Self Inquiry, Movement, Emptiness and Ahhh

useful tools for reducing suffering and transforming consciousness

Fundamental characteristics of nature include the arising of needs, wants, wishes and hopes during one’s life journey. Consider the possibility, briefly suggested in the previous article, that each individual’s journey presents a variety of levels in a mysterious Game of Life. Progress seems to require that unexpected problem situations be examined and solutions found for each level that is encountered in the ever evolving game. Challenges appear when attempting to discover and make the right moves for progress, which can be quite different depending on the level a player is at for that moment in apparent time.

Thoughts, feelings and judgments arise on a moment to moment basis as each individual lives out their unique journey. Consider the possibility that prior thoughts, feelings and judgments, as well as the choices and actions arising from them could be operating in an obscure chain of causality. This can be more likely for recurring patterns of difficulty.

A variation on a classic Einstein quote is the thinking, feeling, judgment, choices and actions that have been contributing to recurring difficulties cannot be used to successfully resolve those difficulties. As a result, individuals can become stuck at their current level in the Game of Life, and remain so, because of their own recurring patterns of causality. Players who are stuck repeat the thoughts, feelings and actions of the recurring pattern, thereby contributing to their own dissatisfaction and discontent.

Consider a strategy for overcoming this prevalent cause of suffering. The first step in this strategy is to begin accepting a greater sense of response-ability for dissolving the recurring pattern. This can be kick started by a form of self inquiry that asks two key questions. The first question is:

  • How might I be contributing to my dissatisfaction, discontent and suffering?

This fundamental question requires the player in the Game of Life to undertake a transformational shift in their view of the world. Judgement and blaming of external individuals, causes and conditions places the cause of suffering outside the body, mind and speech of the individual who seeks to cross the chasm from suffering to happiness and contentment. This question bypasses the usual blaming that arises when individuals deny responsibility for their predicament by placing the cause of that predicament outside themselves.

This is not to say there are no external individuals, causes and conditions that could be contributing to the suffering. This point of view does not blame the victim. Instead it takes the position the primary controllable factors for any individual player in the Game of Life are their own thoughts, feelings, choices and actions.

Developing personal awareness of the controllable elements that are often embedded within the mystery of suffering is the foundational beginning for the dissolution of that suffering.

The second question goes more deeply into this self inquiry.

  • What might I be thinking, feeling and doing that is keeping me stuck in this recurring pattern?

The second question takes the personal reflection deeper. This involves considering what are the specific and repetitive thoughts, feelings, choices, intentions and actions that might be sustaining the personal suffering. Answering this question increases the possibility of insightful awareness.

Insight can be enabled by considering whether particular emotions may have been contributing to being stuck. These include anger, hatred, greed and revenge, as well as pride, jealousy, envy and attachment, however justified they may have seemed to the individual who is suffering. These all arise from the suffering individual’s mind, aka their ego.

This process of reflection surfaces a metaphysical mystery. When one begins to discern how they might be contributing to their own suffering, and then commits to changing what could be associated with that suffering, something mysterious begins to take place. A shift in perception of personal reality begins to emerge. A feeling of agency begins to arise. Insights begin to appear in awareness. Clues in the external environment about possible solutions begin to appear.

As the personal energy increases for taking action based on a more adaptive view of current reality, the blaming of external individuals, causes and conditions diminishes. A transformation of consciousness is underway.

Consider two types of meditative practices that can support this transformational shift in consciousness.

  1. Meditative Movement. One approach involves consciously reprogramming oneself using movement. This is described in the Method section at This approach is designed to counteract the targeted thoughts, feelings, judgments and behaviors by intentionally reprogramming fresh choices and new actions. This is accomplished through the simultaneous combination of repetitive movement, regulated breathing and specifically formulated affirmations. This three component method clarifies intention silently and aloud, programing into the practitioner’s consciousness more effective thoughts, feelings and behaviors during meditative movement. However, this concentration approach to meditation also creates a risk that successful results can become ego-food, thereby strengthening the ego and contributing to additional problem situations and patterns as the Game of Life unfolds.

