At school we learned to start with a question. Even in kindergarten, we worked with "what did you do on the weekend?" In science, we started with the hypothesis and its underlying question "what do I think will happen if...?" Our first steps in essay writing were answering the dreaded essay questions on exams, and later, identifying our own questions as the starting point for essay writing. Every day in every subject, we answered questions: "did you like the book?" "how did the characters show how they felt when...?" "what is the square root of 144?"
My mind is still full of questions and I am learning that the questions we ask ourselves are possibly even more important than the answers. Has anything good ever come from these questions?
Can I get away with this?
Does my bum look big in this?
Can I even be bothered?
My recent retreat was full of questions, as conversations between new friends often are. Our hosts asked us questions to help unravel our stories, and we asked and answered them of ourselves in our journals. We asked each other, and gently held the space for each other to unwind the truth. The beautiful and wise Elizabeth Duvivier was talking about this at Red Fox - how when you ask someone "How are you?" it is too easy for them to brush it off with a quick "fine". She asks a better, more beautiful, more connecting question, "How is your heart?" (as she does in the comments here.) Several of us were touched and inspired by this. I've found that if you ask someone this and they've heard it before, they understand that you want the truth, the story. And if they haven't heard it before, it takes them aback enough to hear your question and answer from the heart. And lovely (and wise too - I am blessed to have so many wise people around me) Sas Petherick reminded us to ask "What feels easiest and kind in this moment?" That one was revolutionary to many of us and continues to work its magic through our circle.
Finding the right question shows up in my life most strongly when I try to declutter. Do I need to keep this? Wow. This one always means I keep all the stuff that might ever come in useful. Do I love this or find it beautiful? As much as I agree with William Morris's guideline to "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful," I get all bogged down in degrees of fondness (and utility for that matter!).
In life more generally, I have suffered at the blunt end of questions such as What should I do? and What can I manage? You get whammed with other people's expectations and unrealistic ideals modelled in the media. What do I want? is just a boggy marsh of contradictions and layers of identity.
At the moment, my magic question is Does this serve me? For me, it cuts through the layers of the other question, and brings its own lens of truth in How does this serve me? It does good work in decluttering, and for me, adds a gently mocking tone if I try and get away with anything silly. Sometimes I need to qualify this: Does this serve me now? or Does this serve my best self? Today, I am applying it to an art class that has been making me feel smaller, not in an inspiring I have so much to learn and this will help way, just smaller and resentful that it is taking me away from artwork I love. Given that I am inspired at the drop of a hat, or a leaf, or a piece of rusty metal; given that I want to learn from every artist that inspires me; given that I am no stranger to pushing myself out of a place of comfort into a place of learning... no, this class does not serve me. If I grant authority to the voices of doubt (you paid for it, you shouldn't let them down, if you were a real artist you'd like it) then I would have given up hours of time, precious evenings and a sense of purpose and inspiration in my own work.
Try applying it to friendships that always leave you feeling drained or activities that seem pointless. If it doesn't serve you, let it go. You'll breathe deeper.
I'd like to hear from you: Do you have a magic question? What can you let go of that is doing you no service?