Dissolving the Self-Contraction with the Living Inquiries: Why Some Leave This Work Too Soon
By Scott Kiloby
The following article is a result of my work with clients at the Kiloby Center who experience addiction, anxiety, depression, endless spiritual seeking and other states that arise from a basic energetic self contraction.
You can take the Living Inquiries as deep as you want to go with them. They can be used to stop or quiet negative behaviors and issues (e.g., addiction, anxiety, depression, OCD, etc). They can help you take yourself and life much less seriously. They can be taken further into seeing the transparency of anything that is perceived as separate including self, other, the world, revealing a natural acceptance of everything that arises moment by moment. If taken even further, they can even be used to dissolve the core self contraction.
Many people stop somewhere along the way, especially before they have looked at everything that is separate. Many more stop short of dissolving the self contraction. I have written this article and created its corresponding diagram as a guide to help those who want to take this work as deeply as I have and beyond. I have seen no limit to the depths that simple, systematic looking with the Inquiries can provide. If you find a limit, let me know. But first, look for limit with the Unfindable Inquiry.
There really are no tiers. If you went looking for a Tier in your experience with the Unfindable Inquiry, you wouldn’t find it. That’s the real beauty of the Living Inquiries – that whatever we conceive as existing somewhere independent of thoughts, emotions and sensations cannot be found. But, conventionally speaking, we can break up experience in certain ways. This can help show you where you are with the Inquiries and even how to go deeper. The three tiers discussed in this section are depicted in the diagram at the top of this article.
Notice that the diagram above has these three tiers: Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3. I’ll proceed first with Tier 1, then Tier 2, then Tier 3 to explain how the self contraction (Tier 1) manifests as an outer layer of thoughts, emotions and sensations (Tier 2 – The separate self identity), which then manifests as activity or behaviors in Tier 3 – mainly seeking behavior.
Tier 1 denotes the basic energetic self-contraction which shows up mainly as a knot(s) or dense energy generally in the area from the top of the head all the way down to the bottom of the groin. If you imagine a hose running from the top of the head down the center of the body to the bottom of the groin, notice where there seems to be a kink(s) in the hose, like blocked energy. That’s what I’m referring to when I say “contraction.” Contraction is often experienced in the stomach or lower abdomen. But it also shows up in various ways in the throat, heart area, pelvic area and other areas running essentially down the center of the body.
It is important to be really clear that Tier 1 denotes only this felt, energetic contraction. It is dense energy only (like a fist or knot). Tier 1 does not include the myriad of temporary thoughts, emotions and sensations that come and go throughout the course of a day. It does not include the story of self, the particular motivations and reactions of the self (commands and threats) or the outward layer of seeking towards things outside of oneself. Those are all depicted in Tiers 2 and 3. Tier 1 represents that basic felt contraction, from which all human activity arises, including suffering and seeking in all of its forms. As long as it remains undissolved, we continue to experience seeking and suffering in various forms and degrees. I will come back to the self-contraction and how to dissolve it later on in this article. For now, just note that I made a clear distinction between the energetic self contraction in Tier 1 and its effects in Tiers 2 and 3.
Tier 2 includes what could be called the first layer of effects of that Tier 1 contraction. Tier 2 represents the separate self identity as it shows up in thoughts, emotions and sensations in each moment. We know ourselves on the surface as a story of past and future that carries with it corresponding emotions and sensations. For example, if thoughts of past arise that are identified with, one might feel anger, resentment, hurt, shame, loss, sadness, grief or even pleasure in the body. If thoughts of future arise, one might experience fear, anxiety, hope or addictive seeking. This movement of self at Tier 2 contains, at its basic essence, a belief in a deficient self. This is one of the reasons for the development of the Living Inquiries arose. The inquiries are great at seeing through all forms of deficiency or lack.
