We each have our own version of suffering. I may feel unseen, empty and without value; you may feel abandoned, undeserving of being loved; someone else might feel helpless or hopeless, unable get past aside past failures, abuse or trauma. Often it is pieces of all three.
Buddha stated that “attachment is the root of all suffering”. Christian faith also points one to realize suffering is increased by attachment to certain outcomes. Attachment is inseparable from the ego, the enigmatic sense of who and what we are that is at the core of everything we think, feel and do. We want what we want.
Psychology and spirituality both agree that our “ego” is construction, a complex set of beliefs and feelings that are inherently false, based on what we were some time in our past, not who we are now. Indeed, at its core, the ego carries a sense of being flawed in one way or another, as if something is missing or defective. What solutions do we have?
Psychology believes in ego. Its methods either try to shore up the ego or to distract us from its inherent flaws by reframing or modifying our attitudes, views, and actions. There is nothing wrong with looking at the good we do or can do, and simply having someone affirm our humanity can help us accept ourselves, but it's like trying to repair a house with big cracks in its foundation, improvements are often only cosmetic.
Spiritual paths often see the ego as an impediment to be left behind. Spiritual practices and teachings open doors and windows in our cracked-foundation house. Through years of dedicated practice, we may spend increasing time outside its walls. The house is still there, but we are less attached to its inherent deficiencies. Liberation comes when it is no longer our home.
Now, a new way exists. Combining psychology, neurology, holistic therapies and spiritual understanding, we don’t try to repair the house or escape from it, we simply dissolve the construction piece-by-piece. This dissolution immediately liberates both our biological capacities and aspects of our true nature, our spiritual base. Both our human and spiritual potential become more available.
This new way is called Zero-Point Inquiry (ꙨInquiry).
We’ve been co-opted, hijacked by bad information
What is the ego, really?
Our ideas, beliefs and feelings exist in an inescapable loop. Information stored in our brain causes physiology to manifest in our body. That physiology tells us how we should feel about the information stored in our brain that defines us. It feels like the story of who we are.
In particular, much of the information we use to judge who and what we are is not only outdated, it has been co-opted by conflicting, outdated and inaccurate information, like malware and viruses infect our computers, though even good, useful programs may be limiting our potential.
These co-opted programs run in the hardware of our bodies like bad software caught in an unending repetitive loop. Our resources are strained, and circuits overheated. Error messages flash, obscuring our screen at the worst times. Our system resources become unavailable, blocking any possibility of a solution. Our processors continually search for upgrades, but when the problem is information overload, downloading more will not fix the problem.
Its time to reboot, to restore our basic operating system, which, even in the midst of breakdown, was underneath it all. Even unadorned, it has qualities and capacities that surpass what our minds can imagine.
Unaware of this unknown potential, our minds automatically hang on to whatever we have known. Our experience tells us we need to directly confront each piece of outdated misinformation, but what if there were an app that worked like an anti-malware program, systematically deleting everything that was not part of our operating system? Instead of painstakingly sorting through a lifetime of misinformation, this app searched it out and deleted it, one piece at a time?
This app does exist. It is called ꙨInquiry. Here’s how it works.
Melting the iceberg; becoming the ocean
Imagine your sense of self to be an iceberg. Most of you is hidden underwater, unknown and unavailable, but that unknown part is supporting and shaping the thoughts and feelings that are manifesting in any moment.
Inquiry* is a process of becoming aware of the iceberg, from the top down. The light and heat of attention on your immediate experience illuminates the iceberg, and begins to melt it. As more of the iceberg is revealed, thoughts and feelings that had been automatic and unnoticed become available to your awareness. You gain insight and understanding into some of your motives, perhaps also feeling the pain that is surrounding them.
Most hidden awarenesses are defended by a painful shell, so the process requires courage, dedication, curiosity, and at least a little faith that knowing the truth of your self is a good thing.
Each time you visit this iceberg and bring a more of it to your awareness, the tip melts and more of the iceberg is revealed above the ocean. Eventually, with repeated Inquiries of this sort, you melt through an entire iceberg. As the last of the iceberg is dissolving, you may feel empty and afraid. The ocean seems dark and unknown, and you have no reason to believe you can swim. How will you survive without the solid ice of frozen information, inexpressible ideas about who and what you are, to hold you? Icebergs hold the view that they are all that is, they are all that you are. When one melts you are relieved of the burden of trying to hold it together to defend it.
All of a sudden, it is gone. The first experience is often relief, as you feel yourself relax into the surprisingly buoyant ocean. It can be relaxing, peaceful an invigorating all at the same time. It can feel as if the ocean is inside of you. It can feel as if you are in the ocean. It can also feel as if ocean is in you and outside, a sense of oneness, non-duality if you will.
The ocean may manifest as a sense of strength, love, compassion, power, joy or peace, among many others, but without the sense that you are doing it … it is, instead, doing you. You may have the sense that the ocean, not the iceberg is your true nature. Looking for what had been the iceberg, you see nothing. There is no problem, there never was, it seems. It was all a misunderstanding.
