How to Recharge Your Practice with a Tried and True Inquiry

Even if you’ve been meditating for many years, you probably encounter old patterns that seem impervious to your mindful awareness. Maybe at times these patterns are dormant, but during challenging moments they reappear and perhaps feel intractable. Often these patterns become entangled in identity – stuck and unfixable with no space between the knots. It may seem no amount of meditation can penetrate this mess.

What to do? I suggest bringing out a tried and true inquiry. When you first began meditation practice, you may have engaged the simple practice of asking, “who am I?” Done correctly, this inquiry penetrates and quiets the analytical mind since there is no logical answer. You access something truer and more immediate. You can also bring this inquiry to your stuck places, the patterns that often feel impenetrable. Here are a couple of inquiry examples: “who is the one who is always anxious?” or “who is the one reacting, the one who has always reacted?” You’re asking the question here and now, but you’re applying it to a narrative that has persisted for a very long time, has a history and a story.

This inquiry can momentarily stop the reactive pattern and the attendant thoughts. Its not designed to bypass anything but to create a different vantage point, to dis-identify from a strong and ingrained sense of self that gets entangled in the pattern. Then you have space to experience how the dilemma shows up in present time in the body and emotions. This is the ground of insight. Deep, limiting beliefs may come to light that may have been obscured in the reactivity.

When I engage this inquiry practice, I often feel lighter and less stuck; at other times a deep sadness may arise from witnessing how a pattern has perpetuated itself for so long. But in every case I clearly see how the “I” and “mine” of the narrative have contributed to and further entrapped me in the pattern. Once the entanglement is seen and self-identification released, there is space to respond from a wiser, more compassionate part of myself, I find freedom to act in accordance with my truest values and insight.

 

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Learning from Our Enemies

This short piece from Pema Chodron fits into the them of a dayong retreat I’m teaching at Spirit Rock Saturday, so I’m sharing it here.

Ego clinging is our means of denial. Once we have the fixed idea “this is me,” then we see everything as a threat or a promise—or something we couldn’t care less about. Whatever we encounter, we’re either attracted to it or averse to it or indifferent to it, depending on how much of a threat to our self-image it represents. The fixed identity is our false security. We maintain it by filtering all of our experience through this perspective. When we like someone, it’s generally because they make us feel good. They don’t blow our trip, don’t disturb our fixed identity, so we’re buddies. When we don’t like someone—they’re not on our wavelength, so we don’t want to hang out with them—it’s generally because they challenge our fixed identity. We’re uncomfortable in their presence because they don’t confirm us in the ways we want to be confirmed, so we can’t function in the ways we want to function. Often we think of the people we don’t like as our enemies, but in fact, they’re all-important to us. They’re our greatest teachers: special messengers who show up just when we need them, to point out our fixed identity. – Pema Chodron