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Martin LeFevre: Enquiry is Social Meditation

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

Enquiry is Social Meditation

The word “dialogue” is so overused and misused that it is no longer useful. Too many people mean too many things by the term. I prefer the word ‘enquiry’ (‘inquiry’ being a formal legal investigation).

Enquiry is to the social dimension what meditation is to the solitary one. These are the two prime actions of a human being —awakening meditation alone, and awakening insight with others through enquiry.

Even so, enquiry, to my mind, is a phenomenon, not an activity. The first premise for it to occur is realizing that consciousness is a single movement, albeit one with many currents, tides, eddies, and levels. The notion of ‘my consciousness’ is mistaken on the face of it; there is no such animal. Conditioning is collective, and consciousness is held in common at a fundamental level.

The potential of enquiry was brought home to me during a conversation with about twenty people that took place around a campfire some years ago. We were a diverse group, mostly strangers, all there to hear an outdoor lecture earlier that day. Someone began to question some of the things that were said by the speaker previously, and, in an unprompted way, others adopted the same spirit and kept the ball rolling.

The ball, in enquiry, is a question, which moves and changes relevant to the situation and the people involved. Enquiry begins when two or more people ask a question that they passionately share. Refraining from proffering conclusions, answers, or opinions, the question prompts further questions, which are pursued for their own sake.

It’s kind of like playfully pushing a not too heavy boulder up a slight incline, where the crest of the rise isn’t visible to anyone in the group. The object isn’t to get to the top (not knowing where it is or whether you’ll even reach it), but simply to start a self-sustaining process of questioning together.

However, in amiably pushing a boulder up a slope together, a group of individuals often unexpectedly reaches the top. Then things really begin rolling with the questioning.

Since humans are social creatures, and language is the raison d’etre of our species, communication at a meaningful level is intrinsically rewarding for human beings. Even so, it is a remarkable thing when twenty people truly begin thinking together at a deep level.

At some point our communication crossed a threshold and became communion. We not only shared in the unfolding of questions and the exploration of meanings, but began to transcend prior ideas, and even words themselves. The barriers of separate selfhood melted away, without losing the sense of oneself as an individual human being. For an hour or so, we shared a space of mutual insight. Then it was over.

As always happens in a group of people, some people talk more, some talk less, and one or two don’t speak at all. There was one fellow I’d noticed who seemed to be participating without saying a word. Being a skeptical sort, with a penchant for checking my perceptions, I approached him as the group was breaking up.

“I noticed that you didn’t say anything,” I began, “and yet I felt that you were deeply participating nevertheless.” “Yes, that’s right,” he replied, “I didn’t feel like speaking, but felt fully included and part of the conversation.”

“In fact one could feel the quality of your listening; it added to the enquiry.” He smiled, fittingly said nothing, and we went our different ways.

I’m sure every one of us was changed to some degree by the events of that night. Can enquiry be replicated with any group of self-aware and serious-minded people? Yes, I’ve experienced it many times, and I’m sure that awakening shared insight through enquiry is no more ‘mystical’ than awakening meditation alone.

Such communication has tremendous implications, both personally and politically. Enquiry isn’t in anyone’s control, and yet there’s no reason to fear things going out of control.

So what are the basic ingredients of enquiry? Most importantly, that each person in a group approaches the conversation from the feeling of ‘I don’t know,’ rather than the usual ‘I know.’

Also, that the people present have passion--an increasingly rare quality these days. Enquiry awakens shared insight, and everything flows from that. Try it.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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