But this experience is almost certain to be short-lived, particularly if you are new to the experience of the ocean. Indeed, our ego is a continent of interconnected icebergs, and, returning to our usual view of life atop this continent, openings to the ocean are lost to us.
Often though, the particular issue that had been frozen into the iceberg will be different for us. Without the mental and physiological activity associated with that iceberg, we may find ourselves just a little more relaxed, less avoidant, and more accepting of ourselves and others. We might find that certain things which had been difficult we now do without a thought. We may feel more resourceful because we are. We have re-incorporated some of our inherent biological capacities, and regained a glimmer of the awareness that we are more than just our icebergs.
How we got stuck
Inquiry of this sort is part of a set of spiritual teachings and practices known as The Diamond Approach. ꙨInquiry is the realization of a method which has been developing since the mid 1980’s.
When I became a student of The Diamond Approach in 1993, I found that holding the attitude of Inquiry deepened the method, expanding it from “emotional clearing” to a tool that could be used for spiritual unfoldment. It showed itself to be a shortcut to experiences of the ocean, like using a large magnifying glass to focus the heat and light of the sun on a specific icebergs. (ꙨInquiry is not affiliated with the Diamond Approach.)
ꙨInquiry combines understandings of the brain as an information processing device with the spiritual anatomy exemplified by the iceberg metaphor. The iceberg is the brain, whose codified information is frozen into repetitive patterns of thought and physiological function. Most its information is underwater, unavailable to our conscious perception.
When we can perceive our physiological function, and much of it we cannot, we call it feelings. The easiest and most obvious example is that we don’t say “the blood flow in my stomach has changed and it is churning”, we say “I’m anxious”. What we are really perceiving is our physiology — our liver, adrenals, kidneys, heart, muscles, and so on being activated by the brain to respond to predictions of our future.
Feelings, interpretations of physiological activity, are the same as any processed perception, sensory input translated into a known thing complete with their own meanings and implications. A “chair” for instance, is not an abstract shape. It is imbued with all kinds of meaning and even feelings, inherited from a lifetime of experiences and which are interpreted based on the current situation. A chair is welcome relief if we have been on our feet all day or beauty if it matches our living room but think of all the chairs that go by without any recognition at all when they are not useful.
Using sensory cues and cognitive associations, the brain pulls from past experiences to create a story or understanding of our present situation. The story is embodied in us as the brain establishes the physiology it expects to be needed to deal with its interpretation of the current situation. That physiology, which we perceive as feelings, is composed of the reactions we had to the past situation that is now defining our present. Also transferred forward to the present are the understandings we had about ourselves at the time that is being projected forward to the present.
We are therefore living a past story and creating the physiology expected to be needed, in the present. For example, say my father was critical of me, and my reaction to it was to adopt a physiology that might be called shame. Evolutionarily speaking, to maintain the social order needed for survival of the species, the purpose of this physiology was to preserve the pecking order in a tribe or society. Today, I am doing a project with a friend and she suggests doing something differently.
Whether or not I am aware of its source, my brain ascribes to her words the critical attitude of my father, and invokes the physiology that was learned when I was a child. Together, these also invoke the feeling of the person I was at that time, including a sense of capacities that were not developed, or at least no match for my father. So now, dealing with my friend, I feel like I only have the capacities of that child, not the adult who actually has full use of those capacities. Perception becomes reality when I act from that set of possibilities.
Using the past to predict the future is essential to survival, but the survival instinct also generally causes the brain to default to expecting and preparing for the worst outcome. When we encounter stress, our brains tend to recruit these “reaction packages”, complete with interpretations of reality, from our worst experiences, not our best. Better to prepare for the worst and find out we were wrong than to be caught unprepared. And, we were actually successful; we survived, right?
Returning to our iceberg, when we are encountering or recalling a stressful event, a particular reaction package is what forms its tip. Like out of all the muscle combinations we might use to take a step, the brain is always committed to one response out of all possible responses. Viewed objectively though, most of the activity of reaction packages is unnecessary, using energy and resources needlessly. Like any other habitual activity however, once the habit is formed, it operates the same way each time.
Because the brain is designed to learn, not forget, when a reaction isn't working for us, the first response is to try to compensate for it, build a new and better response that avoids the pain and difficulty or refocuses our energies on something different. This is much of what happens as we grow up, but it is only adds more layers to our iceberg. The base of the iceberg is pushed even deeper, further away from our awareness.
To eliminate reaction packages, they must be unpacked, but traditionally, that is hard work. We can think of Inquiry, described above, and some body-centered psychotherapies, as processes of unpacking and editing. When we break down our current state into its component parts, the thoughts, feelings, associations and understandings of its reaction package become available to re-examination, like looking at the code within a computer program. If we don’t do this, it continues to be launched as one undifferentiated package, like clicking an icon on our screen launches an app.
