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Philosophical Self-Inquiry Discussion Group

Discussion & Retreat Topics


What is the Philosophical Self-Inquiry Discussion Group? | Good Advice for Effective Self-Inquiry? | Lacking Real Self-Awareness | Is Emotional Pain a Bad Thing? | Closer Examination | Do You Create Thoughts? | What Do You Get When You Divide by Zero? | What Is Self-Inquiry? | Searching for Your Identity? | Wondering Deeply | What Goal Have You Set for Your Life? | Our Life's Story | Doubt Transports You | What Would You See if You Had a Stroke of the Left Cerebral Hemisphere? | The Universe Is like a Safe | Cooking the Facts? | Finally Securing Peace and Happiness | How Do You Explain Your Existence? | Identity Theft? | Creation or Discovery? | Life Is Real Only Then…. | Truth or Pill? | Listening Within | Do You Falsify the Data? | What Is the Truth of Your Situation? | What Are You Running From, and To? | Are You What You See? | What Is Within? | The Abyss that Separates Us from Ourselves | Spend or Invest? | Is knowing yourself an asymptotic adventure? | Who am I; who are you? Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Who or what is God? What is absolute reality? | Is there something in life that is truly worth daring all for? | What would it "feel" like if you were never born? | What Is Within You? | Seek Me First | Got Tension? | Is This the Only Truth on Earth? | Awake to the Life-Puzzle? | Meditation as a Last Resort? | Behind the World | What Are You Here For? | Who's Got the Remote? | No Inner Unity, No True Will? | Certainty | Is What We See Real? | Do Your Actions Reflect Your Values? | Endless Struggle? | Self-Inquiry | Man Is the Frankenstein of God

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What is the Philosophical Self-Inquiry Discussion Group?

Who are you? Friends working together toward a common goal of finding a true self-definition … knowing what you are essentially, your true relation to others and the cosmos, and a true understanding of your life's events:

  • Not by learning but by becoming; through retreating from untruth.
  • Friendly questioning that challenges thinking.
  • Subjective, subtractive, immanent and designed for immediate change.
  • Considering all knowledge incomplete until the knower or experiencer is known or identified.
  • An approach that doesn't attempt to prove itself by the vanity of logic but is inductive and answers to common sense and intuition.

Good Advice for Effective Self-Inquiry?

Padre Pio "He had five rules for spiritual growth: weekly confession, daily communion, spiritual reading, meditation, and examination of conscience. He compared weekly confession to dusting a room weekly, and recommended the performance of meditation and self-examination twice daily: once in the morning, as preparation to face the day, and once again in the evening, as retrospection. His advice on the practical application of theology he often summed up in his now famous quote, 'Pray, Hope and Don't Worry'." ~ From the Dec. 2008 article on Padre Pio

Lacking Real Self-Awareness

man and mirror "Affirmation of the self through experience is doomed to fail because that which is not real cannot be made real by more of that which generates the illusion in the first place. (We are left unsatisfied, and the nagging feeling of not being truly affirmed remains.) It is a foregone conclusion that it will lead to pain and diminishment of such a self. Life itself does that to us as we are all in the process of dying.… The ego does not want to look at or accept diminishment and so deflects – 'spins' – such painful and diminishing experiences into affirmations. And so people wander mesmerized, outwardly, lacking in any real self-awareness." ~ Bob Cergol, "Going Within: The Object of Attention"

Is Emotional Pain a Bad Thing?

sad puppy "Martin Seligman phrased it succinctly in an interview a few years ago: 'Anxiety, depression, and anger have long evolutionary histories in which they're trying to tell us something. Depression, feeling sad, tells us we've lost something. Anger alerts us to trespass, anxiety alerts us to danger. Insofar as we jump in and try and dampen the alarm system, we do so at our peril.' These indicators are not fail-safe alarm systems; we have a tendency to overreact, to be sure, but at their fundaments, these signaling systems are good and useful things. They are messages that we need to hear. They give us vital feedback on our progress, or lack of it, through our interior and exterior environment or, as Seligman put it, negative emotions contain 'messages about how our commerce with the world is going.'" ~ Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation, by Charles Barber

Closer Examination

Escher, ascending and descending "Upon closer examination, this emotional roller coaster is seen as being caused by identifying with a succession of images, which tend to cancel and replace each other in our never-ending quest for a secure identity…As life goes on, the circle of identification with the ever-changing parade of images continues. If we are lucky, we will tire enough of this zero-sum game to perhaps pause,… and begin to question the entire process." ~ Bob Fergeson, "The Shifting Image of Identity"

Do You Create Thoughts?

cuckoo clock "If you think that you think, try to stop. If you think that you think, try to start. You don't start your day's thoughts. It's upon you before you know it. Nobody starts thinking; nobody stops thinking. It's caused." ~ Richard Rose, from The Path, a talk given in Columbus, Ohio (1976)

What is your relation to thought? Do you create thoughts? Can you stop thinking? What is the source of thought?

