Tag Archives: Enquiry

Exploring your potential

Exploring your potential

What happens when you enquire? What happens when you explore the thoughts and emotions that arise, relive memories and examine your experience in the moment? What’s it all about? What is it for?

Well, at some stage it becomes a pleasure in itself, because it’s a natural way of making sense of experience and allowing your capacity and understanding to expand. The truth of the matter is that thinking patterns are often unclear and repetitive. And when you look closely, it’s possible to see that emotions can feel painful or overwhelming because of old ideas and experiences, rather than because of what is actually there, in the present. Perspectives are clouded. There’s a lot of old material obscuring the reality of the moment: preferences and inhibitions, borrowed habits and false expectations. Or quite simply, lack of knowledge. Enquiry helps clear away the obscuration.

Natural feelings

Enquiry can reveal a totally different experience of the natural energies that underlie anger and rage, fear and anxiety, stress and depression, hatred and rejection. Because without the distortions that our accumulated ideas and previous experience give rise to, those feelings can transform. Energy in itself is not negative; it’s the thoughts that surround them that make them difficult. The good news is, our instinctual human drives for safety, comfort, and companionship have evolved – and can continue to evolve! It seems to be our nature to evolve, probably in more ways than we can even imagine. With the willingness to explore, and love for the truth, enquiry reveals truer ways we can express our love of life. Naturally.

Ordinarily, many people learn that it is good to repress difficult emotions such as anger and sorrow, and we end up trying to force ourselves to feel – and think – differently to the way we really do. And what happens when we repress emotions and thoughts is that they go underground; they’re no longer uppermost in our experience. But they haven’t gone. And they continue to drive our reactions. When those ideas are seen for what they are – simply ideas or memories – there is a possibility of letting them go. Using enquiry to let your energy be there, fully, without acting out the emotional surface, gives you access to a fuller experience. Purified experience, freed from clutter and misunderstandings.

The joy of enquiry

A different experience may underlie various emotions at different times, and the fascination of enquiry for each person lies in discovering for themselves what is there. You may discover the gentleness of real strength, or the flexibility of true will. You could find gentleness and kindness hidden under layers of frustration and feelings of weakness. Who knows? That’s the joy of enquiry.


Digging for Gold (1)

Digging for Gold (1)

Most of us, at various moments and at different times of our life, are faced with problems or situations that we don’t like and want to change. Or that we don’t understand, and want to know more about. Or we’re just plain curious! In all of these circumstances, enquiry can work wonders.

Change happens

One of the first principles of enquiry is the recognition that it isn’t actually necessary to struggle to change things. In fact, it can even be counterproductive.

Change happens, whether we like it or not. What is needed is the capacity to stay with whatever is there, because when you explore and observe your experience, it unfolds. Life is a flow of experience. And if the same thing seems to keep happening, over and over again, it’s because our perspective is caught in an unchanging pattern. By taking a broader perspective, the flow becomes more apparent. It’s like watching a stream. If you see boulders in the stream only as obstructions, you may not notice the intricate swirls and eddies of the water, the fascinating changes of light and colours, shifting sand and pebbles, plant life and underwater creatures, or even glorious visiting kingfishers and magnificent leaping salmon. Even boulders look different when you see them from a different viewpoint!

If it’s not one thing…

It’s a mother, as a comedian once ruefully ad-libbed – after a long period of therapy, I suspect. It’s true, when you study psychology for any length of time, you start to think that everything (especially the bad bits!) that has ever happened to you is your mother’s fault. What’s important to realize is that in fact, most of us tend to view the whole world as our mother. We expect the outside world to give us what we want. And we get annoyed, frustrated, and outraged when this doesn’t happen. Which is strange, when you think about it, because we’re part and parcel of the world ourselves. It’s like blaming your thumb for hurting, when you hit it with a hammer.

What’s real?

Especially in our day and age, when so much more is explained and developed with the help of continually expanding scientific knowledge about the human mind and body, the process of enquiry is greatly supported by information about the workings of the mind and our physical and emotional states. Personally, I find the study of the human psyche both vastly interesting and extremely useful, however it’s not a prerequisite for the practice of enquiry. Obviously, it is possible to come to very deep understanding of ourselves without training in psychology or neurology or biology or all the other –ologies that have evolved in (relatively) recent time. Enquiry works because it is based on our own experience, in the moment. You start with a question, a problem, a situation, or simply openness to what is there in the moment. By focusing on your inner experience, you can get a felt sense of it. Staying with this felt sense, getting closer to it, reveals more about it. And ultimately, allows it to transform, to unfurl, to flow.

There’s much more to find out through enquiry. Visit The Enquiring Spirit. www.chayes.nl

Black & White

Black & White

My main motivation throughout life was always a search for meaning; wanting to know the meaning of my experience. It’s what made me an avid reader, an ‘ex-pat’, and a life-long student. And of course I wanted to acquire specific skills and qualifications, but I’ve realized it is the process of getting them that counts, not the certificates and references that go with them. Which is why I am interested in mindfulness, and want to share my interest with others.


