Like many who find themselves on the spiritual search, I spent many years trying to end my supposed suffering in all manner of ways. I attempted to numb the pain with cigarettes, dope smoking, sex, and relationship dramas. I embarked on quests for understanding, believing that counselling, psychotherapy, homeopathy, transpersonal psychology, or dream interpretation might hold the elusive key. I investigated an eclectic mix of healing modalities, from acupuncture and craniosacral therapy to hypnotherapy and nutrition. I ran the whole self-help gamut; I positively affirmed, meditated, journalled, and paid some attention to my chakras. And there’s no doubt all that was a blast – insights came, experiences were had, minor transformations happened.
Then I came upon the teachings of non-duality, and thought I’d hit the jackpot. Tales of sudden awakenings and the end of suffering brought hope at a time of deep despair and anguish. The idea of no self particularly appealed to me. It seemed obvious that my self was the problem, and if I got rid of it, I’d be fine. I read books, watched videos, went to meetings, and longed for the moment of grace, the event that would finally deliver me from the prison of me.
One day, whilst walking my dog, I saw clearly that I’m not the problem. More than that, I realised that there’s never been a problem. Such relief; nothing to change, nowhere to go, no improvements to make. For a few days, I lived from that space. All the movements of life continued; thoughts came and went, emotions happened, bodily sensations arose. The only difference was that I was absolutely clear that none of it was a problem. Gradually, however, my belief in a deficient, suffering self returned, and I struggled to find my way back to that spacious clarity.
Many of us initially relate to Scott Kiloby’s notion of the core deficiency story because we believe ourselves to be deficient. I certainly did. When we’re in that place, it’s nigh on impossible to see past our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. We come up with all the evidence necessary that we are, indeed, what we believe ourselves to be; unloved, uncared for, victimised, not good enough, stupid. It wasn’t until I began to look more closely at my basic assumption – of course there’s a problem, or I wouldn’t feel like this – that I began to see how flimsy the house of deficiency cards actually is.
Recently, I was facilitated by one of my fellow Living Inquiries facilitators to look for The Problem. Unsurprisingly, what emerged was a deep belief that I’m the problem. I sobbed. The wetness of the tears wasn’t the problem. The energy of emotion in my body wasn’t the problem. The words (it’s me) weren’t the problem. The sense of me wasn’t the problem. After an hour, it became obvious; there is no problem anywhere to be found. From that perspective, it was crystal clear that even suffering, pain, and distress are not the problem that we presume them to be. There is nothing wrong with any of it; even the belief that there’s a problem isn’t a problem.
I’ve facilitated many inquiries now, and been facilitated many times too. Whatever we’ve looked for, we’ve never found anything other than thoughts, images, emotions, and sensations. Even though the problem always seems real at the start of the session (I need to lose weight. She’s better than me. I’m unsupported. I’m going to die), its ultimately insubstantial nature is always apparent by the time we finish. Our assumptions are gently revealed by the process, and all the pain that we’ve been avoiding or trying to assuage is brought to light. We cry. We laugh. We experience insights and realisations. At the end of the process, we unerringly come back to the space in which everything arises, everything is known, nothing is judged, and nothing could ever, ever be a problem.