Self-inquiry is a beautiful contemplative practice to include in our self-compassion repertoire. The purpose of Somatic Self-Compassion self-inquiry is to strengthen the resources of affectionate awareness and connection with our self in each moment. Once we have some self-compassion skills in our toolkit, we can also add in cultivation of the skill of responding to our experience with tools from our toolkit.
Self-inquiry is a structured ritual that has its roots in Lectio Divina which is the study of religious (Christian) texts. Self-inquiry can be a way to study any religious or secular inspirational text, reading, poem, song, prose, etc.
Purpose of Self-Inquiry
Self-inquiry is different to self-therapy or seeing a therapist, because it does not involve visiting our past – it is allowing for an organic response from our own self-wisdom to help us understand our present-moment experience. During self-compassion and mindfulness trainings, a teacher is often conducting an inquiry to cultivate a teacher-to-participant relationship. In self-inquiry, we are our own inner teacher, bringing the same curiosity and kindness a teacher would bring. We are aiming to attend to our inner experience with a sense of affection and courage.
The idea behind self-inquiry is that if we read a special text in the right way we will find deeper meaning than originally experienced. We get to deeper levels of understanding about the material and about ourselves. Self-inquiry helps us to access material we might not otherwise have access to in our busy lives, both in the words of the material and in how our mind, body and heart respond to or resonate with the material.
We need to choose our text carefully. Self-inquiry as part of self-compassion reflection practice involves:
- choosing a text that resonates for us,
- that we can relate to,
- where the language is one we can connect to, and
- where any spiritual reference in it is accessible for us.
- Self-inquiry is opening to what is happening in the present moment rather than trying to fix how we feel or who we are. Fixing is sometimes an effort to avoid our experience, to resist our internal processes by looking for escape routes. In self-inquiry we bring awareness, connection and response to our experience rather than trying to make it go away. We ask, “What is going on in my experience?” rather then, “Why am I having this experience?” We are not analyzing our responses or trying to figure out or judge our motivation. We are not digging for answers.
- We are the expert on our own internal experience and on any thoughts, emotions, sensations or associations that arise during self-inquiry. Self-inquiry relies on the self as teacher, rather than looking externally for someone else to explain our experience. You might like to avoid any impulse to “look up” something you are experiencing to see what someone else says. Get curious about how you feel and any associations made in your system.
- Self-inquiry is a way of being, not doing. It is being with our experience, getting curious about it, allowing it to be just as it is and allowing space to find out even more about it than was initially apparent to us. In this way self-inquiry leads to self-understanding.
- We are distilling our present moment experience down into its components – we are not going into the story of our past or a diatribe about ourselves or other people in our lives. This is not a “dear diary” exercise.
Steps for self-inquiry
Here are the steps for self-inquiry in relation to a text we wish to contemplate:
- Create sacred space for yourself, set aside time to do your practice and collect something to write on and something to write with. You might like to have a particular place you practice your self-inquiry, or a special notebook where you record what you learn. Make this practice delightful – use ritual, beauty and function to support you in developing a regular ritual of self-inquiry.
- Listen to/read the text, reading, poem, song, prose, or song, savoring the words.
- After you’ve heard/read the text, sit and allow yourself to notice what’s going on in your body. Bring your awareness to all of your experience – your thoughts, feelings, sensations in your body, associations with other experiences, imagery. Allow yourself to be in this receptive part of the process for as long as you feel you want.
- Actively reflect on your experience. Be open to your own unique way of processing and expressing your experience. Self-inquiry can be practiced through journalling, doodling, Zentangle, singing, vocalizing, SoulCollage, painting, drawing, moving, dancing, walking, speaking … whatever works for you. Fnd out what your body wants to do to process your meditation experience. It can take some time to cultivate trust in your inner-wisdom, but it’s there and it will emerge when you give your system time and you let your body know that you are curious about what’s going on. Engage in this active part of your self-inquiry practice for as long as it feels fruitful. You’ll know when you are finished. Don’t force more if you are complete. Listen to the wisdom of your body.
Questions to help with contemplation
Self-inquiry questions relate to:
- affectionate awareness,
- courageous connection, and
- radical response.
These questions invite us into our experience in a way that simply being aware of our experience might not. They invite us to access deeper insights that might not have been apparent without the space, time and prompts for reflection.
Awareness questions focus on the content of our moment-to-moment experience – sensations, intentions, thoughts, feelings, and responses. Awareness questions include:
- What did I notice?
- What did I feel?
- What emotions arose for me?
- Is there any emotional discomfort?
Connection-oriented questions are a bit more focused on how we are relating to ourselves. Connection inquiry questions include:
- Can I name the emotion?
- Where is the emotion in my body?
- What do I need right now?
- What is my attitude to my experience?
- How am I evaluating my experience?
- Am I judging my experience?
- How am I feeling moved by my experience?
Once we can notice and connect with our experience, we can consider responses. Response-oriented questions include:
- Can I expand my awareness and hold that experience in spaciousness?
- Is there any resistance to my experience? If so, can I respond with a greater sense of ease?
- Can I respond to my experience with kindness?
- How can I give myself what I need?
- Is there a part of me that needs tending to in this moment?
If you want to explore self-inquiry some more, check out the HeartWorks Finding Your Self-Compassion Practice Path program or the Somatic Self-Compassion program. I’d love to see you there!