As I pursued these questions over a period of many years, it gradually dawned on me that the process I was engaged in is the one called “inquiry”—“living in the question of something.” This recognition further stimulated my curiosity about the process of inquiry itself. I looked into dharma teachings on this topic and I reflected on it a great deal. Some of what was generated by that process is written in this book.
Inquiry feels to me like an extended conversation that takes place within me and in the “external world” simultaneously. The typical sequence is generally something like this: first, a question arises in my mind. Sometimes this begins with a word or a phrase that starts to echo in my thoughts. Then, generally within a day or two, I find that something—just the “right” something—emerges: an insight; a comment someone makes as we are speaking together; or something that comes up in a therapy session with a patient. In the mystery of unconscious process, it feels as though life itself is alive and responsive to my inquiry; that answers are generated from (called forth by?) my intention to “answer” a particular question.
I have found inquiry to be a wonderful frame for relating to emotional problems. Exploring its value has remained the center of my interest and my attentional focus as I have practiced Vipassana meditation5 and worked with patients in psychotherapy over a period of many years. Over this time, my questions have broadened in scope and taken on different forms, but these have been the main ones:
- • What are the essential similarities and differences between Buddhism and psychotherapy?
- • Is Buddhist practice itself a form of psychotherapy? Or conversely, is psychotherapy a subcategory of dharma practice?
- • Can mindfulness practice help bring psychodynamic efforts to fruition? And, if so, how?
- • Can dharma practice be broadened to include the “relational field”: i.e. the implicit representation of our relationship to others that exists both in our minds and in the interplay between self and other?
- • What is a skillful way to explore problems; to look deeply into them in a way that breathes space into them, decodes their hidden meanings, and allows them to resolve?
- • Could awareness practice in everyday life be used as an effective adjunct to working with psychological problems in psychotherapy? Could this be done in the spirit of self-reflection rather than using mindfulness meditation as a cognitive behavioral technique?
This book, Inquiring Deeply (designated in italics to distinguish it from the frame- work/method I call “inquiring deeply”), describes some of what I have learned from my own process of inquiry about these questions.
I have spent more than three decades concurrently involved in the practices of Buddhist mindfulness meditation and psychoanalysis.6 At some earlier points in my life journey, these practices not only felt disparate, they lived in my experience as disjunctive aspects of my identity: For many years I felt that I had to keep my involvement in Buddhism “in the closet” in order to be accepted as a psychoanalyst. The reflections on theory and clinical practice that comprise this book have developed in the context of my efforts to integrate these two different narrative strands in my own life experience. So the inquiry that gave rise to this book was not only a matter of intellectual or theoretical interest. As is obvious in hindsight, it was also a way of working through a personal issue.
My identity issues also lived in me at deeper levels which at times took the form of problematic situations in my personal life. Beyond professional identity, I could see that I was at core seeking to become somebody (and to discover who I am). Over time, the drive toward self-expression and self-actualization began to predominate over my concerns with validation. I began to feel that Inquiring Deeply was the outer form of a new level of integration within myself. And so, the writing of this book is for me the completion of something: the “working through” of a multilayered psychological issue. It is also a living example of how sustained inquiry can lead to and unfold into the solution for personal problems.
In any event, the two narrative strands—Buddhist and relational/psychody- namic approaches to working with emotional problems—have over time become woven together in my mind into a fabric of understanding that feels both seamless and rich. Inquiry is a process I often liken to clarification of butter; the essence gets increasingly more refined (and defined) as the questions “cook.” The framework of my inquiry became gradually clarified, fleshed out, and filled in as inquiry progressed. What I have learned is expressed in this book.