I walked what we might all call the spiritual path for many years, starting when I discovered meditation as a way possibly to help me slow down my racing mind and get some sleep. In the early years, I was reading stories of Indian saints and had a hope that I, too, would go to India and have a guru bop me on the head and all would be sparkly and happy and total drooling bliss.
Eventually — and I’m glad to say — that specific desire relaxed (just in time for me to go to India — whew), but as I continued my studies and followed what resonated for me, I continued to carry some ideas that were sticker.
I listened to recordings of teachers and read books and meditated and hoped that I might just reach “the final goal,” as Goenka of the Vipassana world called it.
I found much of what I heard and read to be comforting, relaxing even. I found support in beginning to see that life wasn’t necessarily the way the world I’d grown up in had agreed it was. But there was a new agreement forming, and I didn’t catch it right away.
Amidst the context of restfulness, emptiness, and burgeoning quiet, there was also division, shame, separation, elitism, judgment, fear, etc.
I was hung up on concepts that I didn’t realize I was hung up on: awakening, ego, enlightenment, trust, resistance, even love.
Enter Scott Kiloby’s Living Inquiries and their utter usefulness. As my friend Deena described them recently, the inquiries are practical. They are not another spiritual aphorism meant to point to something that cannot really be described. They are a simple and direct tool to find out if the bits and pieces that we’re holding to as our touchstones and anchors and heels-dug-in strongholds are actually existing in the way we imagine them to be.
As I’m writing this, I’m imagining folks leaving the page at this point, as looking into these strongholds might not be for everyone. I mean, who am I if I’m not someone trying to overcome my ego, for example? Who am I if there’s not really any such thing as this “mind” that I’ve been fighting to deny all this time?
If you’re still with me, I encourage you to have a look. And believe me, I’m writing from my direct experience. I wouldn’t care about it otherwise, I’m sure, and I certainly wouldn’t be trying to get anyone else to get into it. Though back in the day, I used to throw around words like, “That’s not who you REALLY are,” as if I knew what they meant, as if there was such a thing as who you really are as well as such a thing as who you’re not. I was hypnotized by language that I’d heard before, and I was using it as if I knew what it meant, when actually, I was dividing up my experience and drawing lines of separation between myself and others and even amongst aspects of myself.
I have received much comfort from the restful confidence of teachers and the context that’s created by certain points of view and certain communities. I go for what resonates for me, and I know that it’s not the same for everyone. I wouldn’t want it to be. One of the most fun parts about life is that what I’m uniquely interested in shows up. I wouldn’t want others to follow what resonated for me if it is not what really stirs their hearts. And I would suggest that my own looking with Living Inquiries, along with some other tools that I love and fun bits that beautifully compliment LI, has contributed deeply and practically, to this freedom of being me. But I wasn’t free as long as I thought that I still needed to fight my ego.
I am deeply thankful for the efficient and effective use of inquiry to find out: what am I clinging to as a point of view? What am I holding tightly to that’s actually causing me more pain and suffering, rather than contributing to my freedom?
Take a moment and look for yourself at what may have been unexamined up until this point. Listen to the phrases that you’re convinced are real and serve as anchors in your life.
Are you fighting the ego?
What if you applied a simple and straightforward style of inquiry to find out if the ego exists in the way you’ve been imagining?
Trust me, I’m not here to lay on another concept now called “there’s no ego.” I am inviting you to have a direct look. It goes something like this (and you can insert any concept, and, in fact anything that you can name, into this game):
Look at this word: e g o.
Really look at those letters and tell me, is that the ego you’ve been fighting?
If you get an automatic logical, “Well, of course those letters aren’t it,” look a bit closer. Feel into your body and find out if there’s something there giving you the indication that these letters might not be it, but it might still be there somewhere.
Take some time with that sense in your body. Rest with it and get to know it quietly and intimately.
Now look: is that sensation this things we call “ego”?
Rest and feel into it. Is that sensation somehow announcing itself as “ego”?
Maybe you get a no at this point. So rest a moment, and then we’ll look a little further.
Bring up all the images that come to mind when you think of ego. People you imagine are ego-ful. Yourself in moments when you feel you’re driven by your ego. Certain words that come up that seem to be coming from the ego. What about images of people who seem to have overcome it. Are those ego? Are those whatever you call the lack of ego?
Rest with each of these and take them, one by one, and find out if, inherently, any one of them is actually this demon we’ve been trying to fight and overcome and that we’ve been shaming ourselves that we can’t get beyond. What is it, literally, that we’re trying to get beyond?
You can insert the word “mind” instead of ego. You can insert “enlightenment” in the same way, and look and feel into all of your ideas of what enlightenment is, who has it, who doesn’t, what it means about you that you either do or don’t have it. What about the word “teacher” or “guru”? Have you looked into those?
For me, the context that’s created by teachers can be so incredibly helpful and supportive, but without taking a direct look into the strongholds — that often we don’t even realize are concepts/words/ideas/memories/information we’re parroting from someone else and someone else before him — we can remain stuck in this cycle of separation and division within ourselves.
I tried to fight the ego for a long time and felt shame that I couldn’t. Until I took a direct look and realized it wasn’t there as I’d thought it had been. And the house of cards came tumbling down.
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