The Age Of Introspective Impoverishment: Why Self-Inquiry Is Needed More Than Ever
Updated: Apr 6
The year is 2019. If it isn't already apparent, we are in a bit of trouble. With the rise of extreme political lefts and rights, global warming, and the general division that runs rampant worldwide, it is hard to stay optimistic. This age is defined by distraction, division, and egotistical ambition. If Trump's wall is not the clearest symbol for the split that is apparent in our psyche, I am not sure what is. Like the ego, the role of a wall is solely to separate one thing from another. The plainness of it, and the utter simplicity of its function, makes it that more devastating. It is a towering symbol for the division we have in ourselves and the split we feel from the world. As I delve deeper into the work of Carl Jung, I am becoming more and more convinced that its existence is meant to warn humanity of the collective shadow. For all symbols--whether expressed in a dream or a waking state--are meant to show us the very things we need to pay attention to. If we turn away from them, the true heart of life will remain hidden, and the unconscious will repress or project its volatile nature onto the world.
What I am about to say is hardly new and it shouldn't be interpreted as a revolutionary statement: the only way to heal the world is to heal ourselves--because we are not separate from the world. Perhaps, then, it is not so much a matter of healing as it is remembering. As long as we think we are separate from the world, the conflicts, wars, and pettiness will continue. But there is a stark difference in knowing we are one with all that is, and believing we are one with all that is. The only way to shift from believing to knowing is to take a good, hard look at ourselves from a place that is devoid of conditioning and societal values. For you cannot see properly if you are on the side of the ego, the conditioned state of consciousness. As Alan Watts said, that would be like trying to bite your own teeth.
There is a quieter place inside of us--a more wholesome, unconditioned, and undivided space that sees the movement of ego from a bird's eye view. It is consciousness, without content.
What humanity needs, more than anything else, is to become intimate with that consciousness by asking ourselves the questions that need to be asked, pondering the nature of experience, and not relying on outside sources to tell us what is and isn't true. Although this is not always a good idea, it is always better than blindly following authority. Some people may argue, however, that science is an authority that is safe to follow. This may be true in some cases, but science is pathetic when it comes to understanding the nature of consciousness, because it is based on a fundamentally flawed supposition; namely that consciousness is a derivative of matter. Even though there is not a shred of evidence to back this claim up, the scientific community goes on believing it, and thus projects that belief onto the world. What they blame the religious institutions of--dogma--they actually commit.
The majority of scientists would do well to remember the words of Stanford physicist Andrei Linde:
"Let us remember that our knowledge of the world begins not with matter but with perceptions...Later we find that our perceptions obey some laws, which can be most conveniently formulated if we assume that there is some underlying reality behind our perceptions. This model of a material world obeying laws of physics is so successful that soon we forget about our starting point and say that matter is the only reality, and perceptions are only helpful for its description. This assumption is almost as natural (and maybe as false) as our previous assumption that space is only a mathematical tool for the description of matter."
People who claim that the world is made of matter are those who forget the ever-existing presence of consciousness--and who, like most of us, fail to understand the nature of experience, which shows us, again & again, that consciousness exists prior to any understanding we have of the so-called "world." So if we do not understand the nature of consciousness, first, reality will always be filtered by an impure mind and a faulty understanding.
Investigating the world without understanding the essence of the one who is investigating is an error that is easily fixed, but which science is incapable of doing because it has always treated the world as if it were an object outside of us. It is obsessed with the choreography of the dancer, but has not a clue who the dancer is. That is why self-inquiry is needed. That is why we must understand the nature of "I."
Remaining still, ridding ourselves of artificial stimulants, contemplating the nature of experience, and embracing the lost art of solitude--these are all simple solutions to the reign of introspective impoverishment. But perhaps it is the simplicity of it that makes it so difficult to adhere to. Rarely does a human being look at a tree, for example, without analyzing it, or attempting to remember the name of it. We are always looking at the world through the distorted & conceptual lens of the ego, which superimposes its limitations onto the world. For this reason, salvation remains a mere fantasy and the pristine nature of reality is interpreted, instead of seen.
Even though we are willing to admit our lack of introspective insight, we refuse to address it. So we continue to treat people as others & invent systems and ideas that are extensions of our neuroses. The lack of insight we have into ourselves--and therefore the world--is a problem that cannot be understated. The only way to solve that problem is to strip ourselves down to the essential, bare elements, again, by asking questions that require a rigorous process of self-inquiry.
