To inquire into something is to open to it, to meet it, and to discover its meaning — or lack of meaning — from the inside of it.
Inquiry is generally recognized to mean investigating, and that definition serves the purpose well. However, in the sense in which I use Inquiry, it is not information that is provided by this investigation, but direct experience. To directly experience anything we first have to leave behind all preconceptions of that thing.
No matter how often we are told about a thing it is only when we experience that thing directly that we truly know it. We know the meaning of heat and pain and fire from the direct experience of coming into contact with fire. We can be taught that it is good to love and holy to show compassion, but those concepts will never have true meaning until they are real — our direct experience. We know a true kiss or surrender to an embrace when we directly experience them. We may practice or imitate kissing and embracing for some time, just as we may practice or imitate love and compassion before we have the direct experience.
In imitation or mimicry we remember what we should do or feel, and then we think ourselves through the act. “Now I press my lips, now I put my arms around…” In directly experiencing there is no thought. While thought processing is extremely important, in many acts of a day — giving or following directions, remembering the time of a meeting, checking a grocery list, studying complicated issues as well as the thousands of other sophisticated ways we think — consciously surrendering to any act or any moment requires the suspension of all thought.
We surrender thought spontaneously in moments of awe or shock. Usually our most prized memories are the moments where we are directly in an experience. Moments of extreme focus and moments of complete open-mindedness are both without thought. In truth, thoughts stop many times within a day, but since our conditioned reference points are located in our thoughts, we generally overlook these moments of pure spaciousness of mind. We “think” ourselves from thought to thought.
To consciously choose to be without thought is the gateway to direct experience. If we are bound to our thinking process for our reference points of reality, we will ask only those questions guaranteed to keep attention on analysis, cause and effect and conceptual evaluation. While recognizing the value and power of thinking we can also recognize the power of actually choosing thought-free, direct experience.
People often fear being without thought as if it were the corollary to ignorance. Understandably, ignorance is feared. There is never a need to deny the harm that ignorance can cause, and use of the term thoughtless usually refers to some action taken without thoughtful consideration. What is overlooked in this corollary is the harm caused by being bound to thoughts. When we are bound to thoughts, our minds are already possessed by what we have been taught, by our latest conclusions, by beliefs of all kinds and by our fear of having no thoughts.
The invitation to inquire into what is present requires that we have no preconception of what that is. Since we have spent most of our lives being taught to accumulate concepts categorizing what we perceive, this invitation is also a challenge. We are ready for this challenge when we recognize that conceptual thinking is limited. We are ready when we want more, and when we realize we aren’t finding more in what we already know. This readiness, coupled with the willingness to explore, allows us to face the fear that naturally arises when we no longer rely on knowledge.
If we don’t rely on the knowledge we have for our experience of the world and ourselves, what is left? When we don’t rely on our naming and defining particular emotions or particular states of mind, what is here?
This blog is adapted from Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, which was published by Penguin Tarcher in 2011. In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self.” In February and March Gangaji will be offereing Retreats in Maui, HI. Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast / Conference Series, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.
PHOTO (cc) Flickr / W J (Bill) Harrison