Have you ever questioned your own thoughts? The very fact that it is possible to question one's own thoughts indicates that there is much more to you than just thought. Otherwise, how could thought be questioned?
What is a simple meditative process that can help you stick to the goals and behaviors you want for yourself, without being side tracked by impulses? It is self inquiry. Through this questioning, you may even find yourself enlightened. But the question is, how can you "find" yourself in any state at all... if you are yourself? Who is the self, and who is the finder? Welcome to self-inquiry.
"Why should I question myself?" You might wonder. The answer to that question is found in the question itself. The fact that one is able to question one's self indicates that there is more to awareness than incessant thought, as many assume.
For example, at the sight of a fabulous handbag in an elegant shop in Manhattan, I might think to myself, "Wow, I need that handbag." For a moment, I might even fully believe that thought with enough conviction that I am set into action to attain it. It is beautiful. It goes with everything I own. I will constantly use it. It's on sale, marked down from $600 to $50.
However, as I am fighting off the other women in the shop, one of them punches me in the face, and my nose starts to bleed. I see that these other woman work out more than me and are stronger than I am. I will certainly be pummeled. As I am trying to draw on my inner strengths to get through the throng of wrestling women, I realize that I only have $25 in my bank account. Do I really need that handbag? Is it worth the black eye that I will most certainly incur if I keep fighting through the crowd of excited shoppers to get it? The answer, of course, is no. My original thought was not true. I don't really need that handbag. I will still be myself without it.
But instead of getting caught in a high-end Manhattan brawl to figure out that not all thoughts are true, believable, or even worthy of being empowered with belief or action, there are methods of meditative inquiry that can be employed.
Self inquiry is an ancient method of discerning true thoughts from untrue ones. There is a marked difference between self inquiry and psychoanalysis, and this distinction is important: Self inquiry is meant to take one above thought, to a higher, meditative state of awareness, whereas psychoanalysis seems to want to understand thought, and has the potential to create more thought. Self inquiry has the potential to free one from identifications for the purpose of meditation, whereas psychoanalysis can have the ability to solidify the identity. So although they have asking questions of oneself in common, it's important to distinguish their difference.
Fortunately, there is a wonderful spiritual teacher at work in our time who has a method of self-inquiry called "The Work," and her name is Byron Katie. To explore her work, watch her video below.
It is an unusual and fortunate coincidence that I first visited the ashram of Ramana Maharshi at the mountain of Arunachala in India with Eckhart Tolle. Some time previous to this visit, and in England, quite a distance from India, Eckhart had a spontaneous enlightenment experience when he fell into a line of self inquiry with himself in his small apartment near his university at the time, Cambridge. He was feeling deeply depressed and contemplating suicide. He thought, "I can't live with myself any longer." Then he thought, "Who is this that I can't live with? How can there be two?"
It was through this line of inquiry that he experienced a complete awakening and became enlightened: Which, as he defines it, is no longer being completely identified with thought. Another way to describe enlightenment is the rising above thought, and this rising above thought happens to carry with it the transcendence of suffering. Like Eckhart, Ramana Maharshi had a spontaneous awakening, and it happened through his exploration of the fear of death using self inquiry. Eckhart uses the words, "finding your essential nature as opposed to identifying with the content of your mind," and although all of these teachers use differing words, what they are pointing to is remarkably similar.
So whether it's impulse control to stay on track toward your goals that you're interested in or it's enlightenment, self inquiry is a helpful meditative method of rising above your thoughts, and looking for the truth in existence. If you take nothing else from this blog, do take this: Don't believe everything you think.
To learn more about Ramana Maharshi and his teachings of self inquiry, click here, and explore the video below:
To learn more about Byron Katie's teachings of self inquiry, click here, and explore her teachings in the video below:
To learn more about Eckhart Tolle's teachings, click here, and watch this video:
For more by Olivia Rosewood, click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.
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