Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Loving The Questions

I've decided to focus on the questions this year. The "answers" (which often get shaped into New Year's Resolutions) – as useful as they sometimes can be- are often too general to be helpful in daily decision-making or too specific for application to continually changing conditions within and around us.

Moving toward questions comes in part from reading my journals from this time last year. I see there what I feel now: the desire and resolve to write, to complete both a novel and a non-fiction book I've partially written. Oh, it’s not that no progress has been made, but they are both far from finished and, despite my genuine desire to write daily, I often find myself doing other things.

So, the first questions I sit with are: Do I really want to write? Is it something I feel called to do? Am I prompted by a deep inner impetus, or is it something I think I “should” do?

What pops up most of the time when I sit with these questions is a soul-resounding desire to write.

And that leads me to new questions: How can I structure my days to provide the best possible opportunity to do this writing? What supports this desire and what undermines and distracts from acting in alignment with this desire? How can I know if I am being distracted from writing or simply taking care of other things that truly need my attention?

The way I answer those questions today will probably change in a few weeks or months, given the things that can unpredictably change- my health, family needs, economic responsibilities etc.

None of the questions I've chosen are "Why?" questions. It’s not that I never reflect on "Why?"- as in "Why am I not writing as much as I want to?" or "Why did I agree to this event even though I know it will leave me too tired to write?" Contemplating "Why?" has lead to some insights into old patterns and beliefs that undermine acting on my soul desire to write. But, questions that begin with "How. . ." are generally more useful for determining real present-moment choices.

So, in my daily practice this year, one of the questions I will ask is: How can I do some of the writing that calls to me, today? As other things arise that need tending, my question becomes: How can I take care of this in a way that still allows time and energy for the writing I need to do? When options I value are available- for recreation, socializing, participation in my community culturally or politically- the question becomes: Does this serve the writing I desire to do? (Because some forms of "play" and participation definitely deepen and inspire creative work, but others. . . . not so much!)

German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” 

May we each come to know and love our own indivdual and collective questions for this year, letting them lead us gently into a deeper level of being and creating, alone and together.

Oriah (c) 2013


  1. New year resolutions are all well and good. You set yourself a goal in the hope that you will solve a problem and feel better. We have all done it.

    This year I am going to ask questions, all sorts of questions. I will put questions out there and feel sure I will get answers.

    We live in an age of fast communication but sometimes we gain more by not getting an immediate response. Sometimes it is the asking of the question, sometimes it is the waiting and sometimes it is the listening the shapes us.

    My resolution for 2013 is to ask questions, wait and listen.

  2. When I stopped working outside the home a few years ago, one of the first things I did was make lists and schedules. I am very good at making lists/schedules. I set up a daily and weekly schedule and then made a list of enjoyable or creative things I wanted to do. The beginning of that first year difficult circumstances destroyed all my organization and I lived one moment at a time. I lost the desire or energy to enjoy a lot of things or to be creative.
    It has taken me several years to discover that I need the lists and schedules but not the old ones. Things have changed, I have mellowed, been reshaped. Finding meaning in my life has shifted, priorites have been more clearly defined. I think we all need some structure to our lives but our needs continue to change.
    I know that writing your blog every week and being active on facebook and other electronic communication options, all take time. However, I think that in the process of offering these things you are also being nurished by the community on facebook, etc. Perhaps this community has even helped offer insights into your writing. It is a mutual means of blessings.
    So I pray that you can find a balance between the private writing time you need and the sharing and connection you have with the community that you have established.BrendaP

    1. Brenda, "I need the lists and schedules but not the old ones"- yes, that would be the trick: finding the structure that holds the space for us without becoming rigid. I find that writing a weekly blog keeps my fingers on the keyboard even in weeks where many other things need tending- so will continue :-)

  3. Lovely... and great wisdom for how to approach the New Year. I love the Rilke quote, particularly when she says "do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them." We always want to run before we've learned how to walk. 2013 will be the year I practice 'living the questions.' Happy New Year Oriah :)

  4. I'm a new writer and just went through the self-publishing process for the first time. So, I'm not as experienced but what I've observed for me is to be authentic and tell my story.

    I love the quote you included by the German poet:
    " live along some day into the distant answer." -- and
    "To be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart..."

    Those are 2 key points I got from your post and it was an inspiration.

    Maybe you can give me some tips on how to start a book. I have a project this year to write another e-book but haven't written any long manuscripts. Like you mentioned daily life has its own agenda and time gets away from us so quickly.

    Thank you again for your reflections and hope you're having a Happy New Year!

    1. Pat, well at the risk of sounding blatantly self-promotional. . . (but you did ask) I want to mention a book I wrote about doing our creative work (starting, keeping at it, keeping inspired, finishing projects etc.) It is called "What We Ache For: Creativity and the Unfolding of Your Soul" and was published by HarperONE, San Franciso. :-)

  5. Dear Oriah,

    The sound of your "Why" questions resonate with me. You are writing your books. I am writing my doctoral papers. How can I do some of the writing that calls me? I will live the questions as Rilke suggests,for the answers will come, for they are there. I will be patient with myself and all that is unresolved in my heart.

    I will keep my doctoral train on the right track.
    The finish line is two years away. I see you writing your two books and I will be cheering for you until they are published.

    Thanks for your weekly posting. The words of Rilke some how touch me softly and lovingly when I need it most.

  6. I love this blog entry. Over the past few months, I have been ruthlessly cutting out extraneous activities that could interfere with my own creative pursuits. I think we need to exercise a bit of creative selfishness now and then. I don't have the time to pursue my creative impulses--but I am MAKING the time ;}. As women we tend to want to please everyone except ourselves.

  7. Beautiful quote, although Rilke wasn't German. He was born in Prague, Bohemia (what is now the Czech Republic).

    1. He was a Bohemian-Austrian born in what indeed is now the Czech Repulic. He is most often presented as a German poet because his poetry was written in German. Thanks for adding this detail.

  8. The key for me has been to ask the questions and then have the courage to live without force; not try to coerce the answer I want but to wait for true manifestation. I also like to throw myself out in the world when I have questions, meet strangers and observe nature; which have been two of my greatest teachers. Most times, sitting in my quiet space is just not conducive to getting answers and I just love it when my answers come through my helping someone else find theirs and most times it is a complete stranger.