An inquiry is the process of discovering something hitherto unknown to conscious awareness. The purpose of inquiry as a spiritual practice is to gain deeper insight and understanding into your own essential nature. The inquiry process always begins with your present moment experience. It can begin with a question or simply be an open inquiry of your present experience.
If the inquiry is prompted by a question then hold the question in mind as you begin the process. Regardless the question, always explore your present moment experience.
The purpose of inquiry is not to get an “answer” in the usual sense but to simply use the question (or your present experience) as a starting point for your exploration. Let the question be open-ended; don’t become focused on getting a specific answer. Let the question be lived in the present moment.
There are two forms of inquiry: horizontal and vertical; both of these are explorations into our present moment experience.
Horizontal inquiry is noticing all of the dimensions (i.e. sense gates) of your present experience: sensations in the body, emotions, thoughts, mental state, seeing and hearing.
Vertical inquiry is staying focused on a single dimension (sense gate) of experience and then observing how it changes over time.
It is best to practice both horizontal and vertical inquiry; perhaps going back and forth between the two.
For example, horizontal inquiry might look like this: if you are feeling a sensation in the body then notice what thoughts are present; notice any emotions as well. See if you can identify craving, resistance, agitation or any other mind state. Notice also your experience of seeing and hearing. This is horizontal inquiry.
Then vertical inquiry might look like this: bring your awareness back to the original sensation in the body; rest your attention on that sensation; notice any tendency to space out or distract yourself and then bring your attention back to the sensation. Notice how the sensation changes as you bring continuous awareness into it. Notice all of the components and subcomponents of the sensation. This is vertical inquiry.
It can be helpful to go back and forth between the horizontal and vertical forms of inquiry.
Let awareness be an end in itself--do not get caught up in meaning/ interpretation/ analysis.
If you begin the inquiry with a question then just hold the question in mind and notice the emotions, sensations etc. that arise and engage these with the inquiry process.
Some examples of starting with a general question:
- Who am I?
- What do I want?
- How do I experience my true nature right now?
Questions may be more specific:
- What if I accepted this job offer?
- What if I moved to this city?
- What if I engaged this program?
Always let the response come from your present moment experience; do not become preoccupied with or attached to receiving a particular “answer” to the question. Stay open; allow the question to simply be the catalyst for a deeper awareness of the present moment. If you live your life fully present in each moment then your life itself will become the answer to the question.
At the end of the inquiry session you may wish to jot down some notes or insights.
Inquiry can be a rich adjunct to mindfulness practice but it is not intended to replace the practice of moment-to-moment awareness and acceptance of each experience.