Living Through Questions, Towards Perspectives (how seeking answers can lead us astray)
“The quest for wholeness — for congruence between one’s inner and outer life — never really ends. It’s not a place you get to. It’s really a matter of asking the right questions, wrapping your life around them and living into them.”
― Parker J. Palmer
There’s only one question I need to ask myself when I notice myself feeling slightly off, out of sorts or disconnected: when was the last time I journaled or practice self-reflection?
What happens next is usually a naturally unfolding series of moments and realizations that bring me back to the insight or knowing I need, in this moment.
I’ll turn to my journal, I’ll sit in quiet contemplation, or I’ll ask to speak to a friend who I know can listen well and ask great questions.
In our schooling, we are typically only rewarded when we give the right answers.
What I’ve come to realise though, is that our resilience and fulfillment really lies in asking the right questions and, as Parker Palmer would say, “wrapping our lives around them.”
This means asking the right questions of ourselves, but just as importantly, of others also.
Answers are static and contextual. We can carry questions with us.
In the pursuit for answers, most notably the ‘reason for my being,’ I find myself get caught up in thinking there is a right answer, in a fixed and static state. That I’ll find the magical answer and it will quell my need to continue the ’search.’
Some days I would get up and one answer would feel alive and brilliant, some days another answer feels brilliant. At first, this leading me into the dreaded existential spiral of wondering if there is even a ‘reason for my being.’ Without a reason, am I worthy or even good enough?
After years of fighting myself and my reality, and after reading Parker Palmer’s, Let Your Life Speak, I decided to try connecting to the questions that brought light into my life.
Why do we feel disconnected from ourselves sometimes?
Why do we feel disconnected from others at times?
How do we find our way back to ourselves and each other?
What role do our systems and physical spaces play in facilitating this?
I noticed something profound shift inside me. Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert’s memorable assertion that “human beings are works in process that mistakenly think they’re finished,” became a visceral experience for me.
The searching was gone, I felt that I had arrived. Yet, the curiousity had just begun!
I started living as if I was a curious and compassionate detective. Living through my series of moments, intimately connecting to their textures and exploring these questions.
Each experience and each interaction bringing up new clues and fragments of answers to my questions. Slowly piecing together a puzzle of fragments that might even begin to shape a formed answer. However, that wasn’t the point anymore.
Questions breed curiousity, awe and wonder!
I’d come to find that my connections with others became even more juicy.
More questions were asked, we’d come to these lovely new shared-realizations about topics that meant something for me.
My connection with the world around me became more intimate and inspiring. Of course it can sound like the greatest cliche to say that “you can see the entire universe in a blade of grass,” and it will sound cliche until you open to letting that experience move you for the first time.
Most importantly, for me, was how my connection to myself became more compassionate. There was no where else to be, my questions had me land in the right place no matter where I was or who I was with?
This sense of an inner-compass brought with it a strengthening and grounding exhale.
Elizabeth Gilbert makes the distinction between the ‘Hummingbird’ and the ‘Jackhammer.’ The Jackhammer, sets a goal (this might be to find an answer), then strides heavily and violently until it thinks it has reached said goal. The Hummingbird though, flies gracefully from tree to tree, listening to the impulses and curiosities calling for attention.
Living with Both, and.
Living completely as a Hummingbird — again, for me — flying from tree to tree and never settling on an idea or a path has led to burnout. Also, living as a Jackhammer, driving myself steadfast toward a place I’d thought I needed to be without taking poise, stepping back, rising above and looking down, also led to burnout.
It isn’t either finding answers and then living with them, or finding your questions and living into them. It’s a little of both. Both perspectives will soothe you in different ways. The ability to dance between both modes of being is the art.
As with all things: the paradoxical nature of our reality means that our ability to dance between each pole is where our resilience and fulfillment lays. The ability to have range.
For me, and I observe for many, the preference our culture places on answers and ‘getting it right’ does place necessary pressure on the pole of finding those answers and sticking with them.
Hence, recognizing and living with questions might seem like a healthy balancing force for our time.
So, what questions bring light and curiousity into your life? Is there a way you could soften into leading with questions?
What resonated with you in this piece? What’s still ringing inside you and stuck in some way? Let me know, as well as any thoughts or comments on the topic!
Originally published at Al Jeffery.