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Heuristic Self-Search Inquiry – January 2003- Updated September 2013

When I began a cancer research project related to the effects of emotional healing in the lives of cancer patients with Dr. Jeremy Geffen of the Geffen Cancer Center in Vero Beach Florida, I was asked to explain the work that I would be doing with these people. The following description was what evolved as an explanation. It is written in APA style, rather than my normal stream of consciousness writing, but it might give the reader an understanding of the deep inner work that I facilitate in the lives of my clients.

The word Heuristic has been traditionally applied to research into new territory where the only thing that is known is the question and the method is random inquiry into the “dark” to find what works. The researcher uses a trial and error method often based on an “intuitive feel” of what might work and proceeds from there, step-by-step, like brailleing one’s way in the dark, until a clearer picture emerges. What is right is what works.

All science, whether natural or human, begins heuristically, and continues this way until there are enough answers to shed light on the patterns and characteristics related to the area of research. Only after enough light is brought in by way of the heuristic process, can theories be postulated, and results predicted and tested using the more traditional, control-oriented, objectively-based “scientific method.”

Heuristic Self-Search Inquiry (HSSI) is a qualitative method of research in which the researcher is the participant of his or her own internal inquiry into the often dark and hidden internal patterns that influence the personal experience of life. This method grew out of the Heuristic Research process as developed by Clark Moustakas (1990) in the latter part of the twentieth century when observational and objectively oriented behavioral psychology as science was being challenged by a number of subjective and experiential perspectives.

In attempting to implement Moustakas’s method, I, Dr. Sandy Sela-Smith (1998, 2001, 2002) identified the presence of internal resistance to internally focused inquiry, which impacted research outcomes and as a result I clarified the Moustakas Heuristic Research Method with Heuristic Self-Search Inquiry.

The central objective of HSSI is self-transformation through self-understanding, and the central foci of the process are the feelings the self-searcher experiences and the meanings attached to those feelings, which includes feelings related to resistance. Once feelings are discovered and resistance to deeply buried life-patterns is overcome, a pathway to change the patterns opens, which in turn leads to transformation of self and life-experience.

When applied therapeutically, the client’s self-search is guided by a trained therapist whose purpose is to assist the client-inquirer in becoming aware of feelings, noticing and overcoming resistance to feelings, and continuing the self-search process that can lead to a transformation that positively impacts the client’s life and self-experience. When applied as in this proposed research, the principal researcher takes the role of the therapist/guide and the HSSI researcher is the participant/client who is investigating his or her own internal territory, with the help of the principal therapist/guide researcher.
This process is also related to the work of Ernest Rossi (2002), an internationally renowned psychotherapist and neuroscientist whose work has culminated in Psychobiology, Gene Expression, and Psychotherapy in which he discusses implicit processing heuristics that seems to access the same body-knowledge as does HSSI, to facilitate healing. While Rossi works dynamically and profoundly with cell-level and genetic information on the implicit and unconscious level, I seek to make the implicit explicit and the unconscious conscious. HSSI uses feeling as the entry point to the deeply embedded tacit, or implicit arenas of consciousness, wherein behavioral motivators, and life patterns exist that normally are unavailable to waking-state awareness.

Based on my own HSSI work, as well as a therapist/guide with clients over the last 20 years, I have found that when feelings are physically or emotionally painful, when they are frightening, or when they are anger-related, it is not uncommon to repress the feelings by attempting to cover them up, numb them, deny them, dissociate from them, or dismiss them as insignificant (Sela-Smith 2001). Investigation of internal experience is avoided, likely, without even knowing avoidance is occurring. However, resisted and repressed feelings often erupt as emotional disturbance, which, in turn, has the potential to lead to physical illness.

Often, it seems that it takes a major crisis to shift the focus from the external world to focus on internal experience that has been resisted (Douglass & Moustakas, 1985). A crisis may well be a crisis because there are no ready-made answers in the external world, which may force a search for answers — and some of us, perhaps for the first time, choose to venture inward.

A self-search inquiry can be stimulated by something that feels disharmonious inside, by something that has a feel of uneasiness, being out of sorts, disturbed, conflicted, or confused. It can begin with an event that impacts a person in a way that causes painful emotion, such as fear, shame, guilt, sadness, or grief. And certainly crisis related to a physical illness has the power to draw attention to internal experience and self-search. In our present world (2013), it seems as everything in the universe is disrupting our normal way of dealing with life as we experience crisis after crisis, personally and collectively. It seems that on every front, we are being challenged: environmentally, politically, economically, and socially. It seems as if the “fabric of our lives” is unraveling, and the earth under our feet is crumbling and dissolving…both metaphorically and in the lived experience. Because solutions are sought from the same places that created the problems, the solutions carry the building blocks, the energy patterns that will simply recreate the same problems.

