By Freya Secrest
When I was in high school I didn’t like questions. Asking a question felt like showing my ignorance and that made me uncomfortable. My home environment had put more emphasis on finding answers. A good question was one with a specific and defined response that I could produce quickly.
That changed in high school. I remember my 11th grade Government class discussions where the favored question was one that evoked a dialogue. “Good” questions in that classroom were those that moved beyond a specific and obvious answer and invited discussion. I distinctly remember the sense of accomplishment I felt when I finally asked a question that was given the label “a good question.” It generated a dialogue around our experience of a democratic principle rather than an answer memorized from a book.
Then in college I was faced with questions that had no objective answer or goal of dialogue, but aimed to evoke more of an individual subjective reflection. That is when I first was introduced to this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke in his book Letters to a Young Poet:
…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Living into questions – that was a whole new connection that my previous schooling had not really developed. I was intrigued, but it was still just an idea and a bit mysterious. I wasn’t particularly good at asking questions with patience and certainly not good at taking time at that point of my life to live into them, as Rilke suggests.
My ease with questions has grown as I have gotten older. It has become more of a life-long process than I anticipated. I have developed more appreciation for the distinction between the inquiry that a “dialogue” question could help to shape or expand and an “answer-oriented” question which could lead to a solution for an immediate issue. And I have gradually found more ease with taking the time I need to acknowledge my questions and to “live with” them.
What I notice now as a growing point for my questioning is the way in which I am learning to not just “live with” my questions, but to “live into” them in order for an answer to emerge. This process, living into questions, is becoming clearer for me. I have observed the process requires that I am clear about what is true for me currently in a situation and then standing honestly and openly in that place. From there I can let myself be curious about what else is around. This has built a new relationship with questions and it unfolds from a place of curiosity and my own interest in newness, rather than from meeting others’ expectations.
This new connection to questions is helping me to find my way of living the answers. In this connection the focus shifts from a relationship to the question, into testing my relationship with an answer and noticing if it increases a sense of coherence in me. For example, my husband and I have been looking for a new house to be closer to family. In visiting houses for sale, I hold the question, “How does the envisioned image of living in this house and neighborhood feel in my body? Does it bring a sense of openness or hope?” With the understanding that there are many possible responses, this living into a question helps me to recognize and in the end expand my place of ease with what is true and coherent for me.
Also, I am noticing my attention focuses around the connection between the questions themselves and answers that emerge; there is an attitude of possibility that holds them together within a wider field of interest. To really hold a question over time requires me to entertain a spirit of invitation to both question and answer– a spacious field of potential within myself that facilitates something to emerge from their interaction.
At this layer of inquiry, I find I hold more of a frame of “we” rather than “them” or “me”. There is an ecology of question and answer that is made up of all aspects and participants in an issue. I am interested in letting new information emerge both within myself and within another and any answer must somehow include all involved. In the example of my search for a new house this means I am not focused only on the house itself, or my perceived needs. I begin to think of the way I can relate to the world when living in the overall environment of that particular house; the natural world in that location; animal and human neighbors; what I can contribute to the overall ecology; and what I can learn and how that new relationship will shape my activity and my attention. With this I am called to live into the whole ecology of an answer and with the ripples that reverberate (as far as I can see and feel) from that particular configuration. It involves relating to overall facts, to where I can stand and contribute, and to how I can recognize and support other needs and truths in the situation.
This third layer of questioning is the one I am actively exploring in my life right now. Such questions do not shift me away from a responsibility to settle upon an answer and take action;instead they widen the circle of resources and responses I can draw upon. I have come to understand my questions now as invitations that serve to open up possibility for my future. And answers are about discovering the ground I can stand upon to build that future.
Views from the Lorian Community publishes essays from a team of volunteer writers expressing individual experiences of a long term, committed practice of Incarnational Spirituality (and the general principles shaping such a practice.) Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you would like to subscribe, please visit our website and click on Follow Our Blog Via Email. Or email the editor:firstname.lastname@example.org.