Right Questions

Sansaku: Right Questions


We’re an odd species. We ask questions and tell stories.   Asking better questions and telling better stories is what science, art and life is all about. What really matters? What’s most important? How do I find the answer? Rilke says live the question.

There’s crappy questions too. How can I screw you before you screw me? Are we predators or prey? And what do those better angels of our nature have to say?

David Whyte says there’s a conversational nature to reality. That works for me. He also says the dialogue is the relationship. It’s why, “Didn’t we have that discussion already?” is such a painful question.

I don’t know why “right questions” isn’t one of Buddha’s noble eight right ways to find the path? I’m going to assume it’s how we answer all of them. What’s right view, aspiration, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration?

Do we ask in the here and now? How about reflecting on the past?

I thought Irma had good manners and didn’t talk badly about others behind their backs. That was my level of development, not hers. Others thought she lacked shadow and was caught in the web of denial. That was theirs. I understand her better now.

I asked questions. Do you have much shame? She thought long and hard and when she didn’t answer, I asked a different question. How about guilt? She quickly said, “Not really. I don’t tend to do things that cause for guilt.” When told she was idealistic, Irma didn’t argue, but would say, “I’m also practical and realistic.” I had to ask. She said love was its own reward. She meant it. “Just because George doesn’t know, doesn’t mean I should be any less loving, does it?”

She asked questions too, but mostly of herself.

Because she held to her ideals, she didn’t feel victimized, traumatized or betrayed. She should have been massively wounded by life, but wasn’t. Even as a very old woman she had those same ideals.

Of course, I’m idealizing her and want to. I know the real woman and don’t deny her. Her extremes hold together.

When Dian Fossey was asked how she could get so close and learn so much about gorillas, she had an easy answer. “I don’t carry a gun.” Neither predator nor prey, the better angels of our nature.

Most of us need greatness, which is what Mandela said South Africa needed if they as a nation were to heal from generations of trauma, violence, and shame. He was idealistic, just like Irma, and showed just how practical and real it could be.

He asked those better questions and answered by living them.

The source of our various delusions is symbolized by the samsara cycle. We’re caught on the wheel of trying to get what we want and avoid what we don’t. Call it delusional, it makes sense to me. But I’m what the Buddhist psychologists call a delusional type, a confused lover. It’s my nature.

I read a passage this morning in a journal I wrote forty years ago. I knew back then I had a utopian bent to my character, and it could make me a moody pain-in-the-ass when things were more real than ideal. I struggled like hell with the problem.

How can the ideal be the real and the real the ideal? It’s like a Zen riddle. How do you go straight to the heart of a nonlinear question?









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