The essential questions at the heart of our lives

Still-Life_620wLately, I keep bumping up against that old saw, The older I get, the less I know. I have more questions than answers, and while it is an invitation to humility and surrender, I find myself getting frustrated too. Looking for signs and affirmations that I am on the right track. And suspecting that the signs are everywhere, if only I would notice them. Sometimes I think maybe the questions themselves are the sign.

I recently heard Ricardo Semler speaking on NPR’s TED Radio Hour. In 1980, he took over his father’s company, Semco, and redesigned it to be a corporate democracy, where people design their own jobs, define pay levels, and select and evaluate their supervisors. During his 2014 TED talk, Semler recounts his discovery of the power of asking “Three whys in a row” to access deeper wisdom.

The first Why? you always have a good answer for. Then the second Why? starts getting difficult. By the third Why? you realize that, in fact, you really don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing.

As fond as I am of the question Why, it can become a habit that crowds out other kinds of questions, even essential ones. The Buddhist teacher Cynthia Jurs speaks of the question at the heart of your life. It is such an integral part of you that it becomes a prayer, an offering and a promise. Maybe it’s so deeply embedded that it’s not even conscious. She became aware of her question while trekking in the Himalayas on her way to meet a 106-year-old Tibetan lama living in a cave.

What can we do to bring healing and protection to the earth?

The sage advised her to fill Earth Treasure Vases with prayers and bury them in the ground in the most environmentally and politically troubled places on earth. Not a particularly rational project, but one that she has pursued for the last twenty years with surprising results in places like the South Pacific, Asia, Africa, and the drought-stricken southwestern United States.

I love the idea of inquiry into the question at the center of my life, so I tried journaling about it. Here are a few questions that came out as I went deeper into it.

What can I do to paint a vivid and compelling picture of how we could live, if we recognized our true nature and Interbeing with all of Life?

Why are we here and what can we do to celebrate and love our home and each other?

Who are we and why are we here?

I like that Cynthia Kurs’ question carries within it implicit action. As natural as it is for me to ask Why, it seems to fall a bit short in the what-to-do-next department. Not that there’s any need to judge or rank these questions that seem to come with us pre-installed. As Ricardo Semler discovered, the deeper we go into these questions, the more wisdom is revealed.

Today I feel a need to remind myself that I can offer up my whole life as a prayer, even as I worry that I am doing it all wrong, that I am squandering this one precious chance to honor my Creator by going off on tangents and indulging in self-doubt and pity. By confusing myself with ambition and denying the reassurance of contentment in the moment. I am both learning to trust and disappointed in myself that it doesn’t come more easily. And so it is with impatience that I catch myself saying I am doing my best and that is enough.

2 thoughts on “The essential questions at the heart of our lives

  1. I am so in sync with you, sister! Sitting here writing right now about the fundamental questions of my service in this world and my dance between trust and what-to-do-next, trust and a deep thirst for clarity that isn’t being quenched.

    When we went out into the living earth on Saturday afternoon during the retreat, I had spent time in a pine grove and defined my visit as one of appreciating beauty with my senses, but lacking conversation with the other-than-human world. During that time with the pines I had had two visits from blue jays — a favorite bird since childhood — but I dismissed them in the context of communication. At home on Friday, after meditating on abundance to ease my continual worries on having vocation meet income, I immediately heard the call of the blue jay, and there he or she was, right outside the window! So, I went to my book Animal Speak to learn more, as clearly there were messages to be had. And the words I read blew me away! They spoke so perfectly to who I have been these past years and what I am longing to become.

    Among the wisdom I read was that the blue jay is about the proper use of power. The blue jay is a totem that can move between both heaven and earth and tap the primal energies at either level. It went on to say, and this was what resonated so deeply with me, “The main problem will be in dabbling in both worlds, rather than becoming a true master of both…Those with a jay as a totem usually have a tremendous amount of ability, but it can be scattered or it is often not developed any more than is necessary to get by. It is not unusual to find individuals with blue jays as totems being dabblers – especially in the psychic and metaphysical field.” That’s me, the scattered dabbler with great potential! The one who knows both heaven and earth, but doesn’t spend enough time going deep enough into either. The blue jay totem stresses the importance of dedication, responsibility and committed development in all things in the physical and the spiritual, to follow through on all things – to not start something and then leave it dangling. It also said, “The blue jay reflects that a time of greater resourcefulness and adaptability is about to unfold. You are going to have ample opportunities to develop and use your abilities. The jay does not usually migrate, staying around all winter, so look for there to be ample time to develop and use your energies to access new levels. The jay is fearless, and it is because of this that it can help you to connect with the deepest mysteries of the earth and the greatest of the heaven…If the jay has flown into your life, it indicates that you are moving into a time where you can begin to develop the innate royalty that is within you, or simply be a pretender to the throne. It all depends on you.”

    Powerful words that left me with questions as to what directions to go. Dance? Writing? Prayer? Meditation? Retreats? Creator of rituals? Where do I put my energies and keep them there long enough to go beyond the surface? And then your post came along. And it resonated right with the moment.

    It doesn’t come easy. There is so much mystery in the unfolding and it is hard to know where to put one’s attention and energy. But the blue jay restored my faith that I am not alone in this unfolding, and neither are you, dear Julie. Here’s to the questions and the places they take us as we unfold from day to day.

  2. Wow, Lisa! This is amazing on so many levels. I have been hearing the jays calling to each other all morning, but setting that aside — I (unusually for me) asked for a sign this morning that I am on the right path (whatever that even means). So far, I’ve noticed at least three signs, this one being the third. Whew! Careful what you wish for!

    This dabbling could totally be describing me, too. A good reminder to take care and finish what I start.

    There go those jays again. . . .

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