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.


You Don’t Have to Believe Your Thoughts

by Lisa Ernst

You’ve probably heard that before, right? It sounds pretty simple and maybe sometimes it is, but at other times, nearly impossible. Why? Because for many of us, certain thoughts appear as unassailable “truths,” specific stories about our lives, about ourselves and others. As long as these thoughts operate below our awareness as stealth narratives, they can’t be seen for what they are, impermanent conditions that arise and pass away. We remain bound by these thoughts and they may lead to significant suffering and even depression.

When we identify with a thought or emotion as “I” or “mine,” our boundaries of inside and outside remain intact. There’s me, and then there is the outside world. This is only a perception, but its so strong as to feel solid and real. Buddha taught that this idea of a separate, inherent self is the root of suffering.

As a practice, try asking yourself, “is this thought me; is this thought mine?” You can do the same with emotions. This exercise is not intended to suppress or push away thoughts or emotions, but to allow you to begin seeing them without personal identification. This opens space to perceive the thoughts and experience the emotions as they are. This practice, reflective inquiry, isn’t a form of analysis. You’re letting the question remain open ended, to allow experience itself provide the answer. As you do this, you are opening yourself to the realm of dharma, where customary ideas and everyday perceptions don’t apply. The good news is, you don’t need them as you experience your thoughts and emotions appearing and falling away. Here you can access the heart’s true wisdom.

“When Ajahn Chah said it was possible to learn as much from stupid thoughts as wise ones, that was such a radically different approach. A wise thought arises and ceases. A stupid thought arises and ceases. A painful thought arises and ceases. A painful feeling arises and ceases. A pleasant feeling arises and ceases. I realized I didn’t have to feel ashamed when there was confusion in the mind. Just let it be and know it for what it is. They are all just states of mind, coming and going. Rather than anxiously holding on or to try to make sense of everything all the time, I got a feeling for letting go and letting be.”- Kittissaro, Listening to The Heart.