What I’ve discovered is that meaning arises in the present moment, from moment to moment. There is no ‘Meaning’ sitting out there, waiting to be attained. Meaning happens in the moment, and is appropriate to the moment – but of course you have to be here! That’s why the sages and enlightened ones talk about being in the Now. Because if the mind is busy all the time reliving the past, or trying to control the future, we miss the present – and the present is where it all happens. If we’re not here in the moment, everything we’re looking for is actually overlooked. We’re living in a dream, which has no solidity, no reality.

Cockroach enlightenment

Being in the moment doesn’t mean having to forget the past. In fact, the more presence there is, the more the past can inform our understanding, as I recently noticed. Enquiring with a friend, a memory was triggered of a spontaneous experience about 20 years ago, at a workshop. I had felt like a blob, unstructured and almost formless, all I could do was observe what was happening. My teacher at the time later sent me a copy of a cartoon. It showed two cockroaches, standing beside the nozzle of a garden hose with a drop of water falling from it. One cockroach was describing its experience to the other. “There I was in the darkness, when suddenly there was a great whoosh! and a burst of light. And then I found myself here.” The title of the cartoon was ‘Cockroach enlightenment’. At the time, I thought it was a very funny cartoon – but it wasn’t until my recent enquiry that I fully realized the meaning of it!


Meaning is not fixed and rigid, because the true nature of things is a constant unfolding, moment to moment. It’s not black and white, and it is not at all chaotic, because everything is part of a unified whole –that butterfly in Timbuktu really is connected to a volcanic eruption in Iceland! And we get to watch it all unfolding from our own individual vantage point, moment by moment. Miraculous, really.


What has this got to do with mindfulness, you ask? Firstly, for those moments when we succeed in actually being in the moment, we’re aligning ourselves with reality. It’s not that it is always fun or enjoyable, but the fact that it is real is inherently fulfilling. It’s because it’s our life that it has meaning.

This is of course not to say that planning and preparing, or reviewing and analysing, are not useful. These are necessary and essential parts of life too. My experience is that these activities too benefit from being in the moment. More focused attention becomes possible when you become aware of the internal pushing and pulling that often starts when anxiety or doubt raises its head. It takes some time for the inner critic – as I’ve explored in my previous couple of blogs – to get the message that he (or she) is out of a job. That’s what can happen when you take the time to look more closely at your experience, and enquire into how your life got to be the way it is. And how it can change.

Explore mindfulness. Info@chayes.nl

Kind hearts

Kind hearts

The discussion of the inner critic – see my blogs on Critiquing Criticism – often seems to have a reverse effect. Instead of relief at last, freedom from the difficult and often hurtful impact of criticism – or ‘faint praise’, which can be a cousin of criticism in disguise – it may appear to have become a constant companion. This is what I call the ‘purple BMW with pink spots’ syndrome: once you see one, you start seeing them everywhere! In other words, when you become more aware of some of the ways the superego is sabotaging your experience, it can seem that its attacks have increased, rather than simply been uncovered.

Love it to death

One of the best suggestions I’ve ever heard for how to beat the inner critic at its own game is to love it to death. After all, it meant well. It was a part of you that thought it was looking out for your wellbeing. It seemed like a good friend, trying to protect you – and others – from harm, or making mistakes. So if the holiday you sent it on seems very short, and it still doesn’t leave you in peace, turn around and look at it. Listen. See if there’s something to learn from it, perhaps an insight into false assumptions or beliefs you hadn’t realized you were holding on to. Love it for its good intentions. And then let it go. It’s the kindest thing you can do.

It’s difficult to talk of kindness or compassion, faced as we all are at the moment by continual anguishing news bulletins about disaster, hatred, war and thuggery. But if we have to start somewhere, then plain, everyday kindness to yourself seems like a good place. Kindness leaves no room for the inner critic, which in turn makes it so much easier to be more objective.

Hot & Cold

Objectivity is often seen as being cold, uncaring or uninterested. There is indeed coolness to it, which I think is more disinterested than uncaring. Objectivity requires being in the present moment, because old beliefs and fixed ideas tend to block freedom – freedom to be yourself, freedom of thinking, freedom of expression. Because the expression of truth allows freedom of choice.

With a little ordinary human kindness, there is always warmth. And where there is kindness, there may be objective analysis and recognition of mistakes, but there’s no harsh inner critic. Enquiry and meditation are great ways to explore the differences.

Try it!

See www.chayes.nl or write for more information to chayes.nl



Critiquing criticism, Part 2: Creative blocks

Critiquing criticism, Part 2: Creative blocks

When you think about it, it’s amazing that any of us ever survive childhood. There’s so much we have to learn! Exploring the world and acquiring skills are not the problem. Learning to read, write and ride a bike is the fun stuff. What is much more complex – whether we realize it or not – is the process itself of becoming socialized. Learning what earns us approval, and what doesn’t. What brings punishment and pain, and what works to defend against that. What attracts friends, and protects against foes. How to get what we want, and how to deal with disappointment.

