By Fiona Robertson
I didn’t take my first flight until I was twenty-seven, and already prone to anxiety and over-anticipation. Not surprisingly, I found it terrifying, and spent most of the ensuing week trying not to think about the return journey. From that point on, I was convinced that flying is frightening, and that my only possible response to it could be fear.
We take on fixed views on a whole range of subjects. Ourselves and who we are. I’ve always been like that. That’s just how I am. Other people, both people we know and those we don’t. Conservatives are mean and hard-hearted. My aunt’s always been a saint. We carry lists around with us; the things that make us anxious, the things that we have to have or can’t survive without. We think we know how things are, as if all of this is just how things are, and therefore totally immutable and unchangeable.
In one of my favourite passages in Scott’s Kiloby’s book Living Relationship, he describes what he calls the scandal of objectivity. We believe that things are as we see them, and so are incapable of seeing them in any other way. This is not, of course, a new idea. The saying, we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are (attributed to the Talmud) has long been quoted. The implications of this are far-reaching in each of our lives. If we see ourselves as unwanted or unloved, for example, we will view every interaction with others through this lens. If we believe that we have to have tobacco, that we’re incapable of functioning without it, we will organise our lives accordingly. If we believe that anxiety is the only possible response to a given situation, we’ll doubtless be anxious. If we see others as mean or unkind, we’ll react as if that’s the case, regardless of how they’re behaving towards us.
When we explore these entrenched beliefs using the Living Inquiries, we begin to see that they are shaped purely from within. Whatever has happened to us in the course of our lives, the beliefs we hold are made up of the thoughts (words and images) and feelings (sensations, emotions and other bodily energies) that we experience. It’s the combination of thoughts and feelings together that make our beliefs so convincing, and yet when we look at or feel each element on its own, we begin to notice its ephemeral, fleeting nature.
Let’s take compulsion or addiction, for example. We believe that we have to do or have X in order to function or survive. The compulsion or addiction feels like an absolute necessity; we can’t take it or leave it. Using the inquiries, we look much more closely and directly at the mechanism driving our behaviour. What, exactly, is telling us that we have to do or have X? What is actually compelling us? By taking each component one by one, we get to examine in forensic detail the where and how of the addiction or compulsion itself. For example, we may find that an energy in the stomach or chest seems to drive the compulsive movement, or that there’s a belief about ourselves that we’re desperate to block out. We may discover a deep-rooted fear that’s being kept at bay by the addictive behaviour. Whatever our findings, the assumptions that have underpinned our actions become less solid and real. Once the foundations start to crumble, it’s inevitable that the compulsive or behaviours begin to change.
It can, on occasions, be frightening to discover that we’re not who we thought we were, or that our most cherished beliefs or assumptions don’t stand up to scrutiny. It can feel, momentarily, as if the devil we know is preferable to the one we don’t. That’s part of the process of inquiring, and is totally natural. We simply investigate further, to see what it is we’re assuming lies in wait for us. Ultimately, we’ll find more words, images and sensations.
When we are willing to look deeply and consistently, we begin to see the world without the shroud of our beliefs and assumptions, and that’s a true gift. Everything – including ourselves and others – is then free to be itself, freed of the burden of the meaning that we’ve placed on it. Who knew that flying (even turbulence) can be pleasurable? I’d never have guessed until I experienced it for myself last year. Once the seemingly solid, real equations have been dissolved (flying = anxiety, worthless feeling = gambling, and so on), we’re free to experience the present moment exactly as it is, without expectation or precondition.
Fiona Robertson is a Senior Facilitator/Trainer of the Living Inquiries, and the co-creator of the Anxiety Inquiry. She loves her work, and she also loves writing, music (she used to be a bass player) and dancing (in the kitchen, mostly). She intends to live in a house by the sea one day. You can find out more about the Living Inquiries here: www.beyondourbeliefs.org and you can read Fiona’s writings here: www.whilstwalkingjack.blogspot.com. Feel free to email her at email@example.com