Enquiry. Absolutely No Use if There’s a Tiger in the Room
The difference between enquiry and questioning; and why it matters
Someone said to me a while back that they liked how I questioned everything. I was slightly taken aback because I don’t think of myself as questioning everything. But then I realised what they meant. And they’re right. Except for being just quite a bit wrong.
I don’t really question everything. But I do enquire into many things. And questioning and enquiry are a completely different approach.
When I think of someone that questions everything, what comes to my mind is an inquisitive child, like in the example above.
Questioning is wonderful — and necessary — but the main reasons we ask questions is to 1. find out the answer (i.e. solve a riddle), 2. gather in new information (i.e. add new knowledge to our internal library), 3. find a solution (i.e. escape the discomfort of not knowing the solution), and 4. to be annoying.
Enquiry, however, is a whole different kettle of ball fish (if you catch my drift).
I am in love with enquiry. While questioning looks outside of ourselves, enquiry brings us into ourselves. Enquiry is deep curiosity, often born in quietness and reflection, utilises all our senses and intelligences, and holds within it the invitation to be (comfortably and uncomfortably) in a space of not knowing and not expecting any simple, easy answer.
It’s also very, very personal.
While the act of questioning is (mostly) probing at something with our thinking, logical mind, enquiry is both more subtle and more expansive.
We bring all of us into an enquiry; our gut feelings, our natural instincts, our body awareness, our emotional responses, our intuition, what we can gather from around us, and our thinking mind. With enquiry, there is a wholeness of being; all senses are just as useful as the others and just as necessary, bringing balance to ourselves and to the thing we are enquiring into.
I enquire into most things. I enquire into the beliefs I hold, the things I do, and the state of the world around me. I enquire into judgements I make (to see where they come from and if they feel right). I enquire into choices I make (to see where that choice is coming from and if there’s any unconscious beliefs or blind-spots that led me to make that choice). I enquire into the values I hold (to explore where they came from and if they feel right moving forwards). And so on.
What does enquiry look and feel like?
A particular enquiry might unfurl like this:
I have a particular thought come up about a situation. I notice that the thought has a particular ‘energy’ with it.
I’ll sit with the thought for a while, letting it percolate throughout my system. I might see if there’s a particular feeling in my body that comes up with that thought. I might look at where that feeling has been felt before and see if there’s any story I’m carrying about my feeling or the situation. I might notice that there’s a particular word or instinctual response to the situation that I hadn’t noticed at the time: perhaps a gut feeling to pull myself out of the situation, a clear ‘no’ that arose before I thought about it (or I might feel a sense that there’s an important lesson for me here and I’m feeling a curiosity to explore what experiences or information it holds for me.)
If my gut response was to pull out, I’ll spend some time exploring that gut feeling. If it’s related to a sense that a boundary was crossed, I’ll give myself space to feel into what that boundary is; perhaps it’s the result of an old trauma that’s sending out protection messages when I now have the tools to protect myself as needed, or it might be a valid warning sign that I should listen and respond to. I might then choose to shift my attention, giving space for the insights that are hidden to conscious attention and are likely to pop into my head a few days later while on a walk or when immersed in something else.
It’s not just internal beliefs or experiences that I enquire into; I also enquire into beliefs presented to me as fact, like those told by history, societies, friends and communities, and the media. Enquiry helps me discover for myself whether something I’m being told is really true.
There’s no doubt that questioning is imperative to, well, just about everything about being human.
But enquiry brings questioning to another level altogether.
Doubly-so, because at the core of enquiry is the understanding that what feels right and is right for me today could be different next year.
I don’t enquire into every single thought I have or re-visit every old enquiry to see where I’m at now — if I did that I’d likely end up rocking in a corner and muttering mumbo jumbo to myself; and that only happens nowadays after I’ve been into my husband’s chocolate stack, or every other Friday — but I am open to enquiring into anything that tugs at my attention strongly enough. (Within limits. I’m a flawed human, after all, not an ideal given form.)
If you feel like heading off on an enquiry adventure but you’re not sure where to start, I highly recommend the below guide by Paul Crummay on how to approach a problem. He gave me permission to share the steps and I’ve brought in over 20+ years of enquiry to guide you through each stage.
1. Quiet the mind
There are various ways you can quiet your mind. You can take yourself off for a walk somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you pop in headphones and walk through the city you’re in, or you go for a walk in the countryside, just as long as you’re on your own and you’ve gone out of your current environment. Or you could do some exercise or focus-based movement. You could also find a breathwork tutorial online and follow that. Quieting your mind is about bringing yourself out of your head, into your body, and into a different environment.
2. Understand the context
If you’re feeling upset or angry or having any kind of emotional response that you’re not comfortable having, can you notice what happened to spark that? Did something happen? Can you notice an event or experience that is connected to your current state of being?
3. Explore experience
How does your body feel? Are there various feelings in your body or a particular sensation? How does your chest feel? Or your stomach? What comes up for you if you place your attention on different areas? How are you breathing? How connected do you feel to your body and your surroundings? Is your attention being pulled elsewhere?
4. Systems perspective
Every experience we have occurs within a network of experiences and emotions. It’s very rare that something that our feelings and thoughts arise in a vacuum. What else is interconnected with what you’re enquiring into? Where do the breadcrumbs lead you if you follow them? If you’re stuck on a particular thought, what does it remind you of? Where else has it come up in your life? Where does the problem or event sit in your life? What else does it affect? What is it affected by?
Can you hold that whatever you’re enquiring about has something useful for you? Can you listen to your body and your instinct and your gut feelings?
6. Intuition and Imagination
What is your intuition telling you? Do you have a gut feeling that you’re not already listening to? Can you let go of having to find an immediate solution or knowing exactly where you’re going every step of the way?
7. Next steps
Letting go of wanting to know all the answers, or needing to know your life is going to play out six months from now or five years from now, can you bring your attention to the next step? And feel into that fully? And once you have that clear, then focus on the next step after that? When we move forwards step by step, we practice feeling into and checking in with our gut instinct and bodily intelligence. We can then start to relax and let life lead us instead of trying to make life into what we want it to be.
8. Gather resources
Now you know your next step, what do you need? Do you need support? Guidance? Money? Further enquiry? A new practice? A new skill?
9. Set off
If it feels right, then now’s the time to move into that next step and take action.
But why is the moon called the moon?
In case you were wondering, the word moon comes from the word mōna, an Old English word. Mōna shares its origins with the Latin words metri — to measure — and mensis — which means month. So, the moon is called the moon because it is used to measure the months.
One last thing. Enquiry is amazing but it won’t help you if you have a tiger in the room. Just saying.