Embodying Spirit in Action
Engaged Inquiry Practices for Enlightened Living
Integral Enlightenment Engaged Inquiry Practices are practices that defuse, disarm, and deconstruct the ego in the midst of engagement with everyday life. Many of us have noticed that there is often an enormous gap between the clarity and wisdom we can attain in the midst of meditation or on retreat, and our capacity to express that clarity and wisdom when confronted with challenging life circumstances. If we want to be truly awake, it is therefore imperative that we find a way to challenge the many faces of the ego as they present themselves throughout our day. If engaged with sincerity and consistency, the following practices can have a profound, liberating impact on your consciousness and, more importantly, on how you show up in life.
Live As If You Were Always On Camera
Imagine you have been given the sacred task of demonstrating a model life for all other humans to learn from and follow. In this cosmic reality show, every moment of your life will be followed on camera and broadcast throughout the world, watched by the entire human race as an example of how we all should live. Go through your week imagining that you are always on camera, and that the rest of humanity will be watching and imitating your every move. If you lose your temper at someone inappropriately, this will create a cascade of violence across the globe. If you respond with wisdom and generosity, you will create a ripple effect of wise and generous behavior.
As you engage this practice, honestly observe how frequently you adjust your behavior from what might have been your default response. Ask yourself: even without the camera, do I really have a right to behave in a less than exemplary way at every moment? Given that we all affect one another in countless visible and invisible ways, don’t we all have an obligation to the whole to live the most exemplary, evolved lives we possibly can? Use this as a catalyst for deeper inquiry into what it would mean to live a truly impeccable life.
Why Am I Doing What I’m Doing?
Most of us react to life habitually, driven by motivations that are largely unconscious. One of the most foundational elements of living a conscious, evolutionary life is bringing all of our murky motivations into the light of conscious awareness. Only when we know exactly why we are doing what we’re doing can we discover the freedom and power to do something different, and begin to break the chains of the “habit force” known as karma.
In this practice, we allow our awareness of our own unconsciousness to push us deeper into conscious engagement with our interiors. Knowing that without greater self-awareness, we will inevitably cause unnecessary harm to our self and others, we reach for the courage to question ourselves to the core of who we are. Throughout the week, maintain a constant inquiry into your own motivations. Why did I respond in that way? Why am I about to respond in this way? Particularly when you or others feel that you might be reacting with a force or in a manner inappropriate to the situation confronting you, ask yourself: “is this really an appropriate response to this event? And, if not, what is driving me?” Engaging this practice will take a great degree of courage and humility. It may also take some time to begin to penetrate through the armor of your own deeper psyche. But, if you stick with it, you will find that a newfound clarity will emerge—and with it, an unimaginable experience of freedom from the patterns of the past.
The Only Way to Change is to Change
We are all conditioned creatures. Most, if not all, of our behavior is driven by our conditioned emotional responses to life. These patterns of the past will play themselves out indefinitely—until and unless we actively break the cycle. Most of us have been taught to believe that what is needed to break free from these deep-seated patterns is either some kind of insight into their origins or some kind of energetic release. Yet, no matter how much time we spend in therapy, and no matter how many times we “release” the old pattern, it returns again and again. It is possible to break any pattern, no matter how entrenched it might be, if we are willing to accept the stark truth that the only way to change is to change. When we face the fact that no gimmick is going to change us, that lasting change almost always flows from a clear decision followed by committed action, a previously dormant resource becomes active—which is our will. And our will is strong enough to move mountains.
Try this practice: choose a pattern in your life that you know needs to change in order for you to truly evolve to a higher level. Face the truth that the only reason you continue acting out of this pattern is because it gives you some kind of emotional payoff. Then make a decision that for the next week, no matter what happens, no matter how you feel, no matter how tempting it is to indulge in that pattern, you are not going to do it. Make this decision as if your life depended on it. If you have a tendency to lose your temper inappropriately, decide that for one week, you are not going to express your anger, no matter how much your blood might boil. If you have a tendency to withdraw into negative self-talk when confronted with criticism or rejection, make a decision to not withdraw, no matter how strongly you feel pulled to.
What you will find through this practice is that each time you successfully break the pattern by acting directly against it, you will liberate tremendous pent-up positive energy, and will have an immediate experience of freedom from your conditioned ego. And this will give you even more power and more conviction to go against the pattern the next time it arises. If you are persistent, you will find that within a very short time, you can dissolve a pattern that has been plaguing you for years, decades, or your entire life. And with this discovery, you’ll realize that true freedom from all the conditioned responses of the ego is within your grasp.
