Archive for April, 2003

Live the Questions

“Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart
And try to love the questions themselves
Like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue

Do not seek for the answers that cannot be given
For you would not be able to live them

And the point is to live everything

Live the questions now
And perhaps without knowing it
You will live along some day into the answers”

— Rainer Maria Rilke

As we “spring forward” this weekend and we change the clock, officially marking this seasonal transition, many of us are feeling the uncertainty of personal, local, and global circumstances. One thing that we can count on is the uncertainty of life.

Perhaps one of the best ways we can take care of ourselves throughout the uncertainty that living brings is to stay in the present moment rather than getting caught up in the speculation of what may occur in the future, or ruminating about what has happened in the past. “But how do we do this amidst the challenges that face us each day?,” you might ask? How do we respond to all of the worries that arise?

Lewis Richmond states in his book, Work as a Spiritual Practice, “Worry is the mind’s way of trying to deal with a fear, to explain it, verbalize it, define it, and organize it, so the fear is not so shapeless and menacing. Worry can be exhausting and destructive. But it can also be creative. Which one it will be depends on our attitude toward it and how we use it. In the same sense that fear is courage in the making, worry is wisdom in the making. It seems to threaten us, but it is also trying to help us. … Worry helps. Worry lets us know what is important.”

Lew makes the observation that “worry manifests itself as a question.” Therefore, to deal with worry, we can work with the question. Here are four steps Lew suggests for doing that:

1. Raise the Question: Ask yourself, “What is the question?”
“Construct a simple declarative sentence that states, as simply as possible, what the question is.”

2. Repeat the Question: “Whenever it occurs to you, repeat that phrase to yourself.”
Just the simple exercise of verbalizing the question can have a significant impact. The worst kind of worry is the inarticulate kind. Giving shape to our fear, giving it verbal form, can help.”

3. Follow the Question: “It means remembering the question and bringing it repeatedly back into consciousness … not obsessively, but attentively.”
If it transforms, then let it become the new question and follow it. Sometimes the question becomes a statement or becomes shorter, even compressing itself overtime into a single word. “Over time, the question takes on a life of its own. It moves under, around, and through your life, looking for a way through.”

4. Settle the Question:
“Either the question resolves itself into some kind of answer or else it subsides and dies away. If an answer comes, that’s good! But if the question dies away, if over time you forget about it, that’s all right too. Then the energy of the question gets put away, stored as though in a desk drawer, until the time comes for it to reemerge in another form.”

Engaging this practice, Lew suggests that we can “use the question as a digging tool, to excavate something buried within.” “The questioning spirit says, ‘I will stay with this question regardless of whether an answer ever comes. This question, for now is my life.’”

For more details about this and related practices, I recommend Lew’s book:
Work as a Spiritual Practice, Lewis Richmond, Broadway Books: NY (1999)


April 3, 2003 at 2:50 pm 2 comments


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Julie Forbes, Ph.D.

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