How To Ask A Beautiful Question

question heartFor me, the guiding question “Does it have heart?” is most resonant of the beautiful questions. I can’t remember the last time my to-do list had fewer than 15 things I just needed to do ASAP. They won’t all get done. There are different ways to prioritize them: easiest to hardest, smallest to biggest, etc. But the method that most enlivens me is asking “Does it have heart?” to guide my next act. I must admit, this occasionally leads to sticky situations including unanswered emails or too much dirty laundry. But when the question reminds me to put away the cell phone and connect more deeply with my family, it serves me well.

David Whyte writes (lightly paraphrased), “if we are able to construct a question that is beautiful, it will stay with us for the rest of our lives.” Deep and open-ended questions lead us to connect with that which gives us meaning and purpose. Whyte has compiled a list of 10 Questions That Have No Right To Go Away. They include:

What can I be wholehearted about? Am I harvesting this year’s season of my life? Can I be quiet, even inside? Am I too inflexible in my relationship to time? How can I drink from the deep well of things as they are? Can I live a courageous life?


20171202_120322On December 2, Your Mindful Coach, in cooperation with Center for Self-Care, hosted Asking The Beautiful Questions: A Mindfulness Workshop. The retreat was inspired by the work of Jonathan Foust and other teachers.

The questions we ask harness “the one who knows“, that unconditioned self that is absolute inside of each of us. Foust describes the dance of intuition  between “who you are, fully human, full of doubts and fears and anxiety and pettiness and need to control; and who you are free of anxiety, who you are free of fear.”

To find this place, we can begin with empowering questions. Questions that shift our mindset and open us to possibility. We began with the four questions as described by Foust:

  • What do you love about this life?
  • What gives you energy?
  • What about this life enlivens you?
  • What would happen if you did more of that?

Another approach is to engage with our lived experience. Noticing and allowing what is arising and passing. One way to practice is with this guided meditation from Josh:

Asking open-ended questions can support us in clarifying our next steps. Accessing our passions, our motivations and our heart. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, offers a strategy based on questions for accomplishing what we want to do. Too often, we set goals without clear plans for achieving them. We get blocked by obstacles or procrastinate. Ferriss turns the goal setting process on its head by offering Fear Setting.

Here are Tim’s questions when faced with a problem, issue, situation or upcoming decision:

Define → What’s the worst thing that could happen?
Prevent → What could you do to prevent this from happening?
Repair → What could you do to correct it if and when it happens?

What might the benefits of an attempt or a partial success be?

If I avoid this action or decision & decisions like it, what will my life look like in 6, 12, 36 months?

The point is not to masterfully and fully answer these questions but instead to see what arises. When I last undertook this exercise, I used an example of a business opportunity I’m pursuing. Asking “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” elicited the response, “It might not work” and “I could be embarrassed“. As I felt into those worst cases, I felt a softening and a loosening because those weren’t actually all that bad when I investigated them. I did, however, consider the “repair” question to better plan for an adverse outcome and how I would respond.

In the talk below, Foust describes the non-dual, non-conceptual mindstates that become accessible to us as we come to presence and ask these beautiful questions. We move out of our “doing” and spend more time “being.” For many of us, the tasks of our work require judging, analyzing, comparing, debating. But that isn’t always the best way to discover peace and equanimity.

I have found questions to be helpful in the heat of the moment as well. When I am under stress and feel like shouting, screaming, arguing or even running away, I use the following questions to reset, pause and approach with a thoughtful response:

What am I doing?
Is it right?
What will I do next?

There are countless questions that open our mind. What resonates for you? What will you do next?

 

 

The Most Important Job

Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg declares, “They say that the healing is in the returning. Not in never having wandered to begin with.”

The most important job is to begin again.

In mindfulness meditation, a core practice is returning your attention when it becomes lost. You may find yourself lost in thought. And that is okay. The point isn’t to perfect your meditation or empty your mind. Instead, it is to return over and over, no matter how far your mind has traveled or how long it has wandered from the present moment. We use our breath, our body, our senses to gently guide us back to now, the only moment that there really is.

Its simple but not easy. I regularly find myself in meditation ruts, barely making it into the chair each day. Sitting for a few minutes and then bailing out. At these times, I remind myself to begin again simply. I abandon the elaborate practices I’ve been forcing myself to do and move to a single instruction: “Just put your body there.” I may find myself sitting in a car, lying in bed or walking to class. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I just begin again.

Science tells us that meditation cultivates brain neuroplasticity. We can literally rewire our brain through intentional practice. Building new pathways in our brain that support positive habits. Jonathan Foust writes, “The neurons that fire together wire together.” This is one reason why consistent practice is so important. We are literally restructuring our brain.

Beginning again doesn’t just apply to meditation. The same thing is true in life. Routines and habits become ingrained and unconscious. But you can “teach an old dog new tricks.” Contrary to previous understandings, we now know that the brain is constantly growing and changing.

How do we begin again? Start before you’re ready. Start now, while you are reading this sentence. Begin again. Allow yourself to breath deeply. Lower your standards and let go of expectations. After all, the practice is in returning. So naturally, any new plan, system or resolution is going to run into trouble. The work will be to return, adjust, to begin again. This form of beginning again is a radical type of self-care. Recognizing our human fallibility and resetting our course.


0a56b8fecb83dfaf375fdef4ae677ca9--the-circle-circle-of-lifeIt seems a good time to consider beginning again as the weather starts to change and students return to school. For me, one new beginning is the launch of a business partnership focused on self-care. We begin next week with the formal announcement and new programming focused on men and dads. After several years practicing and teaching, now is a perfect time to begin again by investigating my passion, my experience and my calling. The experience of being a man has resonated for me and deepened my practice as I’ve joined in fellowship with groups of men this summer. I look forward to sharing many wonderful stories this fall.


Programs Coming this fall

Men’s Programs
 
These men’s group offer a safe, comfortable atmosphere to join in fellowship while sharing our universal stories and connections.
 

Mindful Men Meeting First Thursday each month beginning September 7, 7:30-8:45pm. Practice and discussion to support a regular mindfulness practice.

camp-fire1Men Sitting By A Fire Third Thursday each month beginning September 21, 7:30-9:00pm. Inquiry-based discussion group focused on male identity, roles and responsibility.
Bravery & Courage Retreat Friday, November 3 at 7pm to Sunday, November 5 at noon. Men’s residential mindfulness retreat for beginner and experienced participants.
General Programs
 
Meditation for Beginners: Cultivating The Heart Sept 25, Oct 3 (Tues), Nov 27 & Dec 4, 7:30-8:45pm. Instruction to support focus, calm and life balance through meditation.