Michael Vincent on the benefits of practising Self Enquiry.
Before answering this question here is just a little history for those unfamiliar with Self Enquiry. I suspect since human kind first developed an awareness of a spiritual dimension to existence, Self Enquiry in some form has been practised. Often described as “The direct path to Truth” it is an ancient Practice embraced by the major religions and one which has inspired many figures in world history. Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why do I exist? “Who Am I?” With its roots in ancient documents like the Bhagavad Gita and Tao Te Ching, interest in this Practice was reawakened by Sri Ramana Maharshi during the first half of the twentieth century and Self Enquiry has now moved to the heart of spiritual practice, including my own.
So why do I continue to practise Self Enquiry? It is not exactly “easy” work as I trawl through my past, reflecting on sometimes painful experiences and applying the Practice in Self Enquiry to process these. But then what is it within me that creates the pain, the difficulty, the resistance to confront full-on this wealth of experience which, after all, is a deep well of learning and all I require to discover Truth, whatever that may be? Yet I continue to practise and be inspired to share with others this simple, radical and powerful Practice.
The roots of the answer to this question are in my childhood, something I now recognise and understand. My creativity is a key. I began drawing and painting around the age of five, an activity which made me aware of a connection and sense of unity with a greater spirit, something above and beyond this daily existence. I had within me a powerful creative force through which I embraced this spirit, producing in the process many paintings of our beautiful Mother Earth.
Then there are three experiences at the opposite end of the spectrum, dark in tone that for years seemed difficult to relinquish, to forgive, to come to understand that, whilst deeply impacting on my childhood and beyond, did not define who I am. So I shall begin with a short reflection on these experiences acknowledging the part each played in forming my understanding over the years of the value of this profound Practice.
Firstly there was my experience with the Plymouth Brethren to which I was exposed from the age of four and finally escaped in my early teens. This is an extreme Christian group whose teaching I came to understand had little to do with Jesus Christ. Over those years I was persuaded to believe that I would be damned to a nasty fate if I did not follow the ritual and dogma of this group, instilling in me a sense of fear and guilt difficult to relinquish. Then there was the bullying to which I was subjected for much of my school life. This stemmed from my interest in painting and music, condemned by my peers on the deprived estate in which we lived. The pain this created for me, physically and emotionally, again took many years to heal. Most painful though, and even today the most difficult to write about (I can feel the resistance to do so now) is the sexual abuse experienced and the efforts I made to protect my family, especially my parents, from knowing this was happening to me. Deeply instilled in me as a consequence were feelings of guilt, shame and distrust – particularly of men. Experienced in the early sixties, it was not until 1998 that I was able to share this with anyone; and since that time the Practice in Self Enquiry, notably the work I have done on Conscience, Action and Behaviour, has enabled me to finally relinquish these painful memories.
Then, in 1969 I met and married a remarkable Finnish woman, one who brought so much love into my life, so much appreciation and understanding of my creative spirit and a number of personal health issues which were to challenge us throughout our thirty two years together. I have described the journey we shared in my book dedicated to Kaisa. Suffice to say here that these challenges gave us the opportunity to explore and apply a range of complementary health procedures and many approaches to meditation. After her death in 2001, an even greater and more complex opportunity was presented to me to take this journey further, as I confronted full on my grief at the loss of one so deeply loved.
In some ways this experience has been repeated for me when, in 2007, my daughter Jennifer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This is an enormous challenge for her of course, having to accept the gradual loss of body functions at an early age which most of us take for granted. I was returned to the very familiar sense of helplessness, profound sadness and yes, anger, with that answer-less question: why my daughter?
Throughout these times many approaches to meditation were explored: guided meditation (visualisation), yoga practice, Bio-energy (Ratu Bagus Shaking Meditation), Osho dance and dynamic meditations, an Enlightenment Intensive and more. All were very beautiful, some relaxing, bringing a sense of peace for a while. But the beneficial effects over time “wear off”, as thoughts return alongside the associated stresses and emotions. Many of these beautiful activities acted as plasters over wounds which continued to fester away unaddressed.
Then there is Self Enquiry which, whilst not claiming to alter or eradicate your past, focuses directly on the wound itself, providing you with the tools and the ability to change your perception of this suffering, to rid yourself of this baggage carried within your mind for so long, bringing peace and healing into your life.
In this process Self Enquiry goes deeper into healing your pain than other meditation practices because it goes to the source, the very root of your suffering, bringing about a permanent change in your perception and understanding of your pain, its cause and its resolution. The simple fact is a bucketful of painkillers will not end a pain the source and cause of which remains unresolved. The peace that Self Enquiry brings into your life, and the healing which follows, will ease such pain with the potential to end it, permanently.
The journey through life is one of many side roads and distractions, leafy lanes and pathways, sometimes rocky places where you would perhaps rather not be. Experience is an integral part of this journey. Some experiences seem trivial, others are profound, but all carry a message giving an opportunity for us to learn and to grow in awareness. We have no choice in what is presented to us in life; it is simply up to us how we process this diverse experience and harvest from it what it has to offer in our journey towards Truth.
Why do I continue to practice Self Enquiry? Because I know through personal experience that the Practice works. It is much more than a sticking plaster or a sedative drug; it goes to the source of suffering and provides the tools to end it, forever. Although my past will not disappear it can no longer trouble me. The only place it exists is in my mind; experiences, thoughts and memories, no matter how painful, do not define my Truth, who I Am. In knowing This, I am free…….
About the author: Michael Vincent was born in Suffolk in 1949 and has been a painter and writer throughout his life. He specialises in oil and gouache painting, using reproductions of his work to illustrate published books and articles. A lifelong interest in meditation culminated in the publication of two books on Self Enquiry. He currently lives in Somerset, pursuing a combined programme of creativity and meditation shared with others through Satsang and Retreats.