In most situations, I use the three basic self-inquiry questions below. In classical Vedanta (the school of Indian spiritual philosophy that views everything—you, the universe, God—as one manifestation of the same consciousness), these questions were designed to tease out life’s ultimate meaning. I’ve found that with a few tweaks, they apply equally well to challenging situations. Work with them for a few months, and they will automatically come up when you need them.
Who am I?
The response-ability inquiry “Who am I right now?” means not only “What is the ultimate truth of my being?” but also “What is my most genuine feeling in this moment?” In other words, it asks, “How am I really feeling—physically, emotionally, energetically? Am I angry, scared, excited, tender? Is my mind full of thoughts? Do I feel stuck or free?”
I’ve learned through years of trial and error that when I’m confused or uncertain, it’s because I’m out of touch not only with my deep Self but also with my emotional temperature. So I’ve trained myself to check in and notice when I’m distraught or mentally fogged and, if at all possible, to put off taking action at such moments. This isn’t always possible, of course. But still, just questioning myself and becoming aware of the state I’m in, even if the state is not optimal, often helps show me the steps to the right action in a situation. Inserting a wedge of awareness through self-inquiry always makes us less reactive.
Where am I right now?
This question allows us to identify the different aspects of our external situation. Asking “Where am I?” reminds us to use our skills of observation and empathy to be present in our surroundings, to notice what other people are up to, and to gauge the flow of events and energy so that we can navigate a situation skillfully. This could mean seeing where you are in this moment—for example, “I’m at home, worrying about money, but right now I’m physically safe and the phone is ringing.” Or it could mean looking at your overall situation. For instance, “I’m working in a stressful job, I have college loans to pay, and I’m in a relationship that requires constant management; these are rough waters that require vigilant navigation.”
What am I supposed to do right now?
The third question is the action question. “I know who I am (how I feel). I know where I am (I understand the situation I’m in). Now, what’s my next action? How do I participate? How involved do I get and in what way?”