As a kid, long trips with my family followed a familiar formula. Me or one of my siblings would begin with declarations of "Stay on YOUR side!" or "Stop TOUCHING me!". Ultimately, it would culminate in bellows of "MommmmMMmmMMMM!" and my parents would turn our attention to playing the game Twenty Questions.
I may have been no match to my siblings' hollering, but I could hold my own in a riotous game of Twenty Questions. During my turn, if I thought anyone was on to me, I would creatively change the answer in my mind to avoid losing. It was more important to win than to play fairly. Of course, I always got found out, but that didn't stop me from trying to orchestrate the game to my advantage.
Thankfully, I've given up cheating to win games and I have continued the practice of asking questions. When life throws me a curve ball, when it feels confounding, confusing or painful, my instinct is to ask questions.
Early on, my practice of inquiry began with the word "why ..." Questions like, "Why is this happening to me?", "Why did that person hurt me?", "Why did you do that?!", or "Why can't I seem to change [blank]?"
I discovered that the need to know "why" is an attempt to orchestrate life. Invariably, a line of questioning riddled with "why" leads to frustration, isolation, and not very good answers. There's little clarity to be had in searching for "why?"
In deepening my practice of inquiry over the years, I learned that there's a gift in leaning into a space of "unknowing". In surrendering the need to know, my questions naturally evolved in a way that lead to more insight, understanding, and self-compassion.
Here are some questions I encourage you to practice the next time you're faced with a dilemma.
What if it all works out?
This assumes that there are positive intentions in the situation you're facing. By re-positioning yourself to a place of empowerment, you can see more possibilities as well as options. It also trains your brain to view life from a more positive perspective.
What if I have everything I need?
Sometimes, when life feel hards, our fear bubbles up and takes the lead. From a fearful place, it's easy to assume that we won't have all that we need. This question breaks that habit and supports us in feeling resourceful and abundant— in this feelings space, it is much easier to find insight and meaning.
What prevented me (or you, or this person) from taking [some action]?
By asking this question we invite curiosity which encourages us to turn down our defensiveness. From this place of compassion (for self and other), we can safely assume that every action taken or choice made is done with the best intention in mind. It's unlikely that any of us purposely set out to hurt someone and when it happens (and it will), it's helpful to contemplate what the positive intent was behind not taking a specific action.
How can I benefit from this experience?
Einstein is often quoted as saying, "The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly universe or a hostile universe." This question asks us to assume that we believe that we live in a friendly universe and whatever circumstance we're in is intended for our benefit. Note that it doesn't imply that it will always feel good. Instead, it suggests that everything that happens in life happens for us not to us.
This is one my favorites! It's simple and immediately puts us into the mindset of possibilities and potentials. It's lifts us up from places of discomfort and invites us to lean in to the next adventure.
When life tosses a challenge your way, it's okay to start with the "why" question, but I encourage you to explore some new questions to find meaning.
If Life's Big Questions Leave You Feeling Stuck, I Can Help.
At the Center for Vitality and Balance we work with women to create a client-centered and integrative plan towards well-being and healing for the whole self. Schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation and let me help you discover your best self.