What Do You Get When You Divide by Zero? water draining down manhole

    > How thick is the dividing line between inside you and outside you, between subject and object?
    > What happens when you narrow it down to zero – to where there's no division between subject and object, between viewer and viewed, knower and known?
    > Are you interested in investigation into what you are at the core of your being?

What Is Self-Inquiry? Mt. Fuji

  • Self-inquiry is not selfish or self-limiting, not getting lost in your head, not unworldly.
  • Self-inquiry is investigating what you are at the core of your being, living a life aimed at finding the meaning of that life, and discovering peace through battling self-ignorance.

Searching for Your Identity?

question-mark man What does it mean to find your identity, to know yourself?

Does it mean to explore your fears and desires, to find out what you really want from life? To investigate your strengths and weaknesses, to find out how you can get the most out of life? To puzzle out your beliefs and values, to determine how best to act in the world? To figure out what goals to pursue so that you won't feel, on your deathbed, that your life has been wasted?

Or does it mean to find out what you really are at the core of your being, and what is your true relationship to the cosmos?

Are you setting your target high enough?

Wondering Deeply

wondering "… Just because I wondered deeply, I later attained penetrating understanding…. If you do not reflect and examine, your whole life will be buried away." ~ Seng-Ts'an, 7th Century Chinese Zen Patriarch

  • What is death?
  • What is life?
  • Who are you?

boomerang path What goal have you set for your life?

Our Life's Story

long lonely highway "It's a fact, you can lie to everyone around you, but you cannot lie to yourself. The only thing you can do is look away from whatever you don't want to face. Therefore the only thing to do is to face everything squarely – and it is the looking away from the ever-present fact of death that is the fundamental problem. Our life's story is really about our journey of learning how to reconcile ourselves with, and accept, our own death." ~ Bob Cergol, "The Still Point of the Turning World"

Doubt Transports You

Al-Ghazali (Algazel) "Doubt transports you to the truth. Who does not doubt fails to inquire. Who does not inquire fails to gain insight. Without insight, you remain blind and perplexed." ~ Al-Ghazali, Sufi master (1058-1111)

What Would You See if You Had a Stroke of the Left Cerebral Hemisphere?

brain hemispheres Here's what brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor observed when it happened to her:

"When you look at the brain, it's obvious that the two cerebral cortices are separate from one another. For those of you who understand computers, our right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor while our left hemisphere functions like a serial processor. The two hemispheres do communicate with one another through the corpus callosum which is made up of some 300 million axonial fibers but other than that the two hemispheres are completely separate. Because they process information differently, each of our hemispheres think about different things, they care about different things, and, dare I say, they have very different personalities.

"…and in that moment my left hemisphere brain chatter went totally silent. Just like someone took a remote control and pressed the mute button. Total silence…but it was beautiful there. Imagine what it would be like to be totally disconnected from your brain chatter that connects you to the external world.

"A little while later, I'm riding in an ambulance from one hospital in Boston across to Mass General Hospital and I curl up into a little fetal ball. And, just like a balloon with the last bit of air, just pffft, right out of the balloon, I felt my energy left and I felt my spirit surrendered. And in that moment I knew that I was no longer the choreographer of my life and either the doctors rescue my body and give me a second chance at life or this was perhaps my moment of transition. When I awoke later that afternoon I was shocked to discover that I was still alive. When I felt my spirit surrender, I had said goodbye to my life and my mind was now suspended between two very opposite plains of reality."

The Universe Is like a Safe

"The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination – but the combination is locked up in the safe." ~ Peter DeVries

Cooking the Facts?

chocolate souffle "How do we manage to think of ourselves as great drivers, talented lovers, and brilliant chefs when the facts of our lives include a pathetic parade of dented cars, disappointed partners, and deflated soufflés? The answer is simple: We cook the facts!" ~ Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

Finally Securing Peace and Happiness

elephant balancing on a ball "Many are the traps of the mind, and many are the tricks it plays on us. Being dual in nature, we are kept running from one experience or mood to another, all the while thinking that the solution is just up ahead, that if we could just get the mix right, we could finally keep all aspects of our lives under control and finally secure our peace and happiness. But mind, being a two-faced dimension, will never be at peace, at least not for long. One of the basic traps of this thing called mind is that of compensation. We compensate, or balance, one aspect of our lives with another, in the vain hope the house of cards will not collapse and leave us face to face with the truth about ourselves." ~ Bob Fergeson

> Does your mind play tricks on you?
> Is there something you don't want to face about yourself?

