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