Advice and Inspiration versus Inquiry

Recently I saw an ad for a several day conference that brought together many different spiritual teachers giving talks and holding discussions. This brought up something for me.

For a long time I’ve had a concern about the place for advice and inspiration in meditative work. Sometimes advice and inspiration can be just the right thing. But in my observation there is also a time when advice and inspiration – in the midst of a moment in which someone is going through something – can short circuit being directly in touch with what’s going on.

So suppose someone brings up being really tired of feeling so negative. Consider what happens if someone responds that the Buddha went through the exact same thing and if you keep following your breath, some day you’ll be over it (and possibly become a revered world teacher.) Or someone might recommend that the person practice compassion. I’m not saying these might not be good thingas to say to someone who’s really down at that moment but it does kind of stop the inquiry of that moment. The mind begins to move into the future and hope for things to get better. Not saying that’s bad but it’s different from what I’d like to flesh out in the next paragraph.

Compare that with someone saying, “Could you say a little more about what being negative is for you?” Let’s assume that the person says that because they are also really interested in the issue of being negative, having experienced it in themselves and having seen it in others and how much suffering it can cause, and they really want to open up the issue together. So this interest is “catchy” and the person who first brought up the issue is now invited to listen deeply and caringly to what has come up in them.

Now instead of sticking to advice, a plan, encouragement, inspiration, the mind begins to move in a live, dynamic way. It begins to open with interest and affection and intelligence. This doesn’t mean that the issue is “solved” necessarily. Just that the mind begins to come awake because there is a real interest to be in touch, no matter what comes up.

The fact that another person is interested makes a huge difference, I’ve found. This is the essence of both one on one meeting and group inquiry. Listening together brings more awakeness to what is happening. There may even be a deep insight into an issue that comes out in one person or another. This kind of inquiry also brings up deeper questions that lead to even deeper inquiry. It’s a wonderful, alive, awake working of undivided Presence, in which we are all in it together.

I don’t know if this makes sense. Responses anyone? (I’m inviting your interest in this!)

So this all came up because a lot of spiritual talk ends up being either theoretical or advice or inspiration. It’s natural that this would happen because we all very much love inspiration and advice, so people speaking to a group get richly reinforced for being inspirational. Who could resist the smiles and joy on the faces of inspired people? And yet I personally find it a little draining to listen to too much of it. I long for direct inquiry together.

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