What is an “Essence” Question?
Why is this a route to enlightenment and where is it taking us? We can begin by defining an ‘essence’ question as the type of question that asks itself simply because we exist. This type of question can be framed various ways, but perhaps the most basic is the kind of question asked by a child such as, ”Where was I before I was born?” or “Where did Grandpa go after he died?” Of course, since death is an inevitable reality for us all, we also find ourselves wondering about these matters. But often life, with all of its demands, usually causes the importance of such questions to diminish with time. In addition, if we believe that such a question cannot be answered, why should we give it much thought or attention?
Philosophers, seekers, and sages have been concerned with these matters throughout the ages. Many believe we could not ask such questions if an answer did not lie within us, almost waiting to be discovered or experienced. They suggest that it is quite possible to experience real answers, since after all we are simply seeking to realize who we already are. This being so, wouldn’t it be our birthright to know about these things? Such thinking may seem new, but it has been around since ancient times. Our task is to learn how to open the door to our own Essence and true nature. That task requires us to learn how to ask or said an even better way, how to contemplate.
Seeking Enlightenment While Living in the World
Modern life is complicated and demanding, so it’s no surprise that for most of us it is a luxury to become involved in such matters. We wonder if it will have any practical value. Will we be able to become more successful? Or will it hinder our ability to succeed in the world? Is this kind of work only limited to helping us experience enlightenment? And could that aim actually pull us away from our lives or make us want to leave it?
There is a long-standing tradition which asserts that we must leave the world with all of its requirements in order to pursue a spiritual quest, and particularly one that leads to enlightenment. The intention of the C.I. and this School is different. It is aligned with the idea that spirituality and everyday life are not opposed to one another. Rather, that it is possible to bring them together in a significant, meaningful, and holistic way, such that life can improve for us on many levels. In some systems, such as Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way path, one is actually encouraged to USE one’s everyday life as a platform for spiritual growth and evolution.
Using Life as a Foundation for Spiritual Growth
While the C. I. can assist a person to experience the essence of who they are, many people who have participated in an Intensive frequently report that they have become better able to deal with the many normal everyday life problems because they are more grounded in their own being. When we even begin to experience our own true nature, life itself takes on a new meaning and we begin to feel the Life force within us, radiating in our every act. As we become less attached, less afraid, and have either released or reduced the power over us of the many things that trigger us, life seems easier somehow, less stressful, and we feel that life is a wonderful challenge and opportunity to grow and evolve.
The modern mind has great difficulty with the very idea of contemplation, especially in areas of philosophy and spirituality. The modern world view does validate the fact that people of a certain type are capable of intense concentration, mental focus, and even contemplation. We can accept that mathematicians, engineers, theoretical physicists, philosophers and other scholars are capable of abstract thinking and contemplation of problems they are seeking to better understand. But this same modern view rejects the idea that we can apply these abilities to esoteric or metaphysical questions. This rejection reveals an underlying belief system that is often ignored since so often we assume that the scientific mind is indeed objective.
The truth is that the modern approach to these fundamental questions is ruled by an attachment to the rational mind. Some might even call it an addiction, especially if you watch the strong emotional reactions of people when their assumptions are even questioned. Yet, the irony is that in science, and certainly quantum physics, they have arrived at the most seemingly irrational and counter-intuitive conclusions simply by contemplation on the truth of the nature of reality. The bias against such a type of inquiry could prevent us from attempting to discover whether these same abilities can be extended to the contemplation of fundamental esoteric questions. This would be a grave misfortune for logic follows that if we can do it in one area of life, we can also be able to do it in the so-called ‘mystical’ areas of life.
The Contemplation Intensive technique (‘Technique’) is designed to help us learn to contemplate. This innate ability lies dormant in us. As we begin to exercise this undeveloped ability we not only discover why it is so difficult, but what is in the way. The discovering of the nature of our inner resistance is a necessary part of the developing the ability to contemplate. There are teachers, classes, and many books that will help a person focus their attention and practice concentration. We can even do exercises that can help us develop this skill. But why do our minds resist this? Why does it take such great practice to focus our minds on one thing for only one minute? And how do we get to a place where we might be able to contemplate on just one idea or concept for many hours, or even days? It is important to discover the nature of these resistances or blockages, so we might discover ways to reduce or eliminate those things that block our ability to focus our minds.
The Nature of Our Resistance
Our busy life style and the need to keep track of so many things, creates a cluttered mind. In addition, when we look at it, we also see that our minds are full of worries, frustrations, fears, unfulfilled desires, expectations, etc. This is what many refer to as the ‘internal dialogue’, or what I have called the ‘crew that never rests. Is it possible to fully release and be free of these? Certainly if we do not, there will be no possibility for us to be able to contemplate on anything for very long. In the E.I. we can begin to discover the nature of our mind and in so doing, the mind quiets, and we become able to truly contemplate. And it is only in the state of a quiet mind that we can receive answers to our inquiry.
The Power of Communication
In addition to the contemplation of a fundamental or essence question, the E.I. technique asks each person to communicate to their partner what comes up for them as a result of their contemplation. We therefore must look clearly at what is meant by communication. It is not what passes for communication in most everyday types of relating, which can be characterized more as people talking at each other, rather than with each other. Normally, there is often no sense of recognition of ‘otherness.’
