Someone once observed that you learn more by the questions you ask than by the answers you give. Call it Socratic learning, if you will, but I find that asking questions of myself helps keep me on track. Here are ten I ask regularly.
- What am I resisting? The seeds of growth lie in your resistance to what is new, unfamiliar, or unpleasant. All too often, the very things we resist most are the things that force us to grow the most. So, be attentive to those subtle gut-tightening signals that hint of an opportunity for learning
- What is the lesson here? There's a second step that is needed to reinforce the insight gained by asking the first question. In order to really benefit, we have to actually seek out the lesson, demonstrate that we really want to hear, and be willing to follow the often-subtle guidance that comes.
- Have I been here before? Often our most pressing issues are thinly disguised versions of problems we've failed to solve in the past. Different names and faces maybe, but the same underneath, destined not to go away until we meet and resolve them once and for all. If your answer to this question is, yes, then maybe it's time to get to the bottom of the issue and solve it!
- Am I losing energy to this?
We pay a price for every negative thought we entertain, and it's measured in decreased energy, heightened depression, reduced immune function, and sometimes serious illness. Although you may believe otherwise, we have to reach the place where anger, frustration, worry, and criticism have no place in our experience. Until we do, we are losing energy, diluting our focus, and rendering ourselves vulnerable.
- Am I holding on to something I need to let go of?
One of the most difficult tasks of this life consists in letting go-of our attachments, of ego, of our need to be right, and ultimately, of this life. You cannot fly unless you are willing to relinquish your firm footing on earth; flying requires that sort of faith, and commitment. The surprising thing is that, when we really let go, we begin to grow.
- Am I in the present?
Every moment you spend regretting the past or worrying about the future is a moment of the present, lost. Yes, we need to complete the past, wind up our unfinished business, and be attentive to trends that portend of future events, but we can take action only in the present. So, that's where your full attention needs to be, and staying in the present is a full time job.
- What do I need to do now?
To act or not to act, that is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to take action against a sea of troubles and so by doing, prolong them, or to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous inaction and so gain clarity. (Shakespeare would sue for what I've done to Hamlet's timeless prose) Put the question differently: is there a NEED for action now? Often, we act because we're afraid that, if we don't, things will get worse. The truth is that deliberate inaction is action, and it is often a way to allow a cloudy situation to become clear.
- Who's in control here?
True or false?: It's important to be in control of your life. Control can be a big issue for some people, especially if they feel they don't have it. So, granted, it's perfectly reasonable to want to feel in control. Letting go of the past, staying in the present, and taking action (including no action) are all ways to develop a sense that you are in control. But, let me suggest that there is a step beyond control. It is to recognize that, ultimately, you are NOT in control-that you are always subject to a higher authority. Paradoxically, this recognition and your acknowledgement of it can free you from the need to always be IN control.
- What is my responsibility here?
Have you noticed how some people have a need to involve others in their problems? If it's your boss, your significant other, or your child, it's normal to conclude that your have to do something. But, that something doesn't mean becoming part of the problem! Your responsibility, in this case, is to maintain a level of detachment that will enable you to see the situation clearly, and this clarity pertains not only to the solution, but to the extent that you should be involved in the problem in the first place.
- Am I at peace with this?
Do you know when you're at peace with something? Chances are, it's when you can look at an issue, person, or problem and feel no charge, no subtle or sudden surge of emotion. But peace is something more. It's about balance, an inner certainty that you are untouched by it, him, or her. The peace-check is a key element in gaining closure, in ascertaining that the situation is complete.
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