Inquiry is a friendly, curious engagement with the immediacy of our experience. We lower ourselves down into the ocean of our inner worlds, and look around to see what feelings, thoughts or sensations are present. We spend time clarifying what they are. What am I feeling? What is this sensation? What is it like? How do I experience it? We can find out so much about our experience by getting more and more clear about the “what” and this is a necessary step.
However many people can get a bit stuck there, seeing what’s happening now, and what’s happening now, one moment after the next, without really recognising or beginning to see that there is meaning to the experience. They don’t wonder, “How come? How come this is here? What is making it happen?” We cannot understand our experience unless at some point we begin to explore the meaning and causes of the experience beyond simply what it is. And our experience does not transform and open up to reveal its secrets unless we begin to explore it in this way.
It’s common for people to misunderstand the “why” question, and this is important to see too. Asking “why” and trying to understand the experience is not the same as making a theory about it. It is not coming up with a mental understanding of it or going up into your head to figure it out. It is just as immediate and palpable as getting in touch and asking what I am experiencing. It is allowing or inviting the experience to open up and reveal the next piece in its whole thread. It is like seeing a fish underwater that is swimming in a particular direction and asking “Hmm, why is it going that way?” and then following the fish to find out where it is heading and what is making it go there. This is not mental at all in the way that people might understand that, although it does bring about recognition and understanding. It is the recognition and understanding of the truth as you are seeing it being revealed in the moment.
Remember that nothing that happens in your experience is random. It is all happening for a very intelligent reason. You don’t get angry or sad or react for no reason. You get angry because there is something going inside you – perhaps partially in response to something going on outside you – that is making you feel that way. Similarly you don’t just randomly and meaninglessly get happy for no reason. There is something to understand about the condition of happiness when it arises.
In the depths, we usually find that most negative emotional reactions are caused by a mix between feeling some kind of deficiency, and some element of history. An event happens externally in your life, and it nudges on the feeling deficiency – for example, a feeling that you don’t have any strength, or don’t have any value, or don’t have enough space. And that feeling tends to be mixed with some historical impression of being a little kid and how that was for you back then. And the emotional reaction emerges usually from that young place experiencing that deficiency.
The real transformation comes about as you see all of this for yourself. Not as a theory or as an idea, but by staying with the immediacy of your experience and exploring what it is and how come it is happening.
Simply staying with the “what” of the experience – for example, I feel angry and the anger feels like such and such, or I feel sad and the sadness feels like such and such – will not necessarily on its own penetrate these deeper causative layers. But when you begin to ask, “Ok, so how come I get so angry about this? Or why do I get so sad?” then you might begin to see that this is happening because underneath the reaction, you are feeling weak like you don’t have the strength to say no, or as if there’s no kindness for you – or whatever it might be that is under the reaction. It is very specific to the reaction that you are having at that time. You could get angry or sad about all sorts of things. It is only by exploring this particular reaction in this particular moment that you can find out what you are reacting about this time, and that can reveal the underlying cause and take you deeper. This is the doorway to opening up the experience.
This is essential for effective inquiry. This kind of question more than any other is what allows us to begin diving deeper, to ride the currents of meaning in our experience all the way to our innermost being, the hidden treasures of the inner ocean.