For 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?
On 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?