12 April 2016
And so the ability to ask beautiful questions, often in very unbeautiful moments, is one of the great disciplines of a human life. And a beautiful question starts to shape your identity as much by asking it as it does by having it answered. And you don’t have to do anything about it. You just have to keep asking. And before you know it, you will find yourself actually shaping a different life, meeting different people, finding conversations that are leading you in those directions that you wouldn’t even have seen before. ~David Whyte, in an interview with Krista Tippet on On Being
Often, I am at a loss. A loss as to how to help when I so hope to. At a loss as to how to proceed when clearly I must. At a loss as to how I feel about matters that decisions hinge upon.
In younger days, I considered this a failure on my part. I was pretty sure everyone else had things figured out. They seemed to know their destination, chart their course and proceed with fine navigational skills. They didn’t appear to get overwhelmed or come undone like I did. And do. One of the great benefits of good friendships, reflection and reading has been developing an acceptance and appreciation for the vast scope of human opportunity and challenge. Often I am at a loss because life is big. There is no simple or obvious answer.
It can be tempting to think I want a familiar and well-trod, comfortable and predictable life. But that’s not my nature. Maybe it’s not anyone’s true nature. Life, with its flux and flow, doesn’t allow us to anticipate everything. An innate desire for growth and novelty ambles my steps onto the delicate foot trail.
When I feel vulnerable and uncertain, I can be seduced by the promise of an easy answer — leaping to the security of having a position, checking off the short list of things to do to solve my problem, turning to an expert who’s got the answer.
Except, the quickest, easiest or most strident answer is usually not the one that fits me.
So, more and more, I’m developing a relationship with my questions. I’m seeing how useful they are in helping me define what I’m seeking. I’m realizing how influential they can be in crafting the answers that arise.
In the face of not knowing, I’m beginning with a question that waves an arm in the direction I hope to go. A question that contains within it the seeds of what I intend or hope for. A query that opens the outcome up to the realm of my dreams and aspirations.
Good questions aren’t complicated. They lean into where we want to go. Where can I find compassion? How can I help you? What is the gift of this moment?
Good questions abound. They are the questions that embrace a desire to expand understanding. The questions that crack the door open to mystery. Or lay the table for love. The questions that are bread crumbs, the clues to the trail with an unexpected vista point.
A question like this changes things. How I view a problem shifts when I frame it within an inquiry referencing values and intentions. It also changes me. My own ground becomes receptive and fertile soil.
At times it feels like talking to myself. It might start there. But, already, it’s a give and take of exploration. And at some point, it moves beyond me. To another person. To an interview I randomly turn to on the radio. To the impulse that lifts out of me on my walk the next day.
David Whyte refers to this as the conversation with life. I love this term. I love this idea of engaging in life like I engage in my marriage or friendships. Of showing up, present and willing, to probe into problems and discover frontiers of solutions.
Still, much as I love this, I can sidetrack onto questions that are more about whining. Why does it have to be this way? Questions that are more about judging. Why would you do it that way? Just writing these down it’s easy to see I’m not entering into open-hearted discourse. These ‘questions’ aren’t constructive. When answers narrow my world, justify my judgments, or serve to rationalize feelings, they aren’t really shaping answers I want to live with.
John Lennon’s famous lyrics, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’, sums up how life makes no guarantees about conforming to our predictions or hopes. We do not call all the shots. Yet in this ever unfolding, awe-filled world, I believe we are resolutely welcome at the table, invited to show up and inquire how we can sculpt our experiences to reflect our values and desires.