For now, just note that Tier 2 represents the experience of separation, including the separate self identity, all of which is known, felt and experienced by way of temporary thoughts, emotions and sensations (both conscious and subconscious) that we identify with or buy into. With the Living Inquiries, we tend to use the terms words, pictures and sensations instead. This just makes it easier to facilitate people. Thoughts are either words or mental pictures. Sensations include emotions such as anger or sadness as well as bodily sensations such as pleasure or pain. In this Tier, we also experience our basic reactions and motivations (both conscious and subconscious) like threats and compulsions. Because of the Tier 1 contraction, we react in fear and are motivated to survive and to seek or reach outside ourselves to find comfort for our pain. Tier 2 activity arises directly from the Tier 1 self-contraction. This is why I call the Tier 2 arisings “effects” of the primal self-contraction. Tier 2 also includes all forms of separation. It’s not just that we conceive of a separate self, but also separate others, a separate world, separate countries, days, flowers, etc. The Tier 1 contraction gives rise to the sense of a separate self and the entire experience of separation.
Tier 3 denotes the activities of seeking. These activities are the natural effects of Tiers 1 and 2 (the effects of the experience of separation). We seek outside ourselves for “long-term” goals such as safety, love, happiness, enlightenment/awakening, self-improvement, career advances, money, success, acknowledgement, praise, attention and connection. Those are the Big Searches. We can spend a lifetime looking for these long term goals while never fully reaching them completely. All of this comes from the separate self identity and its motivations and reactions, as denoted in Tier 2, which – again – has at its very core the basic self contraction denoted in Tier 1. There are also the Little Searches in Tier 3, which include reaching out moment by moment for immediate relief (instead of long term relief as in Big Searches). These momentary searches involved reaching for things like caffeine, drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, sex, pornography, cleaning, nail-biting, organizing, fixing others and a whole host of other substances and activities – too many to name. Reducing or eliminating anxiety, discomfort, pain and depression are examples of Big or Little Searches. All of these Big and Little Searches normally do not result in complete relief and satisfaction. Therefore, most humans are in a constant state of seeking for what cannot be attained.
Using the Three Tiers with the Living Inquiries
If you have already been using the Living Inquiries, you may already see how this diagram applies to the Inquiries. Let me reverse the order of the Tiers in order to show how the Inquiries have worked in my life.
Using LI in Tier 3
Tier 3, as I said, includes activities or behaviors of seeking. Some come to this work only to reduce or eliminate addictive seeking or other negative behaviors and issues like anxiety or depression. This is a fine use of the inquiries. And no one is required to take this work deeper than that. These people may not be necessarily interested in thoroughly seeing through the self identity and its corresponding self contraction. The Compulsion and Anxiety Inquiries are really useful in these cases. With the Compulsion Inquiry, one looks for the urge or command to drink, smoke, watch porn, etc (Little Searches). With the Anxiety Inquiry, one looks for the threat in drinking, smoking, watching porn etc. By letting every word, picture and sensation be as it is and looking for the urge or command, one comes up empty. He can’t find the urge or command. This relaxes the compulsion. By looking for the threat, one also comes up empty on that side of the equation. The threat cannot be found. This relaxes our aversion or anxiety around the addictive substance or activity.
The Compulsion and Anxiety Inquiries are certainly not limited to Little Searches. They can be applied to both the Big and the Little Searches. It is not uncommon for a facilitator to guide someone into looking for the desire for love, happiness or even enlightenment.
The key to remember is that Tier 3 is mostly about activity or behavior. Those who come just to quiet that kind of seeking sometimes leave the Inquiries when the Big or Little Search has quieted enough to make life more peaceful. However, I have worked with many people for whom Tier 3 work does not go deep enough. The Tier 1 core self-contraction is still present along with its Tier 2 effects – namely the mental stories of deficiency such as “I’m not good enough,” “I’m unlovable” or some other story. Because these patterns are still present in the body and mind, these folks often experience addiction returning, along with anxiety, depression and suffering of other kinds. They may even find themselves substituting their original addiction with some other addiction (e.g., substituting alcohol with sugar) precisely because the deeper work has not been done yet. To go deeper, one has to start using the Unfindable Inquiry to examine the identities behind all that seeking and anxiety and eventually do the Tier 1 contraction work discussed below.
