The origin of the word is from old French enquerre, a variant of the Latin inquirere, based on quaerere, "to seek."
Of course, today, we use the word in the sense of questioning, investigation, to seek information. I've mentioned before that the idea of information, properly understood, is that which is inwardly formed. So in a certain sense, inquiry is to seek that which is inwardly formed.
This is a subtle thing. What is inwardly formed is forever in movement; if we study ourselves, we see that. What we are actually studying is movement and its nature: the transformation, from moment to moment, of Being–such as we experience it, however we experience it.
Our lack of inner unity causes us to have a poor experience of Being. Because we cling to definitions and a wish for something static, we want Being to have a form–a recognizable, reliable context that can be referred to over and over again. “I'm like this”–“he's like that”–we forever seek a way of codifying that which constantly changes. We don't really wish to awaken–to engage with, and experience, the fluidity of awareness. It requires, among other things, a commitment to uncertainty–which is decidedly uncomfortable.
We want, in short, to stick everything in a box. Life, however, does not fit in boxes–no matter how elaborate or complicated we make them. The box makers–that is, all of us–frantically try to keep up, constructing more and more elaborate, elegant boxes to stuff experience into, yet the effort is invariably in vain.
What is inwardly formed: what we inquire after, what we seek: this is not a thing. It is a movement. Because it is a movement, an experience of energy with forever changing and routinely unexpected natures, the mind is unable to grasp it. Our mind–our ordinary mind–is static.
This higher energy, as it is often referred to nowadays, wishes most earnestly to be expressed in life. It is not actually interested in arriving and manifesting while we are sitting in meditation. It does not want to be cloistered; its ultimate wish is to be in life, and of life, even though the life it is of is quite a different life than what we conceive of in our ordinary state.
Mankind stands between Scylla and Charybdis. If we engage with the energy in a cloistered way–if we become monks, if we sit, if we meditate and go inward–we fail to be in relationship with life, which is why the energy caused us to be born in the first place. If we go outward and engage fully in life, we lose contact with the higher energy that supports us, and are only able to be in relationship with it at its coarsest and lowest levels.
There's a temptation for everyone on the path to believe that meditation, and the states that it produces, is paramount. That this inward state, this private cultivation, is where God wishes to touch life through us. It's not surprising that we believe this; meditation can certainly produce sublime states. Nonetheless, what the divine truly seeks is an intimate contact with ordinary life itself, a direct and unmediated contact, which is only possible through the opened Being of living organisms.
If one refers back to that wonderful book, "The Cloud of Unknowing," one is reminded that the author divided the world into actives and contemplatives. The activists believe that one should get out there in life and do things: politically motivated Buddhists come to mind. Bravo! The contemplatives believe that one should go deeply inward and discover endless fathoms of prayer. Again, Bravo! Both directions are valid. Both directions are useful. But each direction lacks a certain kind of engagement. Lacks a certain kind of relationship.
One of the great opportunities of being a human being is to discover the middle way: the fulcrum of an intelligent, active Being, consciously and knowingly poised on the threshold between an inner and an outer experience of life. This is no easy place to be: temptation comes from both directions! Life wants to drag us into it; contemplation wants to drag us out of life.
Perhaps you know the feeling. It's a conflict. Each one presents compelling arguments. Only an active, organic, and ongoing engagement with the energy itself can resolve this dichotomy.
Our inquiry–our effort to stay on our toes, to be constantly in movement, anticipating the next pose, swinging the weight of our awareness, body, and feeling freely (and perhaps even joyfully) into the unexpected with a freedom that we did not know was possible–is conducted here, in this middle ground. No matter what we are doing, there was always a possibility here, even if, as my old group leader Betty Brown used to say, it is "only" sensing my feet.
There is no greater satisfaction in life than to dig into the present moment, moving outward from the very marrow of our bones themselves, and to find that this active energy within us both sustains and feeds every instance of manifestation.
The old Zen masters used to suggest that we need to step across the threshold and into the void–to enter the unknown–and then go further. It means giving up all the forms and conceptualizations, and dwelling more entirely within this action of inquiry, which can be–in so many words–a blank slate.
This state of being a blank slate–not having any words already written on us–is not a state of nothingness or uncreatedness.
It is one single moment of pregnancy, which lasts forever.
May the living Light of Christ discover us.