“If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power.” ~ Pema Chödrön
I’m a question-asker, without a doubt. The trickier, the more seemingly unanswerable the question, the more I like digging into it.
Some questions are great riddles to be solved, and some are just huge fans of trapping you in a cycle of re-questioning that can drive you mad.
I’ve tried doodling a visualization of this: I drew two concentric circles, side by side. I was in one of them with my various layers of thought processes, and my questions, with their myriad layers, were in the other.
I was trying to get to the “essence” of me and of my questions, and failed. There also appeared to be no way to get these two circles to overlap.
How could I possibly answer the questions from within my own little cage-circle, when the objects of my questions existed in another? I could not for the life of me find a way to build a bridge from one to the other. Yet they were both coming from “me!” Oh, the riddle.
It took me a long time to begin realizing that some questions aren’t meant to be answered, at least in the ways we are accustomed to, that you can’t get at the meaning of life the way you can add two and two and that our minds (and egos) specialize in the art of confusing us. Thus began a long journey to climb out of this system of closed circles, and into a practice that helps you shift focus. (Hint: get out of your head! Find your way through the heart!)
Still, the questions come back, so recently, I sat down to engage with them more closely for the first time in awhile. I wrote down the ones that plague me the most or the most often, because I can’t seem to shake them, or find answers to them, or know how to stop thinking about them.
Sometimes I don’t have these questions, and these are great, if transient moments of peace and contentment.
Then the questions come back:
1: Why am I always seeking—why are we driven to seek rather than just be content with what we have?
2: Why do I often feel I am falling?
3. Why am I afraid of falling (what’s the worst that can happen)?
4: Why do I always feel there must be something more to all of this?
5: Why do I feel that happiness can only be found elsewhere?
6: Why do I have so many questions that seem to have no answers, and where do they come from?
7: What is the nature of nostalgia, that floods me with feelings that have no object?
8: Why do things feel more broken than whole?
9: Why do I feel lonely?
10: Why do familiar things feel strange after some time?
Pema Chödrön reminds us that so many of our questions can be traced to fear. Fears can be intentional (they can be of or about something), of course, but fear can also be nebulous, formless and all-pervasive.
I love the idea that she alludes to so brilliantly here, that we can’t and shouldn’t stop ourselves from having questions (can we stop being human?), but that we can make decisions not to engage with what lies behind them.
Fear keeps us from connecting with others, and keeps us from our own happiness.
When I feel fear creeping in, and dragging my questions along with it, I found these words of Pema Chödrön’s so inspiring, and would like to share them in the hope that they can be of benefit:
“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear. ”
~ When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
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Editor: Catherine Monkman