Self-Inquiry & Meditation

by Don DeMercurio

In my last post, I wrote about the usefulness of preparing for meditation. I’ll share more about meditation in another post but today I’m addressing something that is a common challenge with many of my friends, clients, and students. This is the challenge that presents itself when spiritual development doesn’t change the difficulties of everyday life. It shows up most notably in our everyday relationships. We continue to get triggered and lose the states of equanimity and grace that we feel when we’re sitting in meditation circles or the glow that we feel after spiritual workshops and retreats. What’s the deal?

For most of my childhood and all of my adult life, I have been driven by a deep longing to understand the nature of a “Presence” that has always been in my awareness, even in the darkest of times. Raised in the Catholic faith my mystical experiences didn’t exactly match anything that I was taught. This formless, nameless presence was my connection to what I knew in my experience to be “God”. Today I might describe it as the Essence of the True Self. It has always been clear to me that this presence didn’t arise out of my acquired sense of self or this life as I have known it. And, for much of my life, I felt undeserving of it, diminished by a sense of inferiority in relation to its essential purity. This presence wasn’t an idea, a concept or a fantasy – it has always been something that is palpable in the same way that a subtle fragrance permeates the atmosphere that it comes in contact with. And, at the same time, it exists in a dimension that is deeper than and prior to anything in form.

By the time I was in high school I was looking for answers to my own confusion and suffering from books and teachers that I hoped would explain my own mystical experiences. I studied healing, mysticism, psychic phenomenon and shamanism as well as transpersonal, depth psychology and developmental psychology. As I began to work as a healer I experienced profound states of Oneness and blissful states of boundless awareness. In all of this, I felt that I was deeply in touch with the truth of Being.

At the same time, I experienced my personal life and my spiritual life as being at odds with each other. When I was meditating or sitting with a client in a healing session I would find myself in profound states of presence, loving light and clarity. Returning to everyday life I was burdened by the same triggers, frustrations, addictions and behaviors as those that I had always known. And, the more my spiritual capacities developed the more my sense of Self felt false and hypocritical. It wasn’t until I was guided into Self-inquiry in my time as a student of the Diamond Approach that I came to understand that what is spiritual is deeply physical and what is physical is deeply spiritual. They are one in the same.

In my own experience meditation could be described as turning our attention toward what is already enlightened, already awakened and always present. When we are meditating we are allowing everything to be exactly as it is, allowing whatever arises to simply float through our awareness as forms of consciousness coming and going in the vast sea of emptiness that is the ground of our Being.

Self-Inquiry is an active form of meditation where we approach whatever is arising in us with a curiosity that can lead us into and through the structures of our personality and ego and into the Essence of our True Nature. In its simplest form, the single question that is always present in Inquiry is “Who am I”? This one simple question was at the heart of Ramana Maharshi’s teachings. It is also at the heart of all spiritual seeking – the longing to know who and what we really are, what this universe is and what our relationship to it is. As westerners, this question, due to our deep identification with our acquired identity, needs to penetrate our psychology in ways that it didn’t in when we were more directly aware of our interconnectedness and less convinced of being a separate somebody.

In our development here in the West, as our evolvement has taken us through archaic, magical, mythical and into the rational perceptions of life we have moved from a sense of relationship to the universe in which we experienced ourselves as the cosmos itself to the experience of being an autonomous and unique expression, out of touch with and believing we have control over the Oneness and Unity of life. Because of this, our spiritual work requires inquiry into our psychological reality, in order to relax the structures of our personality/ego so that what it is that exists prior to thought and concept can come back into consciousness. Who am I prior to the causes and conditions of life?

Self-Inquiry, when it is really cooking can bring up our issues of unresolved shadow; grief, sorrow, disappointment, resentment, terror, helplessness, hopelessness, lack of value, anger, rage and hatred as well as many other human experiences of deficiency that arise out of the loss of contact with our true nature. It can also open to essential qualities of true nature and the non-conceptual, boundless dimensions of Being itself. By entering consciously into our direct experience and penetrating the structures of our personality and ego with presence and awareness we are able to see through our self-images, convictions and beliefs – conditioning, lack of mirroring and, our formative experiences of deficiency, etc. We can also find ourselves in profound states of true Joy, Strength, Support, Love, Compassion, Peace, Profundity, Truth and the arising of many other essential qualities and dimensions that spontaneously arise to meet what is needed when we are not manipulating our process or short-circuiting our natural unfolding. In time it allows for the digestion and metabolization of our pain body and the integration of Spirit and Matter.

Self-inquiry is a process of following the thread of our direct experience, moment to moment, supported by five essential qualities of True Nature: Joy, Strength, Will, Compassion, and Peace. These qualities, when integrated, allow us to be with our process with light-heartedness, courage, steadfastness, sensitivity and spaciousness.