Live Your Questions
We come to believe in a personal morality or a personal spirituality that will guide our decisions and choices. Our times, characterized by confusion, complexity and rhetoric are calling us to also adopt a personal epistemology. Episte means “knowledge”, and epistemology is our best understanding and exploration of how we want to go about knowing. Let’s begin to construct a possible epistemology employing a quote from the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. “Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers.”
What can it mean to “live your questions”, as opposed to attempting to answer them? To answer questions typically means to draw some conclusion. The ego is attached to answers as we are haunted by the menacing prospects of not being in possession of an acceptable answer. We are groomed to believe that smart people have answers and we want to be one of them. The problem is that an urgent search for answers can easily lead to what James Hollis calls “contrived certainty”. Answers have the tendency to bring about an early termination to any inquiry.
Here are some features of “living your questions”.
*Accept ambiguity. When we accept ambiguity we honor the complexity of large considerations such as justice, freedom, love, friendship, peace and healing. As we accept ambiguity, we are asked not to honor our willingness to step into the unknown, not allowing the absence of answers to define us as inferior. Rather, we respect our capacity to remain committed to an inquiry.
*Remain curious. An old definition of the word curious is “filled with care”. Contemporary neuroscience tells us that the vagal nerve travels up from the gut, through the heart and to the brain. Our brain receives ongoing information about caring and it is that caring that keeps us actively pursuing greater understanding. As we care, we want to understand more. It is that caring that brings us into a deeper relationship with fate, or the people, places and events that happen to us.
*Hold the faith that more will be revealed. The ego can become easily frustrated with a protracted investigation, not allowing for the immediate gratification provided by an alleged answer. Such faith keeps us receptive to what our experience might offer, as well as reminding us that you are not entitled to answers.
*Remain a servant of the Truth. You will not be able to possess ultimate truth. We are all restricted to some approximation of the truth. You will be in possession only of stories you create from you experience and from your imagination. Come to understand your stories, how they are created, what emotions influence their creation and the purpose of living with these stories. Remain mindful that others tend to cherish their stories as much as you do your own.
*Witness as much as possible. It is only too easy to get attached to some large epiphany. Be careful of this seduction. Much of the time, significant information comes in very small packages. So often, what we are looking for is right in front of us and we don’t see it. Once while taking a ski lesson, the instructor noticed that I was leaning up the hill as a skied. She offered, “you will have more control if you lean into the fear (Down the hill)”
*Decide what deserves your attention. Exercise discernment in order to stay focused on what really matters, letting go of the rest, especially whatever is out of your control. When in doubt, allow your interior world to be the object of your attention, your stories, your emotions, your longings and your needs.
*Allow your conclusions to create new questions. As you do so, you will have the opportunity again and again, to live your questions. Our conclusions cannot capture the essence of ultimate truth. There’s just too much. “And perhaps without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers.” Rilke reminds us that the care expressed by our curiosity opens us to being informed by our lived experience. It is not so much about what we know, as it is how we come to know.