By now you must be wondering why we’d choose to fill our minds with questions when so many people these days just want answers to guide and simplify their lives. There’s certainly no shortage of places claiming to have it all figured out.
Books, blogs, websites, gurus…each offer a uniquely branded promise to help you achieve what you most desire. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, many can provide clarity, inspiration, and support. The sheer number of options, however, left me feeling overwhelmed. With all the different (and often conflicting) advice out there, how could I know which course of action was right for me?
Turns out, it’s not anyone else’s answers, but the questions themselves, which have the power to transform our experience. These inquiries, even ridiculously simple ones, allow us the possibility of seeing ourselves and our world, in an entirely new light.
Consider this excerpt from a 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
~ from This is Water by David Foster Wallace.
How often have you found yourself stressed from managing the minute details of your daily life, while missing the bigger problem–which is that you’re actually dissatisfied with the limited choices laid out in front of you?
Modern societal norms and expectations provide us with a set of defaults that may not fully represent our values. If you live your life without ever questioning your assumptions, your priorities, your dreams, or even your faith, how can you be sure these fundamentals really resonate with who you are?
Fortunately, each of us is capable of setting aside these programmed impulses in order to create a more meaningful life–one built upon decisions with emotional resonance for your Highest Self.
In some cases, you may find questioning your beliefs leads you to discover that your default answers are true for you. This can be equally as affirming, however, since now those truths have increased significance to direct your journey through life. Once you understand and embody their wisdom, your smallest actions will ring with purpose.
Questioning our life requires us to develop our own motivations instead of relying on societal or family expectations. This is a brave step to undertake, since in some situations questions can be perceived as morally wrong, lacking in faith, or betraying one’s cultural heritage. There may be intense pressure to conform to society’s presumptions of how we “should” be living.
Think about all the cultural norms you might have grappled with in your life thus far: earning a college degree, finding a job with the best salary, getting married, having kids, or buying the biggest house you could afford. The pressure to choose what other people expect of you can feel intense, even when it’s only subtly or unconsciously present in our relationships.
While there are plenty of “rules” that serve us by creating safe, respectful communities, others may limit us from becoming who we are meant to be. Our fear of being ridiculed or ostracized is real and deeply ingrained. Belonging is more than just fitting in to our social groups, though. First and foremost, we must question how we want to live, so that we can become and belong to ourselves.
Sometimes those who seek to break away from the expected path wind up labeled as “selfish” or “disrespectful.” The problem with equating one’s moral goodness with fulfilling the expectations of others is that it can create serious internal conflicts, and lead us places that don’t serve us or those whom we love.
When I started asking myself questions about what I valued and believed, I decided to make a break from trying to please other people with my choices. Now I subscribe to the idea that true goodness occurs when we strive to achieve our full potential. I truly believe a person’s ideal life can manifest in a diversity of forms.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Howard Thurman
One of the reasons for why simple queries possess the ability to transform our lives is that they linger long after they are asked…reverberating through our subconscious for days, weeks, or sometimes months. Questions swirl at the edge of conscious thought, and can shape your life in powerful ways. They might reveal themselves as changes in your physical experience, unexpected thoughts drifting through your mind, or the subtle whispers of inner longing.
I urge you to try this experiment…
Set aside ten minutes when you won’t be disturbed, and find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Inside, outside, eyes open or closed, it’s your choice. Just make sure there are no distractions–no screens, no music, no one who needs your attention.
Then ask yourself the following question:
Perhaps your experience will be different, but for me, the silence that followed was one of the most exquisitely painful moments of my life.
Yet it was absolutely transformative.
I’m asking you not to shy away from the discomfort, but to embrace it. Because on the other side of the question lies peace, acceptance, and growth.
And we can get there together.