Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Enquiring about Self-Enquiry

I almost decided this was all a mistake and that I should delete this blog. Then I just realized I was being a chicken. So what if this comes off as really, really stupid?

So, what's the important thing here? The practice of self-enquiry. I'm not entirely sure how to write about it. All I know is that it feels right and good and stabilizing.

I started practicing self-enquiry in a very loose way a couple or three of years ago. When I was still in Adidam, or at least thought I was still in Adidam, I had gone through a real crisis about what the hell I was practicing. The whole form of Guru-devotion I had been involved with there fell apart, and the whole notion of meditating on something or someone “else” no longer made sense. I found myself falling back on myself, on my own sense of self. This was in part due to a way I had begun to approach the whole practice of “inspecting the self-contraction” as Da refers to it. I had come to the conclusion that the way to do this was just to feel the sense of “self” itself, feel into it, and through it. The more I did this, the more interesting it became, and the less interesting the rest of Adidam became. So as I left Adidam altogether, I didn't really have a practice at all, so I just felt this sense of “self”, and something about that seemed grounding and centering. I wondered if this was me just reinforcing my ego, a bit no-no in Adidam and certain spiritual minds sets, including my own, but I was in a taboo-breaking mood in any case, and thought it was a good idea to see where this went.

One thing I started to do back then, before I even began anything else, was “praying” to my own Self for help. I didn't even quite know how to conceive of this, I didn't even know what my own Self was, but I just felt that there was something far deeper to me than I understood, and if I couldn't pray to a Guru anymore, couldn't pray to Adi Da anymore, at least I could pray to my deeper Self for help. So once in a while I would just address a prayer to my Self, in whatever way I could, asking for help. And it seemed to come to me somehow, first in the form of various teachings and scriptures, but also in the form of self-enquiry itself. It just took me a while to figure out what was going on. I'm a very slow learner, if you haven't noticed by now.

I began to read Ramana Maharshi again, after many decades of barely glancing at his dharma, apart from its occasional appearance in Adi Da's own teachings. I was deeply impressed and so much of it began to seem natural to me, which was odd because while I had always loved Ramana, I had never felt much moved by his teachings, especially self-enquiry. I had tried Adi Da's various forms of self-enquiry over the years, but never fully connected with that either. Although I recall a very strong dream I had maybe ten years before this, in which I suddenly realized with deep conviction that I would never mature spiritually until I completely committed myself to the practice of enquiry. However, even after that dream I couldn't really do that, at least with Da's forms of self-enquiry, but the memory of this conviction remained with me.

I only very occasionally practiced enquiry, even after reading Ramana's teaching. I didn't quite understand what it meant in practical terms, and didn't know how to engage it. I began to read other Advaitic teachers, including Nisargadatta, Papaji, Annamalai, etc. I also perused A Course In Miracles and its non-dual teachings. These were helpful, but also confusing. Eventually, I decided to write to David Godman, who had written or edited quite a few books on these people, asking for help in trying to understand self-enquiry. We probably exchanged about 30 emails, and he recommended quite a few good books on the subject, particularly his own Guru Sri Lakshmana's book that David had written and edited, and two books by Sadhu Om (another disciple of Ramana). The essential summary of all these was that the practice of self-enquiry boils down to feeling the feeling of “self”, of “I”, of ego, and simply observing this feeling, and simply observing everything from the position of this self-feeling. I began to see that in the most basic sense this was what I had already been moved to do, but didn't quite consciously understand, and didn't know how to engage. In some sense, understanding this was itself liberating, but it was also a bit threatening, and scary.

I tried practicing this fairly intensively for several months. It felt good, but also difficult, and I had quite a few stumbles along the way. One thing I noticed was how intensively this practice aroused a devotional response in me. One thing that had spontaneously begun to occur in me while leaving Adidam and first beginning the rudimentary practice of self-enquiry without really knowing what I was doing is that I would sometimes begin to spontaneously start saying to myself “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you” for no particular reason. This would happen while I was working, or just sitting around, and I never really had much of an explanation for it. I wasn't sure who I was saying this to, or if I was really saying it to anyone at all. I never actually “tried” to practice this in any way, but I would just start saying it, and with real feelings of love, and it seemed to purify my mind and action somehow, so I didn't really try to figure it out.

I could feel that this whole practice of self-enquiry was very purifying, and yet it was also rather unsettling. At a certain point I simply got confused and uncertain about it all, and I found myself getting complicated and unclear as to what to do. At the same time, all kinds of unsettling things were continuing to happen in my life, and practicing self-enquiry began to seem both a little too difficult to maintain, and secondary to so much else. However, I did manage to keep it going, and over time my life got quite a lot simpler and less distracting. At this point, I don't have many distractions other than ones I generate in my own mind. So it seems like a good time to finally get serious and committed to the process, and see how deep I can go with it.

I really do enjoy self-enquiry at this point. There's a great feeling of freedom that comes with it, and just plain enjoyment. The feeling of self is simply so grounding and life-giving that it attracts me more and more into the practice for its own sake, rather than any sense of “getting somewhere” spiritually. And the question of “who” I am is so much more wide-open and liberating than I had imagined possible. Combining it with the mantra of “I am Brahman” seems quite natural and inspiring.

I'd like to write more about self-enquiry, I'm just not sure how to do it. I suppose in the weeks ahead something will come to me.


Anonymous said...

IMHO, this post ("Enquiring about Self-Enquiry") is not a mistake. And as far as your being "a very slow learner", that's pretty relative isn't it? I'm now 64 years and feel more like I've only just embarked on this spiritual journey than I ever have.

I plan to follow your blog entries as you feel moved to share your feelings, which I encourage wholeheartedly. Without others sharing their spiritualality we'd quickly lose interest in our essential nature and get caught up in engaging the secular to the exclusion of all else.

no more booda data said...

I suspect that Ramana’s whole self-enquiry thing is really something quite simple, or intended to be. Something that those who are naturally deeply inquisitive are always doing in one form or another anyway. Always wondering what the fuck is all of this? what am I? what are we? Why is any of this even appearing at all? Some people don’t need to be encouraged to ask these questions. Comes naturally. And when the various mythologies and intellectual answers and neti neti and so on fail to satisfy, something like enquiry proceeds on the feeling level, moving into awe, and beyond. Aren’t the advaitic practice of self-enquiry and the somewhat parallel (or at least complementary) buddhist practice of returning to the breath and posture, just devices to encourage the less inquisitive among us? I’ll bet that Ramana’s self-enquiry as a conscious practice peaked (but didn’t stop completely) at age 16 with his imaginary death event. Most of us play at stretching out the enquiry and the drama as long as possible. Each in his own way. Why is this? Is it just Brahman playing with himself? The hum of the cosmos? I think so. It’s more fun and interesting being Broken Yogi than Brahman. And it’s great to be both. All IMHO of course.

Anonymous said...

Tired of shouting at windmills? I suppose that makes sense. Now you want to sit around and comtemplate the koan "who am I?"


"In another time's forgotten space
Your eyes looked from your guru's face
Wildflower seed on the sand and stone
May the four winds blow you safely home" ~ Hunter

Anonymous said...

An excellent direction for your talents. Look forward to more dialogue regarding Sri Ramana.