How Do You Explain Your Existence?

miracle of birth of galaxy miracle of birth of child "There are two ways to live your life, one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle." ~ Albert Einstein

"In order to be a realist you must believe in miracles." ~ David Ben-Gurion

Photos: Birth of a galaxy(Galaxy on Edge, from Hubble), birth of a child.

Identity Theft?

mask more masks How is it possible that you don't know what you really are?

Has someone stolen your identity?

Creation or Discovery?

wizard Sherlock, by Joe Nickell

  • Do people create their own truth, or is truth something that's discovered?
  • Is truth limited to humanity's understanding, or is it beyond limitation?
  • Does truth change over time, or is it unchanging?

  • What does "knowing the self" involve?
  • What is the self? Is it a body, visible or invisible? A feeling?
  • Is the self an object that can be known? Or is it a subject, the knower?
  • If the self is the knower, how can it be known?

  • Is truth an object of knowing, or is it beyond conceptual knowing?
  • Is truth a state of being?
  • Does knowing the self bring one to a true state of being?

Life Is Real Only Then….

G.I. Gurdjieff LIFE IS REAL ONLY THEN, WHEN "I AM" ~ G.I. Gurdjieff

> Is your life Real? > Are you Real?

Truth or Pill?

"If you want to feel better, take a pill. If you want to get right, face the truth."
~ Advice of psychologist to troubled FBI agent in Numb3rs TV series

Listening Within: Is there a message in silence within?

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theater,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away –
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing –
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
~ From "East Coker" by T.S. Elliot

Do You Falsify the Data?

girl in pool - back view girl in pool There is a "pervasive and fateful human need to remain in control of one's internal and external worlds by seemingly understanding them, even at the expense of falsifying the data." ~ Jerry Katz, a physician who teaches at Yale Law School, as quoted in How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, M.D., Recanati Chair of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of experimental medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Photos: Chalk drawing on pavement by J. Beever, seen from different angles.

What Is the Truth of Your Situation?

popularity of reassuring lie "When you start with an honest and diligent effort to determine the truth of your situation, the right decisions often become self-evident." ~ Jim Collins, Good to Great

"If a person would truly admit their present circumstance, their search would be over in that moment. A lot of fence-straddling would end if we would admit our complete ignorance about our selves and life. What would make more sense than to dedicate our lives to finding our true nature? Confronting the brutal facts is equivalent to developing self-honesty. "Become the truth," as Rose advised. Self-honesty and persistence are, I believe, the two fundamental traits for spiritual success." ~ Shawn Nevins, The Business of Seeking

What Are You Running From, and To?

running man All men should strive to learn
before they die,
what they are running from,
and to, and why.
~ James Thurber

Are You What You See?

you are an individual Are you what you see … or are you what sees?

Does a law of symmetry apply to seer and seen … or asymmetry?

Do you think – i.e., decide what thoughts to have and then create them – or do you witness thoughts?

Are you an individual thing that was born and is going to die … or are you an awareness of life and death?

What are YOU essentially?

What Is Within?

"Man … does not know that there is in him something invisible which works in his favor in the dark. Identifying himself … with his imaginative mind, he does not think that he is anything more. Everything happens as though he said to himself: 'Who would work for me except myself?' And not seeing in himself any other self than his imaginative mind and the sentiments and actions which depend on it, he turns to this mind to rid himself of distress. When one only sees a single means of salvation, one believes in it because necessarily one wishes to believe in it.

"However, if I look at the life of my body I observe that all kinds of marvelous operations are performed spontaneously in it without the concourse of that which I call 'me.' My body is maintained by processes whose ingenious complexity surpasses all imagination [note that Benoit was a medical doctor]. After being wounded, it heals itself. By what? By whom? The idea is forced upon me of a Principle, tireless and friendly, which unceasingly creates me on its own initiative.