Real communication, as used in the C.I. is defined in a specific way. It is made up of three components: attention, intention, and receiving exactly what is expressed and without judgment, so that the person expressing feels completely heard. Non-judgmentalness is two-fold. When we are expressing to our partner, we are asked to express with intention whatever comes up without censoring oneself. This requires a willingness to let go of all judgments about what is coming up. And when we are receiving communication from our partner, we are asked to listen with intention and without judgment, evaluation, affectation, consolation, etc. This is what creates the conditions where release can occur. When this communication process takes place, phenomenal effects can occur. Not only do we feel heard which is very helpful, but we may feel that we are either completely done with something or are on the way to a sense of completion. It is helpful to consider that the mind is composed in large part of uncompleted communication cycles, caused by many things including not being heard or understood, being judged unfairly, and invalidation. These uncompleted cycles create the internal dialogue and keep it going. Because the C.I. technique brings about the completion of many communication cycles, we can literally watch the mind wind down, which increasingly makes contemplation of our ‘essence’ question possible.
The Theory of Release of Obstacles
We must work on more than just our conscious mind. In fact, if this were all we had to face, the process of quieting the mind would not be difficult at all. The C.I. takes us into the realm of our own unconscious. To demonstrate this, have you ever noticed that if you deal with one thought and let it go, that another soon replaces it? Why? The reason is that our mind is driven by the contents of our unconscious with all of its material lying dormant within us and it is this part that we must face. This is what the alchemists, transpersonal psychologists, and mystics have called the ‘descent into hell.’
Although there is no way to avoid this challenge, the C.I. process creates a safe way to engage in this process. Also, it provides a natural, organic flow for the surfacing of this material. As the conscious contents of our mind are released, space for the deeper material is then created. This, in turn, allows for even deeper material to surface so that it too can be released. What isn’t released will come up later on its own. No force is necessary or even helpful. Through this process of contemplation, conditions are created where the mind quiets and contemplation deepens. It now becomes possible to receive answers to the question we are contemplating. We become able to experience directly the truth of ‘Who’ we are.
Specifics on Contemplation
We come to see that we learn to contemplate simply by doing it. And that by doing so, we become more able to contemplate in a deeper and concentrated way. Here are some specific things to be aware of as we pursue our contemplation:
1. Patience and persistence: the C.I. process has helped thousands of people, but there is no shortcut. We must be willing to just do the technique. At times it may be tedious, while at other times it can be emotionally turbulent. There is great value in developing an attitude of just doing the Work.
2. Willingness to work without expectation of reward: There is no way to know when or if one will make a breakthrough. Expectations are a big part of our internal life and therefore are a part of what will arise in the C.I. They are to be worked with in the same way as any thoughts or emotions, i.e., they are to be expressed to one’s partner. At some point, we learn to just do the technique for its own sake.
3. Realizing what our job is and isn’t: Our job is actually quite simple. It is to contemplate the question and express what comes up as a result of that contemplation. That’s it. We may have all sorts of ideas of other things we must do, but all those things are just in the way of real contemplation. Fortunately that isn’t a problem for us as the technique will handle all of that.
4. Developing trust in the process. As we just do the technique, faith grows.
How Enlightenment Happens
Let’s be specific. We cannot accomplish our task by demanding, commanding, or forcing our way to enlightenment. In fact, even our hard work is no guarantee that anything will happen. Our effort is far more about letting go of those things that are in the way than anything else. Expectations, belief systems, worry, trying to force things, etc. are what we must deal with, and with which the technique is concerned. That’s all we can do. Perhaps the rest is up to Grace.
Enlightenment comes when it will. It arises when we least expect it and it does so on its own terms. Martin Heidegger wrote that it’s not about our ‘getting’ anything. ‘Getting’ is too aggressive of an approach. It is a grasping that often masks desperation. The inner condition we are in as we contemplate and inquire into our question is very important. Answers arise only when we ask in a certain way. We do our part, make our effort, and then – “It” gives. The modern mind doesn’t think in these terms. We want results. We want a reward for our efforts. We do not consider that maybe there is something on the other side that awaits us and can respond to our asking.
There is another way of looking at this as well. Some say that the moment you truly ASK the question, you will receive the answer. If that is true, them it means all of our efforts are really concerned with getting to a place where we actually are able to ASK. Here again we see that the inner state we are in influences our ability to receive an answer to our inquiry.
What our efforts do is to prepare the way for an experience to arise. But this occurs in a counter-intuitive way. With enough effort, we discover that no effort on our part will ever be enough. WE must become aware of this and then simultaneously see that we must do the technique and engage in the process of asking and contemplating. We then begin to just do it, and this brings us increasingly into the Present moment, or into Present time. This is the doorway we can create, a kind of portal that can take us to where we want to go. We find ourselves moving into a state where we are simply contemplating and this allows for a dissolving of ego and a merging with the question itself. We are becoming the question. It is then that we may see that we are the One who is Asking.
There is a story of a Sufi master who was recognized as such by the residents of his village. He was known to be odd, but being a wise man, his behavior was often excused. One day at noon, the master rode his donkey into the village square, yelling at the top of his lungs – “Where is my donkey, where is my donkey?” He rode around and around and then rode out of town back to where he lived. Everyone was bewildered. They wondered if their master had lost his mind. Couldn’t he see that he was riding on the very donkey he was in panic trying to find? He then did this everyday for one week at exactly the same time of day, getting all the villagers attention. Was he teaching them something?
Perhaps, each of us must become like that Master, trying with enormous effort and sometimes panic to find the donkey on which we are riding. That is in essence what the Enlightenment Intensive is. Crazy? That’s for you to find out.