  2. Meditative Emptiness. There is a complementary approach to the meditative movement reprogramming approach. This complementary approach temporarily dissolves thoughts, feelings and judgments by cultivating momentary states of emptiness. Such moments can arise during both repetitive movement and during sitting meditation. Beyond programming oneself for alternative thoughts, feelings and actions, meditative emptiness can surface helpful insights about personal responsibility for suffering. Temporary states of zen-like meditative emptiness can enable the detection of clues for guidance. Helpful guidance can appear within conscious awareness, as well as from a variety of external sources. This can become a delightful and remarkable aspect of the metaphysical mystery that arises for individuals crossing the chasm from suffering to happiness and contentment. A fresh knowing of what to do and how to do arises. This knowing can become more frequent as judgment of others and blaming decreases, along with a similar decrease in self defeating thoughts, feelings and actions. As resistance to what is dissolves, this frees the prepared mind for gleaning fresh and more effective approaches to recurring patterns of difficulty.

Both meditative movement and meditative emptiness are described below, using real life examples drawn from the dharma wanderer’s life journey.

Reprogramming by Meditative Movement

Unable to jog for several years because of knee injury, the dharma wanderer had been exclusively using kundalini yoga for exercise to elevate his heart rate. A friend guided him to buy a new set of running shoes to test his ability to jog at a moderate pace. He had been working at an organizational consulting firm, but did not feel that he was appreciated or respected by the firm’s leaders. After determining that his knees had healed sufficiently to jog at a moderate pace, in February of 1983 he carefully formulated his first affirmation for meditative movement: “I am effectively planning and implementing for my professional success.”

He repeated this confidence building action oriented mantra every time he jogged over a period of several months. He intended the ego building affirmation to improve his status in the firm and reduce his emotional resistance to frequent criticism and occasional verbal abuse by the firm’s leaders. As his resistance to the negative comments he was experiencing dissolved, he was able to dispassionately observe the patterns of criticism that were directed at him without emotionally reacting to them. This led to a feeling of freedom and accomplishment. His interest increased for leaving the security of employment and going solo as a consultant. This was so even though he had never sold a piece of consulting business, never written a proposal, and was clueless about sales and marketing. After five months of aerobic affirmation reprogramming, he made the decision to leave the firm after he was able to simply observe the criticism without resistance or emotional reactivity. He felt emotionally freed to exit the firm by reframing the criticism as another challenge in the Game of Life. This reframing and reprogramming enabled him to replace his prior emotional reactivity with calm observation.

After cutting the umbilical cord of employment and departing the firm, it became clear that he had entered a different level in the Game of Life with a variety of new challenges. He struggled as a solo consultant for three more years, barely making enough money to cover rent, food and other expenses.

Then he was introduced to a master trainer. They formed a successful business partnership delivering external leadership assessment centers in high risk areas of nuclear service and decontamination. The dharma wanderer continued to use moving meditation for reprogramming to overcome a variety of obstacles and challenges that continued to arise. His confidence, personal power and income improved significantly.

The next significant life puzzle the dharma wanderer addressed with moving meditation was his loneliness and yearning for a life partner. After careful reflection he formulated his new aerobic affirmation for meditative movement: “I am finding the woman with whom I will live, laugh and love. He began to diligently repeat this aspirational mantra silently and aloud in rhythm with his breath and movement as he jogged.

After reading multiple translations of the Tao Te Ching before sleep most nights, he began musing about meeting a Chinese woman, despite the unlikely chance of doing so in Greensboro, North Carolina. After about a year of aspirational programming, he detected two strong clues for important next steps: 1) a local newspaper announcement that prompted him to attend his first Tai Chi class on January 16, 1987; and 2) another announcement in that same paper about a Chinese New Year celebration the next day at a local church. After he had observed the Tai Chi class, the capable group leader encouraged him to attend the CNY celebration the next day where they would be performing. At that celebration he was introduced by friends to the dynamic Chinese woman who would become his life partner. They have been married for thirty five years and continue to have a fascinating life that is often punctuated by serendipity and synchronicity.