"My organs appeared and developed spontaneously. My mediate dualistic understanding appeared and developed spontaneously. Could not my immediate understanding, nondualistic, appear spontaneously? Zen replies affirmatively to this question. For Zen the normal spontaneous evolution of man results in satori. The Principle works unceasingly in me in the direction of the opening of satori (as this same Principle works in the bulb of the tulip towards the opening of its flower)…. An old Zen master said: 'What conceals Realization? Nothing but myself.'"
- Hubert Benoit, The Supreme Doctrine: Psychological Studies in ZEN Thought (see the Benoit / Zen page)

What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? - Thomas Merton

Sail to the Moon, watercolor by Daniel Merriman What is the abyss that separates us from ourselves? How can it be crossed? That's the issue the Philosophical Self-Inquiry Discussion Group addresses. The question of self-knowing is not one that can be answered conceptually, but discussion can help with the process of seeing the delusions that cloud mental clarity.

Spend or Invest?

young Helen Keller smelling a flower I do not simply want to spend my life,
I wish to invest it. ~ Helen Keller

> What is the highest ideal you can conceive of for your life?

> Have you made it your life's priority?

1st Know Thyself

asymptote Is knowing yourself an asymptotic adventure, getting progressively closer and closer without ever quite getting there?

Is the truth about yourself relative or absolute?

Is it something to be captured or to be surrendered to?

Something to be learned or to become?

"Who am I; who are you? Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Who or what is God? What is absolute reality?

"The time has come to stop fooling around. It's time to get the answer – not from someone else, not someone else's version of the answer – your own answer, arrived at yourself from the depth of your very own being.

"Here and now, you can begin this personal effort to determine just what Fact, Principle, Reality, Truth ITSELF is. In spite of all that mankind has been told for centuries, this is not an impossible task! It is not hard to do. It is not even an uphill struggle. It is the happiest thing you will ever undertake! As one divests himself of former beliefs and opinions and begins to arrive at his own concept of God, through his own effort, from out the wisdom of his own heart, then God, Reality, Truth reveals Itself to that one – just as it has been said, 'Seek and ye shall find.'

"Let the beliefs go. Let what 'they say' go. Drop all the old personal opinions no matter how near and dear they seem. You start anew, turning within to the heart. Then when you arrive at your own meaning of God, you happily find you are also discovering your own real Identity and its childlike simplicity."
~ William Samuel, 2 + 2 = Reality

Is there something in life that is truly worth daring all for?

To dare is to lose one's footing. ~ Søren Kierkegaard

What would it "feel" like if you were never born?

  • Can you imagine never being born?
  • Can nonsense be applied to arrive at deeper sense?

The Original Face is a concept in various philosophical and spiritual systems. It's expressed by the following Zen koan:

What did your face look like before your parents were born?

This koan is an invitation for one to recognize the nature of reality by looking beyond the particulars of one's sociocultural and psychological understanding of self, body, and mind.

What Is Within You?

So it is said, what can be seen by the eye or heard by the ear can be studied in the scriptures and treatises; but what about the basis of awareness itself – how do you study that? ~ Zen Master Foyan (1067-1120)

The fifth reason for investigating Who I am is that I live in a culture which is based on the scientific attitude, and I have the scientific attitude … I do not want to look up Who I am in a book. I am going to look for myself. ~ Douglas Harding, Face to No-Face

All that the reading of books can possibly accomplish, is to aid us in bringing the truth which exists within ourselves to our own understanding, and to drive away the clouds of erroneous conceptions which may keep us from knowing ourselves. ~ Franz Hartmann, Magic, White & Black

Seek Me First

The joy is not the end-in-itself to be sought.
Seek Me first, and then My Knowledge and My Joy will also be thine.
Seek Me for My own sake and not for any ulterior motive.
I and I alone am the worthy end of all endeavor.
So lay down all for Me, and My Wealth will be thy wealth, My Power thy power, My Joy thy joy, My Wisdom thy wisdom.
This universe is but a part of My Treasure, and it, with vastly greater Riches, shall be the portion of the Inheritance of all those who come to Me.
Long have ye lingered in the desert of Ignorance.
I desire not thy continued suffering.
Come unto Me. The Way is not so hard.
~ Franklin Merrell-Wolff

… I have sought this Awakening for several years. I was finally convinced that, at least in all probability, there was such a thing or event, while I was in the midst of the discussions of a metaphysical seminary held at Harvard [when he was a grad student in mathematics there]. I saw, at once, that if such Knowledge were an actuality it was of far greater importance than even the greatest intellectual achievement within the limits of the subject-object field…. My final word on this particular subject is: I sought a Goal the existence of which I had become convinced was highly probable. I succeeded in finding this Goal, and now I KNOW, and can also say to all others: "IT IS ABSOLUTELY WORTH ANYTHING THAT IT MAY COST, AND IMMEASURABLY MORE." ~ Pathways Through to Space

Got Tension?

mouse at mousetrap soldier at mousetrap "We fail to realize that the tensions we feel, as anxieties or promptings, are the very things that will free us from all need, if we stand up to them." ~ Bob Fergeson

Do you use tension, or does tension use you?

