Inquiry means that as a Mentor Coach, I show genuine interest in YOUR experience through questions.
Potential questions to practice inquiry are, “what kinds of feelings emerged?” Inquiry after an exercise is crucial because it helps you make sense of and work through what occurred. This lesson explores the key elements of an effective inquiry process: goal, the right attitude, general guidelines, types of questions, and layers of inquiry.
THE GOALS OF INQUIRY
The inquiry process supports you in becoming aware of the internal operations of your mind.
There are three key messages behind the inquiry process. These are awareness of experience, cultivating a sense of knowing and the general understanding of patterns.
Stance towards experiences
As a coach, I can inspire you to take an introspective and curious view of your own experience. Through inquiry, the coach approaches experiences rather than avoiding them. Questions include, “So what is going on? I am curious, can you tell me more about that? What did you feel?” For example, when you share a painful experience elicited from the meditation, a coach would avoid empathizing by saying statements such as “Yes, I know it is hard. Other people have felt similarly too.” Instead, a good coach would respond with a mindfulness stance, asking about the client’s experience.
THE RIGHT ATTITUDE FOR A COACH FACILITATOR
As a coach, I am not an expert in someone else’s experiences: YOU are. Questions that demonstrate this include, “Did I understand you? I heard you say x,y and z, is this correct?” Not knowing: Inquiry involves acknowledging that I don’t have all of the answers as a facilitator when clients ask questions that I genuinely don’t know; if appropriate for the group, I would articulate that I am unsure but will get back to you.
I demonstrate curiosity by inquiring about the triangle of awareness: thoughts, body sensations, and emotions.
The inquiry process is not about fixing, but instead to genuinely find out about your experience.
Not giving directions
The inquiry also involves letting go as a coach facilitator by not providing a plan and by avoiding leading statements or explicit recommendations.
For a two-and-a-half-hour session, the timeframe for formal inquiry takes about ten to fifteen minutes. Depending on the content being discussed, inquiry sometimes takes up to thirty minutes. However, these are general guidelines, so as a mentor coach, I typically conduct the inquiry in the most appropriate timeline for your situation.
Not covering everything
Not every person or topic has to be discussed in the inquiry process. There is not enough time, and it is not necessary. People also learn about themselves from other participant’s discoveries.
Positive and negative experiences
People often start by sharing difficulties, which triggers others to share a challenge. This creates a pattern that consequently results in others finding it difficult to speak up when they have a pleasant or positive experience to share. Or, contrastingly, the opposite can occur. As a facilitator, I need to be aware of this, and further, if the pattern is noticed, I would ask if anyone has experienced something different. In this way, the facilitator embodies all experiences, which is the very essence of mindfulness.
Linking experiences to the program
Based on your responses, I would link what you said back to the topic at hand. For example, if the topic is self-compassion, and someone shared that they were distracted, a good facilitator can respond by asking questions along the lines of, “So, you were distracted, how did you deal with that? How did it make you feel? What kind of thoughts emerged? Were you able to treat yourself in a self-compassionate way when you noticed that you could not stay focused?
When conducting a more formal mindfulness training, it is helpful for the coach to record answers. This creates structure and visual aid for participants to refer back to.
TYPES OF QUESTIONS
Open-ended questions allow the participant to explore their experience. The following are examples of open-ended questions that can be asked in the inquiry process:
- How was it to do this exercise?
- What did you notice?
- How did you deal with this feeling?
These questions differ from closed-ended questions, which generate a yes or no answer. The following are examples of closed-ended questions:
- Did you notice any tension in your body?
- Were you able to stay focused on your breath?
Create space for discovery
My questions should create space for discovery. Should I ask questions such as, “would you be willing to tell me more? That sounds really interesting, can you say more about that?”
As the inquiry process is focused on introspection, I would ask people to pay attention to how they feel and their thoughts. It can be challenging to share one’s inner dialogue with others. So, I always ask your permission to continue with the inquiry, especially in a group setting. Example questions include, “Is it okay if I ask you a bit more about that? Would it be okay to explore that further?”
3 LAYERS OF INQUIRY
At the beginning of the training, a coach commonly focuses on the first and second steps. As participants become increasingly comfortable with the inquiry process, the third step is incorporated. The third step of applying observations in daily life is more challenging, and therefore, more comfortable for participants to grasp towards the end of the program.
Step 1: Direct experience
For the first step, the primary focus is on what participants noticed in their direct knowledge of the practice. It involves descriptions of their thoughts, feelings, body sensations. Example questions in this step include, “what did you notice? What kind of images emerged? What kind of thoughts did you notice?” This step is all about the “what” question: what happened?
Step 2: Relationship with experience
Once participants have responded, I would continue to the participant’s relationship with their experience. How do participants react to the thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that they noticed? Example questions in this step include, “how did you feel when your mind wandered?” what did you do when your mind wandered? What did you do with this negative feeling that arose? How did you react to this experience?”
Step 3: Context of experience
The last step focuses on linking the observations and discoveries of the first two steps to the session’s topic or applying mindfulness in daily life. The scope is broadened here. Example questions in this step include, “Is there something about this experience that you also recognize in your daily life? How can this experience help you with other experiences in your daily life? How may this experience be related to the topic of self-compassion?” This step aims to help participants reflect on their own experiences at a higher level, relating their experience in the practice of mindfulness to their life.
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