Regardless of how supportive and encouraging the environment we’re born into may be, or how many difficulties have to be surmounted, most of us generally develop the ability to make our way in the world. In the process, the inherent wonderful qualities available to human beings tend to become adapted to living in the world we know. Along with maturity, we develop a conscience – and this too is subject to adaptation, according to circumstances. Objective conscience becomes overlaid by the inner judge, the inner critic; what Freud called the superego.


Whether someone else is expressing their inner critic in their criticism – or indeed approval – of you or something you have done or said, or whether they are expressing an honest opinion, doesn’t really matter. If your inner critic is active, you will hear it as a negative comparison, or rejection. When criticism – whether from outside or inside – hooks right into the inner critic, the result can be hesitation, uncertainty, confusion, and painful self-doubt. Most painfully of all, we may even take it for granted! The impact can be devastating – limiting, repressive, and depressing. The worst kind of creative block.

The inner critic has an impact on our thinking, our feelings, our emotions, our attitudes – and even our instincts. It may seem to know what is best for us, but it relies on memories, conscious and subconscious, of the rules and regulations that governed our upbringing, right from the beginning. As children, of course, we did what seemed necessary to us at the time; we fit in with society’s rules and regulations. We did this by internalizing what was said – or implied – by our role models: parents and grandparents, older siblings, teachers, heroes and heroines, or society at large. Sadly, this meant cutting ourselves off from the awareness of our true qualities, our full vibrancy and aliveness. This is why criticism from ‘outside’ is so tricky – as discussed in my previous post.

Know thyself

The ancient Greeks, as so often, had an aphorism for it: ‘Know thyself’ is inscribed in the temple of Apollo at Delphi. And to know your self, it’s important to be able to differentiate between a healthy critical ability and the inner critic.

Identifying the inner critic is not always easy. It’s typically comparative: you are not as good as others, you could have done better. Put into words, it often uses phrases like ‘you should’ or ‘you shouldn’t’, ‘you have to’, ‘you mustn’t’ or ‘you can’t do/say that’. It tends to be alive and thriving in the work environment, in terms of qualifications, status, power, and salary – we take it with us everywhere, of course! People battle to survive in competitive environments, from home to school to college to the workplace. It shows up around appearance and possessions, too. What brands do you wear, drive, carry around with you? How big is your house?

Take a holiday!

Dealing with the inner critic calls for effective measures, and different tactics work best for different people, and in response to different attacks. Enquiry helps to discriminate and find out what the content of an inner attack is, so that you can find an effective way to defend against it. It’s good to experiment. I find one of the most effective ways to send the inner critic packing is to use humour. Now that it’s the summer, a good suggestion might be to tell it to take a holiday. Permanently.

Try it!



Taking Time

Taking Time

It’s amazing how many of us never seem to have enough time. Perhaps we all take the proverb ‘Time and tide wait for no man’ to mean that we have to keep running in order to catch up. In fact, much of western culture is oriented towards ‘saving’ time, speeding things up. The results? Fast food, fast traffic, and fast information – leading to indigestion, blockages, and confusion! Taking more time, making space for ourselves, could be the single most important thing we do in the course of the day, in the course of our lives.


We need time and space to feel the impact of our experience, digest what we’re taking in, and see what’s happening. The idea of spontaneous responsiveness is very attractive, and it can seem like the best and most genuine way to behave. The 60s suggestion to ‘Let it all hang out’ could well have been based on a truth – that it’s better not to suppress or deny feelings or thoughts that may become distorted and block genuine expression. But there’s a catch. First of all, our behavioural patterns are based on experience from very early on in life. Our personality has had a long time to become fixated and rigid, and in fact, literally second nature to us. And again, most of this happens unconsciously. We don’t even realize that we’re often reacting on the basis of lessons learned and conclusions drawn in infancy – and then reinforced again and again – rather than in response to what is there in the moment.


It is possible to come to understand why we always seem to see certain situations turn up in our lives. To investigate the layers of distortions and misunderstandings that have come to cloud the expression of who we really are. To find out why we seem to end up with bosses who never seem to recognize our real value, partners who don’t fully appreciate us, family members who can’t see us for who we are, or neighbours who persist in encroaching on our space. And of course, the opposite can also be true – employers who praise us to the heavens, friends and family who worship the ground we walk on, acquaintances who can’t do enough for us. For some strange reason, however, we don’t usually feel stimulated to question the second category of experiences!


Luckily, there are increasingly numerous sources of support and guidance to help deal with the difficulties we encounter; professional psychological, emotional, physical, and spiritual caregivers. And with the advent of more true knowledge and experience relating to the human psyche, there are also growing opportunities for self-help. Taking time to explore our experience mindfully allows for understanding and growth. Definitely worth enquiring into!