Is this the only truth on earth?

Truly do we live on Earth?
Not forever on earth; only a little while here.
Be it jade, it shatters.
Be it gold, it breaks.
Be it quetzal feather, it tears apart.
Not forever on earth; only a little while here.

Like a painting, we will be erased.
Like a flower, we will dry up here on earth.
Like plumed vestments of the precious bird,
That precious bird with the agile neck,
We will come to an end.

He goes his way singing, offering flowers.
And his words rain down
Like jade and quetzal plumes.
Is this what pleases the Giver of Life?
Is this the only truth on earth?
~ Aztec poet-king Nezahualcoyotl (1402-1472)

Awake to the life-puzzle?

  • Are you a lonely puzzle-piece looking for your spot in the puzzle?
  • Or maybe a puzzle with an aching emptiness at the middle?
  • Is there a way to complete the puzzle with full satisfaction?

Jigsaw alarm clock: The puzzle pieces fire out from the clock at the set time. Wanna shut that dreaded noise off? Sorry, gotta complete the puzzle first.

Meditation as a last resort?

"I can't believe things are so bad that I have to do this to answer some ridiculous questions about my existence!" ~ Carnegie Mellon University PhD student, regarding meditation

"Behind the world our names enclose is the nameless." ~ Suzanne Segal, Collision with the Infinite

  • Is there something behind the world, or did the world create itself?
  • Is there something behind selfhood, or did consciousness create itself?
  • What is self?
  • Why have people throughout history said that knowing the self brings an end to all existential questions?

What are you here for?

Why are you where you are? (The realms of Psychology, Physics)
Why are you alive? What are you? (The Realm of Philosophy)

Does your existence have a purpose? If so, is it possible to know what it is?

Who's Got the Remote?

Ever feel that your attention is being led around in circles? That the remote control for your own mind might be lost under the couch? Join us for an evening of self-inquiry discussion on the topic of attention and what might be controlling it.

No Inner Unity, No True Will?

Table II
The Five Wills

Will to Self-transcendence

Will to Meaning

Will to Power

Will to Pleasure (activity); Eros

Will to Death (inertia); Thanatos

The Theater of the Selves portrays the interplay of five wills which lead men to act (Table II). They work within man, creating a ferment of one sort or another, compelling him to perform the role they select. Does man control the wills? Do the wills control man? The question is oversimplified. Man without inner unity has no true will. He changes from moment to moment. He says, "I want this, I want that," but he has no permanent "I" and his wants can be completely contradictory. ~ The Master Game, by Robert DeRopp


belief-doubt-certainty triangle Is it possible to know something for sure? (redux)

If so, how would you "get there"?

Is What We See Real?

van der Leeuw plate 2 Physiologists tell us that light reflects off "real" objects, the vibrations of which enter via the eyes, stimulating electrochemical changes in the optic nerve and corresponding parts of the brain. Then images form in our minds, or in our "world of consciousness." But there is an unexplained gap between electrochemical activity in the brain and pictures in consciousness. And we know nothing directly about possible objects outside our consciousness. (See van der Leeuw page.)

Is it possible to know anything for sure, either about the "outside world" or about ourselves?

Do Your Actions Reflect Your Values?

> Are the values that you tell yourself are important to you the actual values that determine your actions?

> Is it possible that you don't know yourself as well as you think you do?

> If one part of you is fooling another part, which is the more interior … closer to the core self?

At the meeting we'll do a values clarification exercise followed by a discussion of the results and their possible implications.

Endless Struggle?

"One always finds one's burden again…The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." - Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus. (As a punishment from the gods for his trickery, Sisyphus was compelled to roll a huge rock up a steep hill, but before he reached the top of the hill, the rock always escaped him and he had to begin again.)

"You are in prison. All you can wish for, if you are a sensible person, is to escape." - G.I. Gurdjieff, quoted in P.D. Ouspensky, The Fourth Way.

  • Is a life of endless struggle the most we can hope for?
  • Or is there a path to meaning and full satisfaction in life?


  • WHAT is it?
  • WHY would I want to do it?
  • HOW is it done?

All our problems trace back to not knowing the self.

"Man is the Frankenstein of God." - Richard Rose

"God does not redeem the personal man by death. He redeems himself by freeing himself from the personality of man." - Franz Hartmann

> Are you a person?

> Is self-identification with personality a blessing or a curse?

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