Inquiry is a dynamic, open-ended exploration into the immediacy of our experience to more deeply understand the mystery of who and what we truly are. The practice is based on a simple but profound principle: being freely reveals itself to anyone who loves to know the truth of reality and is willing to wholeheartedly surrender to not-knowing and remain open to and curious about truth. To paraphrase George Washington Carver’s reply upon being asked how he discovered the thousands of uses for the lowly peanut, if you love something deeply enough, it will reveal all its secrets.  

In Inquiry, one brings together all the qualities necessary for deep understanding and transformation developed through working with the previous tools:

  • the gentleness, vulnerability, surrender, sensitivity and unconditional love developed in Unwinding and Soft Body Meditation
  • the interest, curiosity, need to understand, commitment to truth, focus, strength, courage, willingness and deep intimacy developed in Guided Heartwork
  • the steadfastness, witnessing, presence, openness, spaciousness, awareness and immediacy developed in the Awareness Meditation

The purpose of Inquiry is to see as deeply as possible into the truth of an issue. Inquiry requires—and develops—both a profound openness as well as a laser-like ability to focus your awareness. Without the openness, what you are inquiring into will not reveal itself. Unless it knows it’s going to be received openly, it will remain unconscious, behind the wall you built to protect yourself from it. The intensity of your focused awareness needs to be equal to or greater than the intensity of the wall. These two qualities—openness and focus—must be accessed together if you are to see deeply into the source of the issue. It’s as if you are patiently, persistently and determinedly boring into an issue with a laser beam of “What is this?” and receiving whatever is uncovered or revealed with the tender loving care you would have for your own child if he or she was experiencing what you are opening to—even though what you are opening to may not necessarily be gentle and loving.

You need to develop awareness so that you can stay present to the big picture (spacious, non-discriminating awareness) and simultaneously discriminate the parts (what you are inquiring into) from the whole—much like looking at something in the dark with both a searchlight and a spotlight operating together. 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 because you will easily get caught in storytelling and re-telling (how many times do we fruitlessly replay our stories about ourselves and the way the world is?). While you need to be open as deeply as possible to your feelings in Inquiry, take care not to get caught in them, allowing them to turn the process into a deep emotional release. If deep feelings threaten to overwhelm the Inquiry process, in order to stay with the Inquiry, you will need to bring an awareness to the process that is greater than the intensity of the deep feelings. Likewise, take care not to go to the other extreme and suppress the deep feelings through philosophizing, psychologizing, projecting (putting onto others those parts of ourselves that we don’t accept), attaching to the feelings that bring pleasure or rejecting those that bring discomfort. Try to see them as a detached observer would. This ability often takes time to master and comes with the development of powerful presence.

Yet the mind must ultimately be the servant to the heart. In Inquiry, you need to adopt an attitude of openness and curiosity. Curiosity is a heart quality that affects the mind—it comes out of our deepest yearning to know the truth. Inquiry usually feels like you are grappling with something—really needing to understand it. To support the curiosity, you may find it useful to keep a question running in the background of your consciousness: “What is this?” “What’s that about?” “What’s behind or underneath that?” “What does that mean?”—anything that will keep you looking increasingly deeper into the truth you are seeking. Ultimately, you want to be questioning every thought, feeling, sensation and image that comes into your consciousness, using each as a doorway to the next deeper layer of insight and understanding.

In Inquiry, there can be no manipulation, no agenda and no pre-conceived ideas about where the inquiry will lead. You need to get out of your own way and simply be with and surrender into whatever thoughts, feelings or images arise as they arise—just as they are. While you will usually have a starting point, this attitude of surrender and not-knowing allows the process to unfold in a natural, open-ended way. The truth is here and now and you can only see and experience it by looking more and more deeply into what is happening in the moment. By following the intelligence of the soul and surrendering to the deep yearning within, Inquiry takes you through layers and layers of conditioned self—the ego structures and defenses, the self-images and identities and the incessant mental activity of thinking and reacting—and leads you home to an experience of your essential qualities and ultimately a realization of your true nature.

You can do Inquiry with others or by yourself, so experiment to see which way works better for you. You can learn Inquiry only by experience—and lots of it. As you progress with this tool, you will find your own way with it.

The more you practice Inquiry, the more it will become your natural way of being in the world. So whenever you don’t understand something or encounter a difficulty, instead of fighting it or running away from it, you will find yourself automatically asking, “What is this? What’s happening here?” When the commitment to the truth becomes stronger than the commitment to protecting your self-image, you have become free in a most significant way. One of Japan’s greatest Zen Masters, Dogen Zenji, said, “In the end, the final refuge is sustained practice.” Sustained Inquiry has the power to transform your life. 

Inquiry Questions:  The question that is really eating at you is most likely the best question to begin with. If that or another burning question grabs you and doesn’t let you go, go with it—let it take you wherever it takes you. In addition to asking yourself, “What is this?” or “What is this about?” the following questions may also be useful:

  • Am I pushing, fighting or running away—or am I letting go into the truth of my being in the moment?
  • What’s in the way of my being completely present right now?
  • What do I need right now? (Give yourself what you need, being careful to distinguish between need and want.)
  • What do I really want? (Surrender into the wanting and yearning.)
  • What am I experiencing right now? What am I feeling?
  • What is real? What is the truth?
  • What is happening here?
  • In my present situation, what is being mirrored to me about myself?
  • Who or what am I?
  • Who do I think I am? Who am I taking myself to be?
  • What am I pretending not to know?