Compassionate Inquiry – an exercise

Last week we concluded the book review of ‘The Myth of Normal’ with Part 5.
In it we also mentioned an exercise in ‘compassionate inquiry’. We would like to take a closer look at this.

The Dutch saying goes that ‘voorkomen’ (prevention) is better than ‘genezen’ (curation). However, there is another approach that precedes prevention: amplition. The word ‘amplition’ comes from the Latin verb ‘amplire’, which means ‘to magnify’, ‘to increase’. Amplition is about giving more attention to what gives you strength and keeps you healthy. It is a very salutogenetic approach: you look at the question of what causes health (saluto-genesis). That’s a different approach than being concerned with what you should avoid in order not to get sick.

An important element of your daily well-being is meaningfulness: you can be physically as healthy as possible and have so many material things around you… when life seems meaningless and you feel no purpose or importance in the things you do, then your well-being will drastically decrease. Meaningfulness is also sometimes referred to by the Japanese term ‘ikigai’, that which gets you out of bed, your ‘raison d’être’, that which makes you happy and satisfied, that which gives meaning to your existence. Therefore, it is valuable to keep a finger on the pulse of your authenticity in this, whether you know and pursue your ikigai, or whether you let yourself be kept away from it for all kinds of reasons. (We will shortly review a book on ikigai soon.)

If you notice that you do not experience enough meaningfulness, you can talk yourself down: “Done nothing useful again, didn’t work hard enough again, what a sucker I am, why can’t I get it done, I can do this no, I’m too stupid/lazy/incompetent for it, this will never work”… and whatever else you can come up with. Many of us have grown up with that voice in our heads of first someone else (often a parent or teacher or boss), which later passes silently into our own ‘inner critic’, the voice that constantly judges your actions negatively – condemns them, an ‘intruder’. With this approach you are not being very kind to yourself. It is probably not the way you would talk to a dear friend. Can that be done differently…? Can you learn to handle that in a more compassionate way? Yes, that is possible!

Chapter 28 of The Myth of Normal provides you with a compassionate inquiry exercise that you can do all by yourself. You don’t need a therapist or expert for it. You can get started with it on your own, with a frequency that suits you and that you may slowly increase if you notice that the exercise is doing you good. How does it work?
You sit down regularly, at least once a week but preferably more often, to answer a number of questions honestly to yourself while writing. These questions are the following six:

Question 1: In my life’s important areas, what am I not saying no to, although I do feel a to?

Question 2: How does my inability to say no impact my life?

Question 3: What bodily signals have I been overlooking? What symptoms have I been ignoring that could be warning signs, were I to pay conscious attention?

Question 4: What is the hidden story behind my inability to say no?

Question 5: Where did I learn these stories?

Question 6: Where have I ignored or denied the yes that wanted to be said?


Ad 1
Where did you feel a no, but did you hold it in or did you say yes, although you did not support it? With whom and where is it difficult to say no? And if you do say no, can you feel comfortable, determined, guilt-free? Do you blame yourself afterwards for your no? What price do you pay for your yes, if you wanted to express a no?

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An unspoken, but desired no, can have all kinds of consequences: physical (back problems, insomnia, stomach ache, fatigue, headaches and more), emotional (sadness, fear, boredom, loss of joie de vivre and sense of humour) and relational (resentment towards the other, estrangement from loved ones, aloofness, lack of libido).

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The aforementioned physical effects are important to observe. After all, when stress arises in your body, you become more susceptible to illness and chronic social and health problems. The body often tells clearly what it likes and what it doesn’t like, but we often forget or are afraid to listen to it and take the signals seriously. Understandable: their meaning can be intense.

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Behind your unspoken no there are often different beliefs, which together form a story that you tell yourself over and over again to explain, justify, and rationalise your choices. Your choices and stories therefore seem ‘normal’ and true. They are also almost always consistent with your life experiences, but they deserve a closer look.

Ad 5
Our self-image usually forms early in life under the influence of how our closest attachment figures interact with and respond to us. We are not born with a negative self-image, so to speak. We often take things personally when they are not. This question invites you to honestly examine where your story has to be maintained and where it is allowed to change.

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When you do not dare to show your authenticity, you probably do not say no to certain things, even though they do not suit you. Conversely, you may not say yes to what would feed your happiness in life. Maybe you are afraid of reactions from your environment. Maybe you think you’re not worthy of certain things. Maybe there are beliefs that make you think you shouldn’t do something. However, our ‘ikigai’, our purpose for meaning, wants to be expressed. When it just slumbers inside, it either kills our creativity or explodes in a very clumsy way. Expressing it, putting your goals into the world, saying yes to them, can have a strong healing effect on your well-being and health.

It is a simple yet complex exercise, if only because it demands some discipline: it requires you to make time for it on a regular basis. Above all, it asks that you be honest and that you literally dare to face what you have to say to yourself. You write, you give words to your feelings, you write down what you have observed in your body in the past week or the past few days. You may see certain themes come up again and again and with others you can be relieved to see that you are making progress, that you are taking yourself seriously, that it makes your body happy.
I have begun; I have chosen a nice, inviting booklet in which I have written down the six questions on the first page as a reminder. I experience writing from compassion as a pleasant process throughout the week. It makes me more aware and that is the beginning of all forms of change, including those on the way to more peace and well-being in your life. In other words… highly recommended!

Posted in Miscellaneous.