Why bother asking the big questions in life (“What brings meaning and purpose?” or “What is a good life?”), since these questions have already been tackled by philosophers of old?
The main issue is not just having the answers, but the willingness to ask the questions, and sit with the ambiguity, patiently waiting, and using questions as an arrow to guide towards what matters most.
Everyone needs to ask the big questions. Because each person’s answers are not only different, the road that leads there needs to be traveled and discovered; it’s a pilgrimage.
No point reaching the end of your holiday destination without having traveled through the new places.
Since moving to Australia in 2010, I could never wrap my head around the social convention of asking each other “how are you?”
I took the question too seriously at first, and I soon realised I didn’t really need to contemplate the meaning of life as all I needed to say was “Fine thank you. And how are you?”
I think I’m getting the hang of it. I’m accepting that it’s really a hello or a G’day.
But 9 years later, I rethinking the “how are you’s.” Here’s what I think we should do to this social convention:
We should ask ourselves, on a daily basis, “How are you?”
And then patiently wait for a full-bodied felt response.
We don’t check in with ourselves enough. Most days, we are bustling around getting from one place to another, nailing down one task to another, from home care to schoolcare to the workforce. Meanwhile, we neglect to listen to our bodies.
Our mind is there to take care of the mind and the body. This is not just about being self-aware, because you can self-aware and still fail to ask fully embrace this beautiful question of “how are you.”
Hint: Like a call-and-response, if you ask this question to yourself and let it ring through from the top of your head to your pinky toes—and give yourself time—you might find yourself automatically letting out a sigh. That’s a good sign.
“The GPS never gets mad at me… It just says, ‘recalculating.’ No matter how many times I don’t make that turn, the tone of the voice stays the same.”
Instead of being rigid and demanding of what we expect of life, perhaps our approach to parenting, relationships, and work should be have an improvisational quality of recalculating, recalibrating, or re-routing, and being openly responsive to what life presents.
The real challenge perhaps is how to stay unfrazzled.
Here lies a paradox: while we hold steady to pursue or goals and maintain our focus, we must continually let our expectations die. When we learn to let go of our demands of life, then maybe we can encounter life; the opening to live.
Daily, we must recalculate. And let the tone of our voice be fiercely gentle.
Note to self: Remember this when my kids don’t do what I tell them to do.
“The lesson here is that there is no fix. There is, however, forgiveness. To forgive yourselves and others constantly is necessary. Not only is everyone screwed up, but everyone screws up.”
~Annie Lamott, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope.
My spiritual director the late Fr Claude Barreteau, MEP once told me a story about a man who repeatedly climbed a hill every week to arrive a small chapel where he made his confession to a priest. He felt bad that he had been doing so for such a long time, and seemed to make the same mistake. On the exterior, it looks like this person hasn’t learned.
But I suspect Fr Claude’s story speaks to the business of forgiveness, which is a daily affair.
Today, out of sheer frustration, I yelled at my daughter. She burst into tears. She was inconsolable. Maybe Mom would come and sooth her. I was rendered helpless. I chastised her for being rude in the first place. She cries even louder. Mom’s not coming.
Then, in exasperation and lack of ingenuity, I realised I scared her. I sat down on the floor and I said, “I’m sorry. I messed up. My loud voice must have scared you. I’m gonna try better again the next time…”
She stopped crying. She looked at me. I brought her close. Meanwhile, in my mind, I was resisting even ounce of my being to correct her faults. There’s another time for that.
For now, “will you forgive me” is enough.
We need to climb up that hill and come to our senses that “everyone is screwed up… and everyone screws up,” and come back down again.