Questions Worth Asking

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms or books written in a foreign tongue. The point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually without noticing it, live your way some distant day in to the answers.
— Rainer Maria Rilke

In my teaching, coaching, and consulting work, I spend a lot of time with questions. My questions. Client questions. Unasked and unanswered questions. Spiritual "meaning of life" questions. Transactional "get the job done" questions. Relational "getting to know you" questions. Easy questions. Hard questions. Rhetorical questions.

In the course of all this questioning, I have noticed that the most powerful questions people ask are those that invoke reflection about what they value. I call these questions valuable questions.

Valuable questions are questions worth asking. They are questions of value that enable us to deepen who and how we are in the world--to grow, to change, to transform ourselves and others. They help us determine what really matters to us and what to do about it.

Who am I? How can I be a better person? What do I want to do with my life? How can I make a living and make a difference in the world? How can I have meaningful relationships with people important to me? Valuable questions invoke reflection on how we value ourselves, our relationships, life conditions, and life pursuits.

They are also overwhelming and hard to answer because they take time. Even worse, valuable questions take personal time, and we are busy. We are a nation of people in a hurry, a culture addicted to well-marketed speed.

This is not a novel observation. We all know it. Full-speed, speed to market. Fast food, fast cars, fast lane. Quick fixes. Rush hour, rush job, feel the rush. Instant coffee, instant gratification. We don't even read anymore; we scan, skim and surf our way through life.

Deep in American life lies a dormant soul, almost obliterated by politicians and media that consider it too lowly and weak for serious attention.
— Thoma Moore

Ours is a culture of pay per view relationships and substitute experiences, a culture that promotes spending more time with television "Friends" than with friends who really care. Most of us experience fifty to one hundred advertisements by nine in the morning. The entire world is at our fingertips--broadcast into our living rooms, our cars, our offices. Television, radio, billboards, snail mail, email, chats, texts, status updates, tweets. Even the spiritual has become commercial as corporations compete to sell us soulfulness.

Any action, even reaction, is often deemed better than inaction--and reflection, particularly self-reflection, is often considered to be the domain of the self-absorbed or people with nothing better to do. Time out is a behavior modification technique for children, and time off, if it's even an option, is regarded as an unwise thing to do. Vacations are available as prescriptions for preventing nervous breakdowns. We barely have time to sleep, let alone time to dream.

We simply don't have time for questions, valuable or otherwise. We want answers--and we want them fast.

What am I going to wear today? Are we on schedule? Why am I doing this job anyway? Where did I put the car keys? Am I a good parent? How much is it going to cost? How am I going to make this payment? Why am I so worried? When will it be finished? Is it my turn to drive the kids? When am I going to get to the grocery store? What am I having for dinner? What's on TV tonight? Where's the remote control? When was the last time we had sex? How much sleep do I really need anyway? Is this what I really want?

My dear, is it true that your mind

Is sometimes like a battering Ram

Running all through the city

Shouting so madly inside and out

About the ten thousand things

That do not matter?
— Hafiz, Out of the Mouths of a Thousand Birds

On any given day, there are so many questions competing for our attention, is it any wonder that we tend to neglect the most valuable for the least time-consuming? Our personal time is in short supply and high demand. Most of us, of necessity, use our personal time to go to the dentist, pick up the dry-cleaning, and buy the groceries. We use personal time to socialize with friends, connect with partners and read to the kids. If we're lucky, we may have time leftover to get to the gym.

In our culture, personal time is any time we spend outside of work, however impersonal, taking care of the rest of our lives, taking care of the people in our lives and--oh yes, taking care of ourselves. That too--and more often than not--that last. After all, personal time for truly personal use should be reserved for crises.

Basically, if we have any personal time at all, we should be shopping, cooking, cleaning, and socializing. We should be doing something--certainly not sitting around by ourselves inquiring about the meaning of life. We have Oprah for that--just turn on the television. Watch a meaningful life.

However, if we want to live meaningful lives, we have to occasionally turn off the television, the cell-phone, and the computer. Leave the laundry for another day. Decline the invitation and stay home.

Whatever it takes, we have to take the time to ask ourselves the questions worth asking--value ourselves enough to ask the valuable questions. We have to get personal with our personal time and inquire into our own experience about what really matters. Refusing to live the questions, we overlook the answers.

We must breathe, reflect, be. Greet the moment with a deep sigh and a full heart. Now, that would be doing something.