It came to me one day in meditation. I was struggling to put the finishing touches on a lesson introducing mindfulness to a seventh graders. It had to be perfect. I had to be whole, complete. And then a response arose in my mind, “Teach the questions, not the answers.” Speaking of teachers, the poet David Whyte writes, “If you construct a question that is beautiful, it is something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.” Questions that make us stop and help clarify our dreams, our intentions and our next acts. Author Robert Bly wrote, “Teachers help students remember who they are” by uncovering what is already inside of them and reintroducing them to their passions, their motivations and their wildest dreams.
The mindful questions below don’t have a right answer. They may not even have an answer at all. But they are virtually guaranteed to make the reader stop, reflect and consider – the foundations of mindfulness. They remind us that though we may not be able to control our circumstances or current conditions, we always have a choice. A choice to respond thoughtfully and intentionally instead of react habitually to whatever comes our way. This approach is a radical act of self-care and self-compassion in a culture conditioning us for immediate gratification and multi-tasking.
How do I want to feel?
Well, how do I want to feel? I rarely ask myself this question because I’m too busy trying to get things done! But when I step back and honor my emotions, I often recognize that what I’m doing isn’t necessary and is actually causing me stress. Much of our goal-setting and planning is very accomplishment-oriented. What if instead, we approached it from an emotion orientation?
What is between me and feeling free (happy, at peace, etc.)?
Where shall I start? Overwhelm, responsibility, uncertainty, doubt, fear, anger, frustration, letting go, letting be. Are any of these familiar to you? What I notice is that all of them are inside my head. I may have a frustrating relationship or nagging injury, but it is my minds response to them that holds me back. Simply acknowledging them can create a softening.
What is not between me and feeling free (happy, at peace, etc.)?
Use these responses as a foundation on which to come closer to that feeling of freedom. My passion, my love, my resources and my relationships are not getting in the way of feeling free. What if I offered this love and passion to the part of me that is hurt, scared or doubtful? [salzberg]
What am I doing?
Is it right?
What will I do next?
These three questions were introduced to me by Gretchen Schroeder. I have found them helpful in nearly every situation where I find myself carried away, stressed out or reactive. Yesterday, for example, I had returned from a wonderful vacation to a snowstorm. I was a grouchy pill all day long. Several times throughout the day I stopped and reflected on these questions. And usually I just kept on doing what I was doing. But by 4 pm, I’d finally had enough of myself and decided that next I would try out a bit of Qi Gong (from the wonderful Lee Holden) and what do you know? I started feeling better!
I use these questions when I’m being overbearing with friends or family. They are flexible. Instead of telling me, “stop this right away!” they force me to choose my words and actions. So when the answer to “Is it right?” is “no” over and over again, I eventually choose a course of action that gets me back on the right track. It can be both humbling and humiliating to recognize that I am the problem. But this recognition can be a tool to softening as well.
Does it have heart?
We all have too much to do. Deciding what to next can be so difficult that we often distract ourselves and defer taking the first step on our most important dreams. When my to-do list is 100 things long, I start going through and crossing off anything that doesn’t have heart? This may mean that the home improvements get deferred or I’m eating a pile of wheat thins for dinner, but it helps me reset my compass back to what is most important.
How can I simplify this?
I admit, eight questions in probably isn’t the best place to suggest making things simpler. Its just a question. But as with many of these other questions, it creates a pause where habit can be replaced by wise judgment.
Who will support me on my path?
Maybe it is a running partner or colleague on a project. Maybe it is a friend who knows you inside and out. But resilience is about more than just pushing through obstacles. It is about asking for help and taking care of yourself.
Will it matter when I’m gone?
No? Then don’t do it! This one can yield surprising answers that go beyond the sentimentality of an existential question. It may be that taking on the new job that will take you away from your family for a time may matter because of the security it provides them. Or it may be that this question reorients your expectations and intentions.
There are plenty more questions that we explored in our December retreat, Asking The Beautiful Questions. At Center For Self-Care, we love to support you on your own path of self-discovery. See below for our upcoming programs.
Wednesday, January 10 – Mindful Dads Meeting
Five Wednesdays beginning February 21 – Mindful Tools For Stress Management for Men
Sunday, April 8 – Full Day Mindfulness Retreat (co-ed)