Contemplation & Self Inquiry
As well as activating and applying the capacity for discriminating wisdom to the movements of the ego “I”, it is also essential to apply it to the big questions relating to the ultimate nature of Consciousness and Reality in the form of existential contemplation. Meditation and contemplation work in tandem like a form of cross training that keeps the Awakening Process fresh, vibrant and ever new. In meditation we leave the mind alone and simply allow our experience to be as it is. That is a direct means to dis-cover our Absolute Eternal Transcendent “I”. In existential contemplation, we engage the capacity for discriminating wisdom by using the mind to inquire into the mystery of Consciousness and Reality from a ground of meditative receptivity and alertness.
Through existential contemplation and self-inquiry we activate, develop and sharpen the faculty of what we could call intuitive or “higher” or “enlightened” mind. The activation of intuitive mind enables us to see beyond the limiting machinations of the purely mental or rational “lower” mind. Thus contemplation or inquiry is not a method or a technique to which the mind adapts itself. It is the process of deepening understanding itself, evolving out of the intuition of its own force and form. Contemplation does not pursue a certain deliberate goal, form, or solution. It is simply the constant investigation and observation of life. It is the conscious activity of an Awakened Life. The more we meditate, understand and surrender the more our natural engagement with life becomes one of radical, intense and unqualified contemplation and inquiry. And through this consistent posture of interest and curiosity our experience of life becomes direct and creatively simple.
Enlightened, intuitive mind is swift and penetrating and has the power to illuminate and dissolve embedded perceptual frameworks that are usually invisible to us. A helpful way to understand these perceptual frameworks is to compare them to an operating system on a computer. In this metaphor the programs and other content on the computer represent the repetitive yet ever-changing psychological patterns of sensation, thought and feeling. When we let go of the habitual activity of identification we see that content clearly and more objectively and therefore liberate ourselves from its binding power. However, the more embedded perceptual frameworks, and the unexamined presumptions that maintain them, are not so obvious because they are not discrete phenomenal “objects” that we can observe as they arise and pass away. The operating system is the perceptual lens or “point of view” that we tend to adopt on a pre conscious level and it is largely created by the force and influence of our cultural conditioning, which is the social milieu or sea that we are swimming in. Much of this deep conditioning is so impersonal and so second nature to us that we do not even realize that it is there.
Focused contemplative inquiry into the nature of Reality and Consciousness, coupled with a passionate aspiration for Freedom, acts like a laser beam that penetrates and exposes these perceptual frameworks to the Light of Consciousness. Then the Light and Intelligence of Consciousness Itself reconfigures our “operating system”, spontaneously dissolving previously unconscious limiting presumptions and perceptual distortions. This alchemical process of questioning, exposure, deconstruction and reconfiguration of perceptual frameworks significantly deepens our meditation practice and our capacity to live an Awakened Life that is more and more surrendered to the ultimately unknowable and uncontainable nature of Consciousness and Reality.
For example, the contemplation on the question, “Who am I?” was a fundamental aspect of the teaching of the great 20th century Indian sage, Ramana Maharshi. If practiced with sincerity this form of self-inquiry can lead to deep insight into the mystery of who you really are. All of our life we use the terms “I” and “mine” and “me.” We talk about “my” body, “my” mind, “my” family and “my” life. We think we know what the body is, we think we know what a thought is, but do we even know who claims to own these things? If this question remains unexamined, we remain trapped in a world of limitation, totally identified with things that have a beginning and an end in time.
Inquiring with the contemplation question, “Who am I?” is like peeling an onion. Every time you ask the question the mind will bring up an answer. “I am a man or a woman, I am rich or poor, I am educated or a simple person…” But do not stop with any of these answers. Keep asking and keep going deeper. All the answers given by the mind to this question are false. You may shift from identifying with the body to identifying with your thoughts, believing that you are the thinking mind. But the mind is also being experienced. You may drop deeper, into identification with feelings. But feelings also are passing, coming and going. Finally, you come to the fundamental self-concept of “me.” Who am I? Me.
Stay with this “me.” Try to find it; try to investigate its real nature. You may be surprised to find that it is a challenge to locate this “me.” It cannot be found. It simply is not there! Yet this moment is being experienced, sounds are being heard and form and movement are being seen. In the absence of any entity to be found, what remains? Me! This simple practice returns you home to the ungraspable mystery of who you really are, beyond all definition.
In addition to “Who am I?” there are a number of other contemplation questions that can be fruitful catalyzers of Awakening. These include “What am I?” “When am I?” “Where am I?” “Why am I?” “Who hears?” “Who sees?” Who feels?” "Who thinks?" “Is there an inside, is there an outside?” “Is there a past and is there a future?” “Am I avoiding relationship in this moment?” Your attraction to a particular question should guide your decision as to which contemplation question you choose. Some questions may appear to you to be too philosophical or abstract. Others may be too obvious or uninteresting. The ones that are most powerful and provide important keys to your Awakening will have a magnetic feel, an energy that gives a sense of rightness, of a “yes” arising out of your own deep intuition that this is the question for you.
Once you have selected your question, I recommend that you work with it with intensity and commitment for a significant length of time. You should work on this question continuously for several months before you leave it and select another contemplation. You will find that the mind is always anxious to derail this process. It will easily get bored and suggest another and another. Resist the temptation to abandon your contemplation. Stay with it and sink into the question, feel into the root of it, absorb yourself so completely in it that it goes on by itself, even while you are asleep. You may find that this does in fact occur if you give yourself to contemplation practice with single-minded dedication and focus on one question.
Be conscious of what occurs immediately after you ask your question. Often, immediately after the question is asked the mind will just stop and emptiness and stillness will be there. This is the Presence that you are searching for. Don’t rush past it looking for another answer. Recognize that there is not an answer that the mind can come up with that will reveal to you the answer that you are looking for. Remember that the mind can never take you beyond itself and it will often panic at not having an answer and not understanding what the Presence is.
Something that may be useful is to select a daily activity to trigger your engagement with the inquiry. It could be when you eat breakfast, go to the bathroom, drive to work, make a cup of tea etc. Then that activity will shift you back from engaging with the practicalities of your day-to-day living into the depth and immediacy of your self-inquiry. It is particularly powerful if you do the inquiry first thing on waking to establish yourself in prior Freedom and the last thing before falling asleep to place it into consciousness so that it will continue on a subliminal level during the night.