12 Questions To Live With

By Paul Dunion | April 15, 2019

The invitation is to live with these questions rather than to live by. To live by suggests each question gets a neat and tight answer and all is well. To live with reflects a commitment to respond to them throughout our lives, allowing them to refresh and renew our relationship with ourselves and deepening our capacity to be fully alive. In order to live with these questions, a refinement of pride must happen. Rather than be guided by undaunted certainty, we can engender an abiding curiosity that shepherds our beliefs and choices.  These questions will also call forward other questions meant to deepen our connection to ourselves and to our experience.

The Questions

  1. Where Do I Come From? This is a foundational question related to family and cultural legacies. We can think of legacies as the beliefs and attitudes we inherit from our ancestors. Clarifying this question may involve asking: Do I come from a pattern of domination or submission? What scripts define gender? Was there a history of alcohol abuse or dependency on mind-altering chemicals? How did family members define the meaning of their lives?
  2. What Are My Natural Gifts or Strengths? This is a critical question that can help us to avoid pursuits where we don’t belong. Our gifts are best expressed where others will benefit and we are making a contribution to the general good.  This question also points toward an acknowledgement and celebration of our uniqueness, and likely in the direction of our life’s purpose. Often, just being curious about what we love yields clarity about our gifts.
  3. How Am I Wounded? This question aims at revealing what we either received too much of (abuse) or too little of (neglect).  Our maturation greatly depends upon getting honest about what we received and letting go of idyllic notions of having received just the right amount of everything! We employ defenses to protect us from feeling the grief and vulnerability that comes with our wounding. However, these defenses tend to over-protect, obstructing our capacities to give and receive love, as well as handcuff the expression of our talents. It can be helpful to ask: What defenses are limiting me? How to I deconstruct my defenses? What is my wound asking for?
  4. What or Who Do I Need To Let Go Of? This question can help to point to where our time and energy need to be focused. It also supports staying in touch with life’s non-permanence. The hope is we can more easily make peace with change.
  5. What Do I Love? This question helps us to identify what is to be prioritized and protected. It can also help identify our gifts and possibly our life’s purpose.
  6. Where Am I Going? This question can reflect both what we desire and possibly what life is calling us to.  The call we receive from life may be calling us to somewhere out in the world or into our internal world. The former call is typically an opening to the inner landscape. 
  7. Who Is Coming With Me? This is a wonderful question reflecting the depth of rapport in our lives. It is often accompanied by several other relevant questions: Who knows me? Who loves me? Whom do I love?
  8. What Do I Fear? This question often points to where courage needs to live, inviting us to consider some risk. Being clear about our fear can inform us about the options of either expanding due to taking some risk or of contracting in favor of protection.
  9. What Is My Task? This question can also shed some light on our purpose. There may be a particular task, such as asking for something we want or creating or building something. It can be that our task is to learn how to live in a larger story with a greater capacity for compassion, creativity, courage and resiliency.  From a spiritual perspective, we can ask: What did I promise the gods?  Such a promise would be imbued with our purpose and give meaning to our death, for it would inevitably be about service.

10) What Do I Need To Forgive About Myself? When we do not take on the responsibility of forgiving ourselves, we live in a condemned past. When we forgive ourselves, we give away past transgression and return our attention to the here and now. The Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield reminds us, “We forgive ourselves when we give up all hope of having a better past.” We enter the present with more compassion and freedom, liberating ourselves from being taken hostage by our mistakes.

11) With Whom Do I have Unfinished Business? Our relationships are inevitably for some form of refinement. Sometimes, it is a story we carry about others not liking or appreciating us.  It could entail anger or a resentment we are carrying. Another option might be a need for us to offer an apology or some form of restitution for having hurt someone.  Attending to our relationships has the tendency of restoring stability and serenity to our lives.

12) What Is Life Currently Asking Of Me? This is one of my favorite questions. It is meant to be the compliment to the question: What do I desire? When these two questions live in concert, our rapport with life is deepened. There is diminishment of excessive self-orientation, with a willingness to be informed by our lived experience. The result can be a creative resonance with life.

Living these questions means relinquishing an urgency to deliver an answer, where an answer is likely a way to ease the tension we feel when facing the unknown. An ancient definition of the word answer is to respond to, as in a letter. This meaning suggests we remain in correspondence with life, allowing it to touch us and move us closer to ourselves. As we understand more about who we are and what life reveals about itself, we live more in the embrace of biophilia, love of life.

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  1. Jody Grose on April 16, 2019 at 10:49 am

    Paul, Your questions shine the light on the path and my work. I particularly like the framing of living with vs living by, which opens me to the organic flow of life and the journey home. Now in retirement, where and I’m going, and who is going with me are on top for me.

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