Navigating the Stormy Seas of Life: The Liberating Power of Decisive Action
Deep inner clarity is hard to find. Most of the time, our inner worlds are a sea of confusion, a cacophony of voices competing for our attention—and for our will. Particularly when the going gets tough, when we confront challenges that blow wind into the sails of our greatest fears and insecurities, it can be extremely hard to know how to navigate, which inner voice to listen to. This is why it’s critical that when we have a moment of clarity, we act decisively and with our full commitment.
Imagine you are traveling at sea in a storm, following your compass bearings, but no longer sure whether you’ve been blown entirely off-course. For a moment, the clouds part, the sun breaks through, and there you see it off in the far distance: land! What does the captain do? The novice captain assumes the sun is here to stay, relaxes, forgets about his compass and begins steering toward the land that he can so plainly see. But the seasoned captain knows from years of experience that although the skies are clear for the moment, it is more than likely just a temporary break in the storm. She thus seizes this moment of clarity to get out the map and compass, determine her whereabouts, and set a clear, compass-guided course that she can continue to follow even when the clouds descend again.
It is the same with our lives. In the midst of confusion, we plead with God for clarity. But then, when the moment of clarity actually dawns, we tend to think: “wow, it’s all so obvious! How could I not have seen this?” And, fatally, we then assume we will never forget. More often than not, we eventually find ourselves back in the confusion again, wondering what happened to the blue skies of wisdom, and again beseeching God to bring us to clarity once more. The way out of this cycle is strong, clear, decisive action during the moment of clarity.
The next time you find yourself in the midst of an experience of profound clarity, resist the temptation to take it for granted. Remember how rare it is and use that clarity to reflect deeply on the most challenging questions and confusing issues in your life. Rather than getting high on the experience of clarity, take the time to clarify your true priorities and set a clear course of action that you can continue to follow even if you become confused and overwhelmed again. In this way, you can begin to live a life guided by wisdom—even if your day to day experience is one of confusion and uncertainty. When you allow your actions to consistently be guided by the wisdom of your deepest moments, rather than the ambiguities of daily life, you will find that those moments of depth and clarity will begin to become more and more frequent, until ultimately, that source of wisdom becomes your only home.
What if This is Entirely My Fault?
We all tend to be victimized by life. We tend to blame our circumstances or other people for our failings and misfortunes. We struggle to find the humility to look honestly at our own weaknesses. One of the most direct leverage points into the victim consciousness that permeates our culture is found in the area of relational conflict. When you’re feeling victimized and blaming someone else for a relational conflict, turn the tables on yourself and assume, for a moment, that you are entirely responsible for the conflict. How are you the cause of this problem? This doesn’t mean that you are entirely responsible. But what can you see when you look through the lens of total self-responsibility? Discover the empowerment that comes from stepping out of victimhood into radical responsibility. (Don’t worry. This doesn’t mean you let other people get away with murder. You’re doing this for your own spiritual evolution. And once you’re standing in a place of total self-responsibility for your part in any conflict, you’ll be in a much better position to give appropriate feedback to others).
The essence of ego is self-image: the deeply rooted psychological need to be seen—and to see ourselves—in a way that aligns with our deepest beliefs about our self. One manifestation of this is our attempt to appear smart, or informed, in the eyes of others. To do this, many of us often act as though we know something that we really don’t. If someone brings up a news story we haven’t heard about, we often pretend we’ve heard about it. We do this to save face, to not appear ignorant or stupid. This week, resist the temptation to pretend. If someone says, “You know what Goethe said about commitment . . .” and you don’t know, say, “no, I don’t know. What did he say?” Discover the precious humility, freedom, and lightness of being that comes from not needing to be seen as anything other than you are.
What If The Evolution of the Human Race Depended on What I Do Right Now?*
(*This is a variation on one of the Transformative Inquiry Practices)
We all influence each other in visible and invisible ways. Are you willing to take responsibility for being an example for all others to follow? Spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen asks his audiences the following question: How would you live your life if you learned that the further evolution of the human race rested on your shoulders alone? In other words, if you knew that all of your actions were creating the action templates, or habits in consciousness, that would guide the actions of all future humans, how would your behavior change? Would you suddenly find that you had the strength and courage to leave behind all forms of victimhood and emotional indulgence, and step into a heroic relationship to this life? Would you find the conviction to overcome whatever obstacles seem to stand in the way of your becoming a powerful and undeniable expression of liberated consciousness in this world?
As you go through your week, each time you are confronted with a challenging situation, ask yourself how you would act if the further evolution of humanity depended on your enlightened response to the situation. In challenging moments, we are often tempted to let go of our ideals and respond from the least enlightened part of ourselves. By holding ourselves accountable to the true evolutionary moral context for our lives, we can find the strength to rise up in the face of challenge and begin to create more enlightened pathways in consciousness for the rest of humanity to follow. Engage this practice as though the future of humanity depends on it. Because it just might.