Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Favourite Question

When I was young I wanted to know why. I wanted to know why good people sometimes do what they know is wrong, why innocent children sometimes suffer, why God allowed bad things to happen to good people. I had a thousand why-questions about social injustice, personal suffering and divine intervention. Some of those questions were addressed with an increased understanding of human nature, socio-economic and political systems, and free will.

But mostly, it became clear that there would rarely be a fully satisfying answer to “Why?” when it came to knowing all of the possible causes and deeper reasons for human suffering. As a young woman reading Man’s Search For Meaning by holocaust survivor Viktor Frank, I let go of my attachment to knowing “Why?” and moved toward asking “What?”

And I was filled with what-questions: What is the world and life asking of me? What do I really want? What does another need or want? What is my responsibility for and to others? What are the deepest desires of the soul?

Over the years, working with students and clients, I realized that we share a commonality in the essence of what we want and what life asks of us. Beyond survival needs, we all want to love and be loved, to belong, to contribute, to express who we are, to have inner and outer peace. And life asks all of us to show up fully each day, to keep our hearts open to ourselves and others, to consciously co-create and receive the world, the day, and each other.

Of course we each have to work out how we individually live these essential answers to what-questions, which is brings me to the quesiton I live: How?

If I want peace within, I have to ask myself- How would I know if I had it? How would peace look, or taste? How would it feel to wake up at peace, to go to bed at peace, to greet others in my day with peace? How is that different from what I sometimes experience now?

And these how-questions lead to others: How do we cultivate these qualities of inner and outer life? This is where the spiritual rubber hits the road. Not many would dispute the merits of peace or compassion or love- but how do we cultivate these qualities individually and collectively in our daily lives while also providing for ourselves and those who depend upon us? How can we cultivate peace where there may be pain, or poverty, or injustice within or around us?

“How?” is the question I ask myself repeatedly throughout my day. When someone says, “It’s all about unity and love,” I ask myself (or them) “How do you live that, cultivate that awareness when someone threatens your child's well-being, or takes your job, or tells you you’re to blame for the illness you have?”

How do we live awake and aware when we are tired or overworked or distracted? Sometimes, the quest for “awareness” starts simply by asking, “How?” And sometimes the answer is as simple as, “Get a good night’s sleep.” (Because it is very hard to be present or at peace or compassionate when you are exhausted.)

Every day, we live in the details of the way in which we answer a thousand how-questions with our actions: how we eat, sleep, move, meet; how we spend our time, money, energy and hearts; how we treat ourselves and others; how we walk on the earth. Our answers to how-questions are the thousands of small and large choices we make every day, they are the means by which we move toward or away from what we long for in our deepest moments.

How we live shapes our inner lives and the world we co-create.

“How?” is my favourite question.

Oriah (c) 2011


  1. Beautiful! Helps me to remember how I want to move through my days...

    In a previous post (I don't remember which one) you ask - How do we want to experience life? How do we want to move through life? I love these questions too. And then you also say - through living closer to the Sacred within -opening to the joy of simply being - paying attention to the inner signals... This is my "How" as well... This is how I want to walk the earth... But - most days I feel like I'm so entangled in the details that I lose that sense of awake awareness. And so for me I must spend a lot of time in stillness and silence - listening to the inner voice.

    Thank you for the lovely reminders... Christine

  2. This was really helpful Oriah. I love the practical approach.
    "How" for me means a good night's sleep; a relatively clean and organised home and fridge; time alone and also some light eye-make-up. The latter is for when I catch sight of myself in the rear-view mirror. I do a few hour's driving a day. I look tired and washed out without a bit of make-up. I am philosophically opposed to the "need" for make-up, but it does change how I feel about myself and hence my mood and day, so I wear some for the greater good :-) It seems small and trite and embarrassing to admit, but such small things add up to feeling a bit more on top of things and this has a trickle down/out effect on how others experience me.
    Tracking down such small practicals details on what makes a difference to me and what helps me to remain calm and compassionate is something which you have helped me to do. Thank you for this.
    I don't wish to sound sicophantic, but what you wrote (in The Dance I think? and pardon my paraphrasing) about finding the people, places and things which help you to dance/be intune really resonated with me. This practical advice was invaluable to me in bridging the gap between my private mental spiritual world and how to manifest this in my day-to-day living.

    I wish you knew how much I look forward to Wednesdays and getting my fix from you :-)


  3. Siobhra, wearing a little make-up for the common good- now that made me smile :-) and yes, I can see how that may be so. So long as it does no harm I say, do whatever works. How we feel about ourselves profoundly effects how we are able to be with others. Thank you for your honest sharing- very helpful :-)

  4. Dear Oriah, I understand your questions and questioning. But now your 'How?' slightly scares me.
    Sometimes there is no 'How?', no paths, no tools , no raw material. There is no goal to reach with a 'How?'. No corner to turn, no change to make, no thing.
    For me there is increasingly frequently just an 'Is' and a 'Will be'of which I am just a part. This may sound a bit fatalistic but the time and space of now, into which I keep being catapulted, keep driving me back into a questionless corner.
    ( Hope this doesn't sound too random! I just found myself responding in a not very thoughtful way)
    With love.

  5. Jeanlu, I think you're right- sometimes there is no "how" for two possible reasons- either what we want is beyond our control or we do not want anything to be different from how it is in this moment.

    As to the first, for example, How do you make another love you? You don't. But even in these instances I find a "How?" question- as in- How do you live fully, knowing that another does not love you? How do you live with emotional pain without sinking down in to despair? How do you allow the despair without drowing? And to these questions I always find some kind of answer arises. Sometimes it is a simply reminder to "Breathe." Sometimes it is clarity about how to care for myself today.

    And yes, there is a place where no question arises at all- and ah, what a gift of grace that is. But it is not a goal or an achievement as much as a blessing that comes and goes in a human life. Enjoy when it comes- this place of being without questions :-)

  6. Hi Oriah, This is is another beautiful post!! This is the real issue; how to ground our spiritual beliefs in our every day life; how to stay centered when it feels like we are swimming upstream; how to assert our needs, our children's needs, the needs of the planet without becoming angry, frustrated or cynical. I feel like I have spent two decades trying to find that sweet spot where I work passionately for an issue I care about without becoming attached to the outcome. With love. Kp

  7. Kp, yes, that would be the challenge- to work for needed change with open hearts and minds without attachment to results. Not easy- but a worthy practise :-)