ꙨInquiry, the ocean express
ꙨInquiry also unpacks these reactions, but without necessarily making bringing all their component parts to conscious awareness. As we saw earlier, our physiological reactions in particular are not directly known anyway. Even those inner sensory signals that are available to our awareness are interpreted as feelings, so we are often not actually getting an accurate representation of them anyway.
ꙨInquiry unpacks them for the brain, not the mind. The brain has its own precise understanding of our physiology. When the brain becomes aware of a physiological response it is having, it will attempt to calibrate that response to the current environment. Treatments are done in a safe space so automatically, some of the physiological reactions will be dampened down or ceased.
Thus, a simple treatment like tapping on an acupuncture point related to say, the adrenal gland or the heart can cause a profound shift in fear, grief, anger or any other emotion. Only then it is not a treatment, in the usual sense, it is an aid to information processing in the brain, like asking the brain ‘does adrenaline output really need to be on high at this moment?’
During the unpacking, at each moment, a particular part of the reaction package is manifesting; it is the tip of the iceberg. As that reaction is handled, the tip “melts”, revealing the next and then the next and so on. We might say that each layer represents a different intention. Here is a list of some of the kinds of layers that are addressed.
One layer might represent defensive armoring. In that layer, we may find we need to address muscles that are rigid and tense.
Another layer might reflect energetic changes in the body. Acupuncture meridians, chakras and other energy center or flows may be energized or inhibited as part of the body’s adaptive process.
Another layer might relate to a past memory of stress or trauma. Unlike psychotherapy or Inquiry, we do not need to spend much time digging into these memories to find their subtle lessons. What is usually needed is to simply acknowledge that it is something that happened and that we feel compassion for the younger person that it happened to.
Other layers, as just described, are about metabolic or physiological adaptations that are part of the package. Generally, contacting reflex points for the involved organs and glands are sufficient to allow the body to reset those patterns. Sometimes those patterns are related to specific nutritional deficiencies, infections or toxins in the body. If that is the case, targeted nutritional support in the form of herbs, vitamins or other natural agents are required.
A frequent entity that comes up I call psychobiological capacities. These are like emotions, but they are usually mundane, and we take them for granted. They include things like anticipation — like waiting for dinner to be served; completion — the feeling of being finished with something; the ah-ha! feeling, knowing when something is right for you; knowing when something is wrong for you, and about 50 others. What it means when these come up is that the capacity has become distrusted, it is discounted in the sense of self that is currently being worked through. Though these capacities seem mundane, they are directly tied into the unconscious sense of our capacity to meet the challenges of survival. Imagine being a predator or prey animal (and humans are both) who doesn't trust her capacity to anticipate or her capacity to trust the signals of fear coming from the body. Distrust of either could lead to fear or anxiety being part of the current self-image. The distrust of anger or rage, another psychobiological capacity, might result in the sense of not being able to defend oneself. Each capacity has an acupuncture point that it relates to which is also briefly treated (without needles) as part of a rebooting process. It is a reminder to the brain that the capacity exists.
The patterns are found with muscle testing. When a given pattern is at the tip of the iceberg, its pattern will be come evident as we systematically scan through the various systems of the body. Using a strong muscle as an indicator, we will find for instance, that touching the reflex points for involved organs will weaken the muscle. The indicator muscle will return to strength when we let go of the point. More about muscle testing can be found HERE.
Finally, muscle testing may reveal specific treatments like chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture points (low force and no-needle approaches are possible) and muscle work. Often, what we are doing when we are unpacking a reaction package is activating the memories that structure it. Activating a memory will destabilize it, and then treatments that balance or “un-stress” the brain or body will prevent that destabilized memory from being restabilized. The memory is effectively erased. More about memory erasure can be found HERE.
When a given reaction package is erased, it is signaled by the muscle testing. Returning to the “issue” then — focusing on the problem or emotional pain that brought you in — will bring up the next reaction package … until there are no more to be accessed. This is the zero-point, the point at which thinking about your issue no longer brings up any past reaction at all. Your mind and body are present with a more objective immediate reality. You find yourself immersed in the ocean. Your issue, with whatever suffering it caused, may now seem like a distant memory, or at least a solvable problem.
The grief, sadness, anger, hopelessness, helplessness, resentment, hate, fear, indecision, anxiety, overwhelm or other emotion that you had associated with your issue will be gone, though certainly other aspects of a complex problem, loss of a relationship or loved one may still arise with emotion in the future. We have many issues that call up reaction packages, and issues often have more facets than we realize. A past stress or trauma may have to be revisited and cleared in different ways over time.
Instead you you may find yourself feeling grounded, peaceful, confident, strong, resilient, loving, clear, autonomous, or compassionate for all involved.
Because ꙨInquiry is actually erasing memories, the reaction packages that were worked on will no longer affect this issue, or perhaps they will not come back at all.