Here are just a few of the questions we need to ask, which were brought to my awareness by Rupert Spira--the modern non-dual teacher, who reminds me of a spiritual surgeon:
1) What is it that knows experience?
2) Has that knowing been affected by the content of experience?
3) Who am I?
These questions are not complex; they are direct. For this reason, you cannot answer them from a conceptual, problem-solving standpoint. Neither can you can buy their answers, or attempt to will its revelatory effects into existence. In this modern day, our attitude is greedy and commercial. We tend to think we can acquire anything by effort. But when it comes to the practice, say, of self-enquiry, it is not effort that counts. In fact, it is the end of effort that allows the fruit to fall from the tree. Where there is the effort of mind, there is time; and where there is time, there is certainly no God. That is why surrender is emphasized, again and again, in spiritual literature. But you cannot try and surrender, just as you cannot try to fall asleep. It just happens.
Life calls itself home.
Knowing the Self--our true self-- on an experiential level is what sets humanity free, not a system or ideology. Not only do our methods of investigating reality have to change; the way we attempt to change the world has to change, too. As Ramana Maharshi said, "Your own self-realization is the greatest service you can render the world." When we attempt to replace one system with another, without revolutionizing the individual, the dirt is not taken away; it is replaced. But we are so used to complexity, and so hypnotized by doing that silence, solitude, and a sincere inward gaze seem like a waste of time. Whenever you ask a mind that has been conditioned by society to look within, for example, there is an immediate repugnance. The idea of it seems overly simplistic. Who, out of the millions of citizens on this earth, would admit that the solution to the world's problems lie within? Even though many teachers who have come before us have said this, and even though we praise figures like Jesus and Buddha, we do not listen. We prefer to go outward and remain lost in thought. Even the pioneering intellectuals of our day have missed the point entirely:
Thinking about problems is *not* the solution. Understanding the nature of thought itself is--because thought has created the majority of the problems in the world to begin with.
But why do we ignore this point? It is because thought is all we know. The unknown, or the unconscious, is too threatening to our worldview and rigid way of perceiving life. But the unknown, whether we like it or not, is what secretly drives us, and if we fail to pay attention to it, our lives will be defined by that quiet desperation Thoreau so poignantly warned us of.
As Carl Jung said, " Modern man is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by powers beyond his control. The gods and demons have not disappeared at all, they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an invincible need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, dietary and other hygienic systems--and above all, with an impressive array of neuroses."
A woman I was staying with in India told me a wonderful story: a business man was given the opportunity to enter heaven. He was shown the stairway he had to climb, and even saw the light glistening through the cracks of the door. All he had to do was walk up the stairs, open the door, and go inside. But as soon as he got to the door, he refused to open it and decided it was better to turn back and run. At first, you might think this is a foolish man. But how many of us, when shown the door to eternity, would go inside?
The answer to that is not easy, especially if you have been identified as the ego-consciousness for the majority of your life. For eternity is inherently humbling, and represents a domain of reality that is outside of the known. And everyone is afraid of the known coming to an end. That is why there is an incredible amount of resistance before the dawn of a new state of consciousness. If you are not ready, the unknown is a direct threat to everything you know (or think you know). It is the intelligent nothing that takes away the play-toys of what the ego thinks of as everything. It is consciousness itself, destroying the content it has veiled itself in.
But this destruction is beautiful, as it sets the ground for something new and extraordinary. That is not to say that the invitation from the unknown is easy to accept--far from it. It requires courage to die into the truth. But that courage doesn't come from the ego, it doesn't come from willfulness. It comes from willingness. That subtle switch makes a world of difference. Willfulness is all ego, willingness is all awareness.
Be willing to surrender, and life will surrender into you.
It is this switch mentioned above that I want to emphasize, more than anything else. If humanity is to solve the issues so prevalent in the world today, our will to save the world must be replaced by a willingness to understand ourselves. Intelligent and sincere introspection is the seed from which a thousand beautiful trees will grow. The more we ignore this fact, the more we will be reminded of it by the destruction that ensues in the world.
To finish off, I'd like to thank you all for reading to the end. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. I would love to know who you are.
Until next time,