Using LI in Tier 2
Tier 2 involves looking at the separate self and all forms of separation that are fueling all that seeking in Tier 3. This is where the Unfindable Inquiry becomes useful. The separate self sense includes a basic feeling of deficiency or inadequacy that may come in one or more of the following forms: I’m unlovable, I’m unsafe, I’m disconnected, I’m weak, I’m not good enough, etc. By examining these stories and being with everything as it arises, a particular deficient self cannot be found (e.g., one cannot find the self who isn’t good enough). Some people stay at this level of investigation only, looking for particular deficient selves and really experiencing tremendous shifts in perception. While using the Unfindable Inquiry, one can easily enter the Compulsion and Anxiety Inquiries, so that the investigation includes looking for the deficient self as well as looking for the urge to seek or various perceived threats. This triple whammy can be quite powerful.
The Unfindable Inquiry can be used on anything. One doesn’t have to look just for a deficient self. Once could look for “this crappy day” or “my oppressive government” or “cancer.” To truly see that the very thing that seems real and true is not there in the way it was perceived to be can untangle a lot of suffering.
Some people only use the Living Inquiries in the manner described above. They experience transformative shifts. But many leave before working with the basic self contraction in Tier 1.
“Can that that self contraction be seen through or dissolved with LI?” “And, if the basic self contraction is still present, isn’t the experience of separation still present on some level?” I found that the answer to these questions in my own life is “yes.” But working with the self contraction has to be done skillfully. That brings us to Tier 1.
Using LI in Tier 1
In order to understand that Tier 1 work is different than the other Tiers, you have to first acknowledge that, at the core of your being, there is a self contraction. If you looked for the self contraction with the Unfindable Inquiry, you wouldn’t find it. And yet, there may still very well be this self contraction, this primal energy, playing itself out in various areas of your life. And it’s painful, like a clenched fist. Hold your hand out and clench a fist. Notice that the tighter the clenching, the more painful it is. I’ve come to see that as long as this basic energetic contraction is present and activated in one degree or another and as long as it remains undissolved, there are Tier 2 and 3 effects including fear and addiction and some basic feeling of separateness operating. “It’s inevitable,” as Adi Da used to say.
Now, to the question of dissolving this self-contraction: This is perhaps the trickiest and most subtle form of work. Using LI at this Tier must be skillful. It is easy to over-inquire, adding too many questions. Over-inquiring will keep your attention away from the contraction. You will know you are over-inquiring when you are becoming obsessive about it or still trying to reach a later state with LI (i.e., still seeking). Still, LI is quite useful at examining the various Tier 2 effects of the contraction (the continuing stories, threats, desires which keep us focused away from the contraction itself). We spend our whole lives in Tier 3 seeking and then, when we begin to use LI, we spend a great deal of time looking at Tier 2 stuff. This is necessary in order to clear away a lot of stuff, so that we can begin with Tier 1 contraction work.
During this point in my investigation, I used many different forms of inquiry, investigated it from many different angles. I would “sit with” or “rest with” the contraction for long periods of time. I used tapping, meditation and many other practices. I would say to the contraction, “Thank you for arising, I love you, stay as long as you’d like.” To some degree, all of that truly helped loosen the grip of the contraction.
I think a lot of folks who follow spiritual teachings or engage in practices end up in this weird place where they have experienced powerful shifts in perception, including realizing that there is no self, but they still experience some form of this energetic self contraction. I have had many conversations with spiritual teachers who have told me privately that this is their experience. I think we, as humans, easily get busy again with Tier 3 Little and Big Searches when we come face to face with this contraction. Or we stay busy in Tier 2 inquiring, when it is really time to move onto Tier 1 work. Or we say we are “done” or “awakened” when the self-contraction is still running our lives in one way or another, or perhaps in many ways. We are essentially running from this core contraction. Even if you leave LI, you take the contraction with you if you have not yet done the Tier 1 work.
