Spiritual teacher Eiman Al Zaabi shares how the practice of inquiry can both calm the mind and help you find meaning.
In my twenties, I suffered from anxiety and depression. My days were a living nightmare; I had one panic attack after another. I would reach for a bottle of Bach Flower Remedies to calm myself down. I took antidepressants. Yet nothing ever truly helped. I felt disconnected, like a zombie—until I discovered that I could choose my own mental state and the aim of my mind’s activity.
The turning point on my spiritual journey was discovering that I could use my mind to find meaning through inquiry, rather than simply listening helplessly to my fearful thoughts. Inquiry helped me reengage in life. It helped me ask bold questions about God, about pain and suffering, life and death. As I followed the trail of my soul, it led me back to myself. I found a friend and companion, a wise teacher and loving mother—all within me. For the first time, I clearly recognized why I existed, and I felt a new sense of peace.
Quieting the Mind
Often, we wish we could switch off our mind’s chatter. Some new-age interpretations of spirituality validate this impulse by portraying the mind as unruly and problematic. We are told that it is the speaking mind that causes our suffering, and we are instructed to tame it.
The problem arises when the speaking mind gets stuck in mundane concerns, and we forget our need for spiritual connection. Life is dominated by trivial commentary that distracts us from our purpose. It’s as if the radio is tuned between stations, and we just listen to the static rather than changing the station.
Listening to the Mind
The solution is to tune your mind to a channel that is meaningful. When you find yourself worrying or ruminating, choose instead to practice inquiry. Ask questions and invite the Divine to answer. Start by investigating the day-to-day needs of the self: “Why am I in this state? How can I get better?” Then expand the range of inquiry to cover life’s biggest questions.
6-Step Inquiry Practice
Inquiry is not esoteric; it is something you can do here and now. Here’s how:
1. Focus and relax.
Allow your awareness to settle in your heart. Take 7 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Notice your body becoming peaceful and receptive to the truth.
2. Set your intention.
This can be as simple as “May I come to know the truth.” With a clear intention, your mind is less likely to wander.
3. Pose your question.
What would you like to know, and why? Ask open-ended questions guided by the “why,” “how,” and “what” of life—for example, “What is my purpose?”
4. Sincerely seek the truth.
Release your ego; strive to understand rather than to feel wise. The energy of your interest will be returned to you in the form of answers.
5. Pay attention to the signs.
The universe will send you experiences and intuitions that match your needs.
6. Confirm the answer.
Your heart carries the blueprint of truth. When you think you have received an answer, notice whether your heart responds with a welcoming vibration or with a sense of dissonance.
How to Use Inquiry in Your Life
With practice, inquiry will become second nature. Your mind will learn to ask questions without any conscious effort from you, and you will learn to let go of the need to find the answers right away. The cycle of asking and receiving answers will flow naturally.
Here’s an example from my own experience. As I was praying one night with my sister by my side, my mind fired a question about charity work. I was concerned that I didn’t have the wealth to make a big impact. I thought, “I’d like to contribute more. What do I do?”
Without telling my sister what was on my mind, I let go and went to bed. The next day, my sister called to tell me she’d dreamed that we bought a small amount of food and placed it on a carpeted floor to be offered to the poor. The food multiplied until it filled the entire space. I teared up, knowing I had received my answer: simply do what you can, and the effects will multiply. I no longer felt worried or inadequate; I was ready to act.
Your mind is designed to bring good into your life. It can become your greatest spiritual ally if you simply harness your innate curiosity. If you let your mind wander toward the negative and the meaningless, you distract yourself from living a meaningful life. But when you channel your mind’s energy with intention, you can overcome the mental chaos and illuminate your spiritual life.