Radical self-enquiry

“Wisdom tends to grow in proportion to one’s awareness of one’s ignorance.” ― Anthony de Mello, One Minute Wisdom

In yesterday’s post, I referred to self-enquiry. No, not navel-gazing! but something much deeper:

Who [or What] am I?

It seems such an innocuous question but, at least for me, and despite my very best, left-brained efforts, I never came to an answer. That’s not to say, I didn’t shift a lot of existential baggage along the way (e.g. it’s not my name, a label or what others think of me) but in the end, almost slightly crestfallen, as best as I could say, there was no way to answer it. Indeed, even to say “not knowing”, postulates you’ve got to know something.

“It’s a mystery, then?”

Yes, I suppose it is. And I imagine for a lot of people to go through a deep-rooted and at times painful process, only to be told that it’s all unknown, seems, well, wasteful of your time/life.

It could be.

Then again, if you’re willing to combine it with some sort of practice be that mindfulness, meditation, prayer or silence you might find that there’s more to this question than meets the eye. Trouble is, in our instant world, we want it now and we’re not willing to invest the time to find out something that could change us and our lives forever; and that doesn’t include the radiant joy and love that might permeate the airwaves in living in a place which I find akin to beginner’s mind.

At this juncture, I pause to reflect on what I’ve just written. It is — not it seems — mechanical and in a way no different to the be all you can be narrative that is the current order of the day. In my defence, all I’m trying to do is invite you to look in a different direction to the messaging of the success culture we’re so infused and driven by. No, I’m not selling hope. Self-enquiry means to examine the unexamined life, namely, ask yourself, not in a flippant or derogatory way, who you are beyond the labels that have so ordered your life and at the same time consider the possibility of having no thinking. I realise that that’s an impossibility but I’d wager there have been times in your life where you’re so lost in the reverie of the moment that if your mind isn’t totally quiet, it’s certainly very still and isn’t pulling you out of the present moment. 

This exercise isn’t to be undertaken lightly nor without consideration that you’re not going to get very far if you don’t commit to returning to it over and over. Or at least that’s what I did. It’s not a case of expecting anything but simply to investigate what happens when you bring your attention to a question that goes to the very essence of your personhood.

The other thing you might want to bear on is the fact that everything changes. In other words, when you’re trying to name something — even you — are you able to do so when it’s always moving on to something else? The usual metaphor we’re asked to consider is the cloud where one minute it looks like one thing, the next something entirely different. But you don’t need to do that if you’re willing to admit that you’ve aged and will eventually die. If that’s not the most visceral example of change, then I don’t know what is.

Yet again, you might be asking yourself: and then what? I’ve done some self-enquiry and looked at my circumstances.

I don’t know. What were you looking for? Yourself?

Sorry, that’s a bit offish but I mean it. Even in your current headspace, where perhaps you’ve been lost in the thought-process apropos your current predicament and how it might be different, have you been looking for something else? Something better perhaps? Do you see where I’m going? No. What I’m saying is that whilst you continue to seek answers to everything, even the What am I? conundrum, it’s likely you’ll miss the biggest revelation of all: you are already everything you seek. Things can’t be any different despite the free will and choice trope that we’ve so easily and without demur assimilated. It’s not that I’m a fatalist or the like but all I’ll say is that much like the self-enquiry piece, if you start grubbing around in the undergrowth of will or willpower, the point you’ll come back (it’s all so circular) is who or what wills your will?

And that dear readers is where I’ll leave things for now.

I realise that none of what I’ve said is particularly helpful if you’re wrestling with your demons or stuck on the horns of another life dilemma but trust me, even taking the time to sit in silence with the question may be more beneficial than reading another self-improvement book or whatever it is that floats your existential boat.

Until tomorrow.

Blessings and much love,

— Ju 

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