurable or it might be painful but it doesn’t occur as a valid perception now, it occurs as a concept from the past that were perceiving now. Again, it doesn’t occur as the truth. This is why inquiry invalidates past concepts as “the truth”. Some are past concepts are useful, like that a certain configuration is a chair, but some are extremely detrimental like a fixed sense of who and what we and others are. When conception takes over life we end up in fixed position and life loses the vibrancy of a immediate perception, it loses its aliveness.
So inquiry is really being alive, open to our experience as it is, without believing our conceptions. There will always be conceptions in life and there is likely to always be pleasure and pain in life, but we don’t have to be dominated by if were in the open curious mode of inquiry or direct perception. So firmly being in the mode of inquiry or immediate perception is equivalent to enlightenment. We are bringing the light of consciousness into our experience outwards and inwards without prejudice. It starts as a practice but sooner or later is revealed as the easy and natural mode of living. It becomes continous.
The key, and the focus of today’s topic, is that you can perceive your relationship blueprint or your preconceived concepts of yourself and others, in which case you’ll experience it as sights and sounds and memories and associations and beliefs, but you won’t be dominated by it. You’ll simply experience it. And what’s interesting is that when we simply experience something for what it is there’s always presence there, there’s always life there, there’s always space there, there’s always brightness there. We are actually there as we are, as beings of consciousness. So if what we are perceiving is painful, yes we will experience pain, but we will always also experience the joy of living. The deeper dimensions of life, boundless love and space, for example, will not be hidden. In fact, they come to the forefront of experience.