Lately, 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.