Before I move to the Tier 1 work, let’s answer this question: “When is Tier 1 work appropriate?” You can begin doing Tier 1 work right now. Don’t wait. You will notice when you have started it too soon though. Your focus or attention will be drawn more to thoughts or common emotions like fear, shame, guilt, sadness and anger. The Teir 1 contraction is more like dense sensation in front of or near the spine, in the chakra areas mainly. This dense sensation does contain repressed emotion which can be released through Tier 1 work. But if you are experiencing great difficulty bringing attention to contracted areas for sustained moments, it’s probably too early for Tier 1 work. Continue resting and letting everything be throughout the day and continue with the Living Inquiries on Tier 2 and 3 arisings. The key to Tier 1 work is the capacity to be with contractions directly in a very still, quiet way. If you are being distracted a lot, pay attention to those distractions and inquire on them. One example of bypassing is trying to do Tier 1 deep body work when your head is spinning with some trigger like “I’m just not good enough” and your body is flooded with these common emotions that need to be felt and allowed.
Tier 1 Work
Here are some tips for working with these core contractions. The key is to do prep work first, then move to one of the practices listed below the prep work. Prep work quiets the mind so that the contraction can be seen and felt directly without a lot of distraction.
Prep Work Example A
When you are alone in a quiet place (away from the daily triggers), use LI, CI and AI only to inquire into the Tier 2 words associated with the contraction. Use the process of mining to pull out the words/stories that seem to be stuck to or embedded in that contraction. This includes any words such as “I don’t like this,” “I am not good enough,” “This hurts,” “I want this to go away” or ANY other words that pop up while feeling the contraction. Even let the words “sensation” and “contraction” fall away through inquiry. All that is left at this point is the felt-experience of the contraction, appearing in the pure space that surrounds it. You may see some shapes or colors attached to the sensation. That’s ok. You can work with those in the practices listed below.
Prep Work Example B
Another way to prepare yourself for working with the contraction is through continuous body tapping. In the area where you feel the dense contraction, use two or three fingers to tap continously on the surface of the skin where the contraction is. Tap for at least ten minutes on that area, while bringing gentle, open awareness to the sensation and any shapes or words that arise from it. This can help quiet the mind so that you can move to one of the practices below. You can tap on several areas for ten minutes each or just one area.
Both of the prep work examples above should be used every day for a while. Spend at least a half hour, preferably more, each day with this prep work. The prep work is designed to activate that area. So if you find yourself feeling waves of triggers, anxiety or addictive cravings as a result of this prep work, that’s good news. Let that arise. Watch it or inquire into it. Let it be and let it dissolve naturally in restful awareness. You may use Prep Work A and B together.
Different practices resonate differently for people. Use what works best for you. A good practice will dissolve the contraction through a gentle, quiet, restful allowing of everything to be exactly as it is. If you find yourself trying to move things around, stop and get quiet and start again. Effort at this level of work often fuels the contraction and creates frustration and even seeking. Note also that not everyone experiences shapes and colors. Some just experience sensation in the contracted area. Work with whatever shows up for you. Shapes can be vague, undefined forms or graphic pictures like the picture of a person or a knot that seems to be attached to the sensation.
- The Still, Open Witness Practice. This practice should be done in a quiet place for a period of time each day, away from all daily distractions and triggers. Now that the mind is fairly quiet through prep work, begin witnessing the sensations, shapes and colors in the area of the contraction. Notice that what is aware of the contraction is still and unmoving. Rest as that still, unmoving witness behind all the movement of sensation, shapes and colors. Make sure your attention is open, meaning that there is an awareness of the sensations, shapes and colors but also that you are aware of the space above, below and all around the sensations, shapes and colors. You may do some inquiry at this point if it feels right. But mostly just remain as the still, open witness that is watching that area. Notice that the sensations, shapes and colors are moving (slowly or quickly). Let them move while remaining as the still, unmoving witness. In this practice, you are not moving your attention directly into any sensation and following its movement. You are not following the shapes or colors as they move. You are remaining still, quiet and unmoving as the witness behind all that movement, watching as everything that is in movement is dissolving naturally. Use the phrase “Thank you for arising, I love you, stay as long as you like” whenever you feel some resistance to what is arising. The key is to do this practice everyday for at least a half hour, preferably more. If a contracted area opens, you will know it. There will be an absence of dense energy. The area will feel open, spacious and empty. The key is daily practice. Don’t expect quick miracles. Don’t expect anything. Just rest as the umoving witness and let things move naturally. Don’t budge from that still, open, unmoving witnessing. Continuous body tapping can be used while the witnessing is happening. Tapping can help keep your attention still and quiet as you witness the contracted area.
