Abiding Questions

Every Sunday morning, my dad and I use iChat to have a video-conference.  He calls it ‘having breakfast together.’  (I think of it as our “Jetson Family Moment.”)

Last Sunday, as I sipped my coffee and jiggled the headset connection, Dad said, “I’ve got to figure out what I really want to do.”

It stopped me cold.

My dad is 80 years old; and his question was exactly the question I’ve been asking myself.  In fact, only 5 minutes before the call I had written (with some desperation) in my journal, “What do I want to spend my days doing?”

Apparently, “What do I want to do with my life?” is a question that abides without ever ‘settling to sleep inside an answer.’** This thought might feel hopeless at first – but it is actually freeing if you give it the chance.

Is Planning Happiness Even Possible?

Truthfully, how could you ever know what you are going to want in the future?  I thought I really wanted a highly-paid, Big Law-Firm career.  I went out and got it; and, once I had it, I found that I did not want it after all.  Mine is not an isolated experience. Dan Gilbert writes in his book “Stumbling on Happiness” about how lousy we all are at predicting what will make us happy.

“What do I want to do?” looks for an answer where there never can be one of any certainty or durability.  We can draw conclusions and hope that we’ll like the result – a roll of the dice – or, we can stop striving for answers and try instead to ‘live the questions.’

Instead of asking, “What do I want to do?” I ask, “How do I want to be? What is pushing me along at the moment?  Is it what I want to have pushing me?”  Instead of “What should I do to live up to my best potential?”  I ask, “In the past, when I felt strongest and most in-tune with my occupation, what were the key ingredients of the work and experience?”

Shifting my focus from answer to question has been a huge relief.  I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately, telling myself that I’m doing too much, sinking in a rising tide of anxiety and self-recrimination.  Now, instead of trying to conquer my dread and worry, I’m taking a look at what I’m doing and exploring the possibilities raised by these questions:

Is That Your Final Answer?

Asking questions tempts me to rely on my left-cerebral hemisphere – that analytical powerhouse that we have been taught is our savior and safe-keeper. The left-brain lives to resolve everything into a final answer. To counter-act that temptation, I like to call on my right-cerebral hemisphere as much as possible.* This week, I tried mind-mapping the concept: My Best Potential.

Here’s what I did:

While holding the thought, “My Best Potential,” I flipped through old art magazines and nature calendars, cutting out images that struck my fancy.  Then, I taped the images in the center of a 18” X 24” piece of newsprint.  I sat a looked at the images without trying to figure anything out; then I quickly wrote impressions of the images, associations that sprang to mind, to memory and to my imagination.

Whenever I caught myself looking for an answer to what it all meant (“what does this tell me I should build/do/create”) I stopped and looked again.  I noticed my emotional responses. I looked for those key ingredients to being my best self and for what might trigger my willingness, energy, endurance, perseverance.

It’s The Path

Dad says, “It isn’t the destination, it’s the path.  Enjoy the process. Use your best self in the moment.” There is no final answer. What a relief.

I’m letting the questions and the wonder(ing) illuminate my path so that I can choose whole-heartedly at each step of the way.  Big choices, little choices — if all are made by the light of my heart’s truth, then I’ll be living my own, true life (not imitating or striving for someone else’s ideal).

**“Great questions never settle to sleep inside answers.  The question can open and come alive at any point, . . . .” — John O’Donohue, The Poetics of Possibility (Dublin Centre for the Study of the Platonic Tradition, 2007) back

5 comments to Abiding Questions

  • I love the use of imagery with Mind-Mapping … it seems a hybrid of the collage-access-to-right-brain … and the mapping … but less mess (glue & scissors), and therefore an easier tool to use.

  • Gayle

    I really, really love reading your posts. There are always insights, nuggets I tuck away for more thought and great quotes.

  • admin

    Thanks Gayle. It means a lot to me to know that these are being read and enjoyed. XOX Lindaa

  • Way cool to read what you’ve been up to young lady… I remember you from our last life. Nice to see you are in CA… If you and the old man want to come up to the Sierra Foothills we could give you back the guest room nights you so kindly gave us dozens of years ago. Hugs, Barry (Annie and Zed, too!)

  • admin

    Wow! Barry! Great to hear from you. Don’t know how I missed this comment for so long. Foothills of the Sierra? Are you in the snow these days? We will definitely have to get together very soon.

    Warmly,
    Lindaa

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