Movement and Meditative Emptiness

Meditative movement using aspirational mantra strengthens the practitioner’s concentration, focus and one-pointedness of mind. As this develops, mental chatter [aka monkey mind] decreases. The typical diversity of thoughts begins to subside. This enables pure awareness [aka bare perception] to become more prevalent in the practitioner’s consciousness. As consciousness continues to evolve, momentary states of emptiness without thought occur more frequently. Insights and ideas for fresh solutions begin to arise in these transient states of emptiness. Within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition it is said that wisdom can also emerge from the emptiness that arises during meditation. The meaning of wisdom in early stages of the transformation process can include momentarily knowing what to do and how to do in new and unexpected situations.

The dharma wanderer’s repeated use of meditative aspirational movement developed his ability to concentrate and focus his consciousness. This process enabled him to experience flow state moments of emptiness during meditative movement. Guidance sometimes appeared in his awareness during these moments of emptiness. His responsive compliance with the guidance that entered his awareness saved he and his life partner from significant life threatening danger on two occasions.

The first was while they were hiking in an isolated rural area of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He sensed danger and turned back to the trail head. After only a few steps three men with rifles appeared coming over a ridge and told him a bear had mauled someone nearby.

The second was after hiding his faxed report of what happened in Beijing on the fourth day of the sixth month in nineteen hundred and eighty nine. He hid his tightly folded fax in the lens paper compartment of his camera bag. As everyone headed in a panic for the airport, it reminded him of the fall of Saigon. After stopping for lunch, their last stop before reaching the airport, they entered their tourist van. Suddenly he felt a compelling urge to destroy the fax, so he stepped out of the van and burnt it. Security personnel carefully examined everything in that compartment at the next three airports they went through. If the fax had been discovered his wife could have been imprisoned or worse. This deeply impressed him with the importance of discerning internal guidance that appeared in his awareness and complying with it.

Enabling Emptiness Using the Ahhh Syllable

Tibetan Buddhists use a variety of sanskrit syllables in their diverse meditative practices that include mantra repetition silently and aloud. One of these is the syllable ahhh, which is the first syllable in the sanskrit alphabet. When engaged in sitting meditation, in addition to simply observing the breath, practitioners will sometimes repeat this syllable aloud or silently to stop distracting thoughts and mental chatter. When thoughts arise and interfere with awareness when observing the breath, the use of ahhh can be quite effective. Whatever train of thought that was a distraction can be temporarily and quickly dissolved by this technique.

The dharma wanderer received training in this and other meditative practices from an American teacher who spent two decades in Asia, mostly in Nepal, learning from widely respected Lama masters. The dharma wanderer’s ongoing training from this teacher has been quite helpful for developing his own meditative practice further and deepening his awareness.

A friend who was not a regular meditator asked him for advice one day about how to stop intrusive and disturbing thoughts that arose unexpectedly at various times during the day and night. The friend listened intently to an explanation of the simple ahhh technique and reported later that it was quite effective.

Author Robert Aho has written about his experience of a deeply transformational near death experience and is also a long time practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism. He recently published an essay titled Looking Within that includes instruction on use of the ahhh syllable. Readers may find this helpful for expanding their view of what is possible from this particular meditative practice.

SUMMARY: Dissolution of suffering at the individual level begins with the need/hope/wish to cross the chasm from suffering to happiness and contentment. This is a journey punctuated by mystery as well as clues that hint of potential progress. Commitment to being a player in the Game of Life enables the undertaking of a transformational dharmic journey. A variety of tools are available for practical application in this journey. These include self inquiry, meditative movement, meditative emptiness and use of the sanskrit syllable ahhh.

May this journey unfold gently while opening the hearts of practitioners for the benefit of all beings and the world.



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