- Movement Practice. This practice should be done in a quiet place for a period of time each day, away from all daily distractions and triggers. Some will not resonate with the Still, Open Witness Practice. Instead, they may want to investigate differently by resting with or moving attention with each sensation, shape or color in the contracted area. This practices does not involve remaining as the still, unmoving witness behind all the movement. Instead, it is all about letting attention move freely and restfully with whatever arises. For example, if a graphic picture arises, bring attention to the picture and the space all around it. Allow the picture to be as it is within the space until it dissolves naturally. If a sensation arises, bring attention into the center of it while noticing the space all around it. Let the sensation move on its own and follow its movement while attention resides in it and around it, until it naturally dissolves. Continous with this practice on everything that arises in or around the contracted area. Some inquiring can be helpful but be careful not to over inquire which can take your focus off the area. Too many questions can be a distraction. Body tapping can also be helpful to assist you in remaining directly aware of the contracted area and moving attention with all its arising. You can even let your body move physically and spontaneously with each sensation if that feels right. Or you may remain in one position. Use the phrase “Thank you for arising, I love you, stay as long as you like” whenever you feel some resistance to what is arising. The key, again, is to do this practice at least a half hour every day, preferably more. Don’t expect miracles right away. Don’t expect anything. Just be with whatever arises in a restful, accepting way.
- Hybrid Practice. The hybrid practice is the intuitive use of both practices #1 and #2 together. In this practice, you alternate between the still, open witnessing and the movement practice. For example, you may start with the witness practice but then a particular sensation may feel very dense. So then you may want to feel into it a bit more, letting attention move restfully with it (movement practice). You may then return to the still, open witnessing. Alternate back and forth in whatever manner feels right.
- Daily Practice. The practices above are intended to be done for a period of time each day in a quiet place away from daily distractions and triggers in life. However, everyone doing Tier 1 work ought to include practice throughout the day, in the midst of the distractions, triggers, addictive cravings and everything else experienced in life. The key is to bring gentle, restful attention as often as possible to the contracted area using one of the practices above. The more you bring this kind of attention to these areas during the day, the deeper your practice will be. As you become aware of these areas throughout the day, you will gain insight into how these contractions lie at the root of a lot of suffering and seeking. So being with them throughout the day for short periods of time or even sustained periods of time is very helpful. You may even get to a place where you feel the contraction all day long. Although this is uncomfortable, it is good news. The contraction is more conscious. You can only work with contractions if they are conscious. Getting busy with seeking, addictions, work and other daily activities is how we distract ourselves from these contractions, keeping them unconscious.
A Note about Readiness
Once you are doing Tier 1 work, the key is readiness. Is there a readiness to rest with these contractions in every moment, to do these practices each day? Notice when there is no readiness, when you are reaching for comfort, reacting again to perceived threats or keeping yourself distracted away from the pain of the contractions in some other way. Be easy on yourself. Let all that arise. Use the Inquiries at that point. Go back to the practices. Readiness will come gradually, as you realize that these contractions aren’t going away and that the only way out is through. The key to Tier 1 work is gentle, effortless rest.
If you are ready to work with this basic contraction, please do it skillfully. I suggest working with a facilitator who has navigated all this territory or come to work with me at the Kiloby Center. I do this work everyday there.
I will continue to post blogs on dissolving this self-contraction as new advancements are developed at the Kiloby Center.
as experience taking this work very deeply.
I am not suggesting that this is the only way to work with the Tier 1 contraction. It is simply the way I have worked with it. This has been singlehandedly the most important realization for me. LI has been very useful. But knowing when to use the questions on the effects of the contraction and knowing when to stop asking the questions was very key for me. Virtually everything else I tried only solidified the contraction or kept it there.
I won’t go into lots of details about why this Tier 1 work is so valuable. I’ll simply say this: sweet, sweet peace, freedom and well-being. If you read those words and it creates seeking, just notice that it is Tier 3 operating again.
If you are ready to work with this basic contraction, please do it skillfully. I suggest working with a facilitator who has navigated all this territory or come to work with me at the Kiloby Center. I do this work everyday there.