Musings From the Philosopher's Den - Calming the Mind Through Inquiry

Posted on April 1, 2018
Posted by Jim Sher

While meditation can be one important activity that can help us calm our minds, there is another process that can, in some cases, help us even more and potentially much faster. Jiddu Krishnamurti actually suggested that we redefine meditation to include what he simply referred to as the activity of “inquiry.” It was one of the central themes in all of his talks. It is good to see that meditation has become more popular in today’s world, but perhaps it’s time to emphasize another aspect of this process.


Inquiry is a form of contemplation and this kind of contemplation can be considered to be meditation. While it begins as a form of mental activity, one’s intention is to go deeper than that. Its purpose is to enable a person to arrive at real clarity about an issue that is either bothering them overtly or that is lying deep in one’s unconscious resulting in a form of generalized confusion. In other words, learning to contemplate helps a person arrive at a state of clarity. For this to happen, one must understand that the information they have is lacking in some way. They may not know what it is that is lacking, but that something is missing that just might put them into a new state. Thus, the beginning of contemplation is to become open to receiving new information.


The fact is that for most of us being truly open is easier to conceive of than it is to actually do. The reason is that we often resist any new idea. This may sound weird since it seems so irrational, but when we are in the midst of confusion and/or anxiety we do often become defensive and resistant when new information comes our way. One way we can discover this is by the way we begin to debate, argue, block, etc. without giving the new idea any real consideration or thought. We might reject a new approach out-of-hand.


Let’s return to the question of why clarity is so important if we are to calm the mind? Please consider this – one definition of the state of clarity is that when a person is in this state, there is no longer anything to think about in that area of concern. Thus, the mind simply stops as the matter has completely ended for them. If one contemplates this principle one can see that this might be the key to reaching this quiet and calm state.


Let’s look at an example of this process. A person is struggling with anxiety and is feeling utterly overwhelmed. They are asking others for their opinions about the problems they’re having and find that they are getting more confused and frustrated. Also, their minds have become extremely busy thinking and thinking, over and over, round and around, usually about the same things. They are not able to arrive at any clarity. In fact, their efforts are causing them to become even more confused and lost. Is it possible to stop this merry-go-round? How can one work through this successfully? The process of inquiry is designed to help a person get to the kernel or essence of the issue one is dealing with.


The process of inquiry is difficult if we are accustomed to thinking that truth can only be discovered by asking others for advice, or even their thoughts. In fact, a common theme for people experiencing anxiety is their reliance on others for clarity. But, the only way to become calm and clear is to find one’s own truth about whatever matter they are working with. To understand this is to begin to move towards becoming more empowered. However, it takes some effort to become more empowered and that will include seeing that one must begin to work with their fears. From my experience, a person in a state of anxiety and fear might feel so insecure and afraid that they do not feel they are even able to find a helpful answer. This is what can cause them to seek out many people’s thoughts and opinions. At other times, one just keeps processing without end. But, with impartial observing, one sees that this actually cannot work. The truth is that no matter how many opinions one gets or how much they go over and over something, they are not likely to be satisfied or clear. The reason is that they won’t be certain that any answer they hear or come up with will help them. Their uncertainty and confusion will continue.


For those who are simply thinking about an issue repeatedly one might ask the question, “Will my going over and over the same thing get me anywhere?” One has now stepped back just a bit to ask a new question. What allows for this type of question to arise is what Krishnamurti referred to as ‘impartial observation.’ This is the act of simply looking to see what’s happening. It also means that one must not judge anything. Courage is needed here as one will have to ‘sit in what is being observed’ for something new to happen. One is empowered by this as well. It is in the act of seeing what’s happening that something new can occur. This is the ground where one can make a discovery that will lead to a way out of the condition one is in.


This is an important realization in itself and the process of inquiry can lead to this. Now the person can look directly at the degree to which they are not validating their own ability to discover the solution to the issues they are dealing with. When one becomes more empowered, one is able to see that one has been ‘dis-empowered.’ From this point one might begin to see that this view of themselves causes them to be unable to feel confident or powerful enough to discern what they need to do about their situation. This results in one feeling they must consider EVERYTHING, which is why they are so increasingly overwhelmed. They don’t know what information to let in or reject. And, naturally, this leads to a down spiral of increasing uncertainty and powerlessness.


Self-inquiry is about simply discovering the truth of one’s situation. No attempt to ‘solve’ the problem ought to be made. Why? It is too soon. Not enough clarity of what is really being experienced has been made yet. Becoming aware is all that is needed now. When one becomes clear about what is really happening within themselves, something quite special can occur. In this case, one begins to see that they will never reduce their anxiety unless they change their view of themselves.


I have been using the term empowerment for a reason. When one feels they cannot find clarity themselves and ask others or if they process the same thoughts over and over again, they are very disempowered. Self-invalidation is disempowerment. Furthermore, accompanying this sense of disempowerment is a strong feeling of lack of choice or free will. We feel we are merely the total effect of what is happening in the outer world and there’s nothing we can do about it. Given this state, what must be the first step?


One must see as completely as possible that in order to deal with the anxiety and powerlessness, one must gain a sense of free will and act on it. This can and must be seen as the first step. Towards that end, one must realize that one has free will to decide what one will and will not receive from others and what thoughts within must be accepted or rejected. This is the beginning of a movement to sanity. In other words, one must begin to decide what information one wants to accept, wants to make one’s own.


The following idea might be a bit strange because the next step is to inquire into the deeper nature of ‘Creativity.’ I am defining this term as not just writing a poem or piece of music. The solution to increasing empowerment is to engage in any kind of creativity where one is engaged as fully as possible in the creative process. This is itself an empowering act. And, it includes beginning to practice and discover that we can create our own thoughts and emotions, that we can select what input from others we want to accept or reject. Can the reader imagine that creating our own thoughts and reactions is a way of moving into an empowered state?


Here is the nature of the movement one might examine and attempt to apply:

Self-invalidation must move towards validation of the state we are in. Once recognized one must begin to enter into a state of creativity. In this state there is no need for validation or approval because you fully exist in your own truth.

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One response to “Musings From the Philosopher’s Den – Calming the Mind Through Inquiry”

  1.' linda quakenbush says:

    a thoughtful, helpful, and beautifully stated post, jim. thanks so much for all you share with us!

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