In a crisis situation or in its aftermath, a person can attempt to cause the outer world to shift back to the way things were before the stressful experience, or shift to a new way that is not stressful, in order to return to a sense of well-being. The person could, also, choose to go inside the self to make changes to adjust to the outer shifts. For those who avoid experiencing painful feelings inside, it is not unusual to attempt to control the outside world, but if that becomes too difficult or impossible, avoidance of the internal might be abandoned and an internal search might begin.

On one level, the internal search could be initiated to alleviate the disharmony, to lift the stress, and to return life to normalcy, but on another level, if one is willing to listen, there can be a call for transformation that exists within every personal challenge, the kind of transformation that no longer carries the seeds of destruction that were in the previous system–both on the individual-personal level and the collective level. When the investigator finds the source of the dissonance and brings healing to it, it is not possible to return to being the person that he or she was prior to the investigation because the search has transformed the researcher (Moustakas, 1990, Sela-Smith, 2001, 2002).

Like heuristic research, Heuristic Self-Search Inquiry is an intuitive process, but it is also possesses a skill that develops with use. Each person’s style is unique. It is not possible to specify an explicit algorithm for the process (Douglass & Moustakas, 1985) that an individual can follow to guarantee successful completion of the process.

There seems to be one simple requirement, which is a willingness to surrender to experiencing difficult feelings with integrity, something that many humans seem to be so very good at resisting. To do this work with integrity means being willing to know what is hidden in the deepest recesses of the self, those things we have been hiding from ourselves out of fear of what knowing what is hidden might mean.

There are steps in the process of working internally, but the movement through these “steps” is not necessarily sequential; however, most aspects will likely be present in any given process.

Completing the “steps” cannot be the focus of the inquiry, if they are the focus, surrender has not happened and a Heuristic Self-Search Inquiry is unlikely to take place.

If a person surrenders to whatever feelings are felt, by not trying to dismiss them, dissociate from them, or deny them, it is possible to become aware of the self that experiences the feelings, to discover the personal belief systems and behavior responses that create the life that the self experiences.

In the process, new awareness can be brought to the experience allowing a transformation of the ineffective personal beliefs and behaviors into effective ones, and transforming the self who experiences life. The blocked and suffering self can evolve into a flowing and healed self. The general process, which a self-search researcher initiates regarding a feeling or an issue, involves what I identify as the six Es: Experience, Express, Explore, Explicate, Extricate, and Experience Anew.

The steps one must take to accomplish a Heuristic Self-Search Inquiry that moves through these six processes is first, to be willing to acknowledge that feelings exist and that the feelings are worthy of an inquiry. Though this seems like a simple beginning, it is not as easy as it sounds. Sela-Smith (1998, 2001, 2002, 2003) contends that many of us have systematically disconnected from conscious awareness of feelings based on what was acceptable in the family of origin or in social or intellectual systems in which we were raised and may still continue to find ourselves. We might discipline ourselves not to feel certain feelings, without realizing that the underlying need to cut off experiencing feelings is coming from feelings.

If we have been cut off from experiencing our feelings, for whatever reason, we may need to be reintroduced to this experience by becoming aware of our feelings of resistance. It is also possible to experience multiple as well as contrary feelings regarding the same experience, which can create mental and emotional confusion. If this is the case, each of the feelings must be acknowledged and experienced.

Second, once feelings are acknowledged, it is useful to express them, and dialogue with them while remaining in the experience of the feelings. In the beginning, the inquiries may be more verbal, and the questions will become more specific, directed by thinking processes. But in time, the inquiry takes on a feeling-tone of a search through the darkness to where one feeling leads an image and then to another and another until the precipitating image and its feelings and meanings are finally found and addressed.

The objective of the questioning is to discover what personal beliefs are attached to the feeling and to discover how to integrate feeling conflicts, or make shifts or changes in those internal belief systems. It might be useful to visualize this as a process of finding parts of self “stuck” in the past experiencing a painful feeling and trapped by the meanings and beliefs attached to that feeling. This exploration process might begin by asking, What I am experiencing in my body this very moment as I visualize whatever I am dealing with?

In time, the inquirer learns to discern the difference among the false self or selves–the self or selves we believe we are or want to present to the world as who we are, the shadow self or selves–the self or selves we are afraid we are and are either consciously or unconsciously afraid others will discover, and the true self–what I have come to call the Unique God Essence that is the true Self that resides in every one of us–that unique essence that is unlike any who every was, is or will be, which for most every one of us, has been buried under a life time or life times of patterns, under genetic patterns, cultural, social, political, religious, patterns and so many more that have caused us to separate from who we really are.

For anyone who is willing to dig deeply within, past your false selves–the masks and fears behind your masks–to experience his or her own version of transformation, surrender and allow your Unique God Essence to lead you to whatever sources you need in the external world to support your inner journey.

Best wishes to those who choose to formally or informally conduct Heuristic Self-Search Inquiry. It is not an easy path to choose…but it is transformational.

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