“You can ask better questions than that...”
I started reading Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferris recently. It was a christmas gift that did not fail to deliver, even in the first two pages. (Also, why are all Tim Ferris books the size of a shoe box? It’s like he wants to build a house with his own books. It doubles as a step ladder in my house. Dude needs to learn about the trilogy structure, break that stuff up a bit... The Fellowship of the Mentors...? The Two Towering Mentors? The Return of the... Other Mentor? I don’t know...)
Anyway, in the introduction he was talking about the power of questions, and that one of his favorite questions is “what would this look like if it were easy?” (“This” being whatever the problem is at the moment.) And he goes on to say that we frequently make things harder than they need to be and assume there must be difficulty and challenge in anything worthwhile. “Pain is always in season if you go shopping for it.”
That’s a great question - and if the “this” is really well described, it’s a really powerful question.
A question well asked, is half-answered. That’s a slight perversion of Charles Kettering’s “A problem well stated is a problem half solved.” When we take pains to get our questions to be very specific and accurate, they begin to answer themselves.
I thought I understood that well, but recently I got a very different take on what kind of question would be helpful for me right now.
I was attending a Shaman Circle in San Francisco (my love, Anna Dorian of Vibrant Reiki, offers an outstanding monthly shamanic journey experience, and I’ll put a link in the comments below) where the journey suggested was to speak to the sentience of the new year and ask for guidance.
If you’ve never done a shamanic journey, by the way, I highly recommend it. It is an amazing way to get a very different source of information involved in your decision making. My first shamanic journey (which I did somewhat skeptically), involved being silently invited into the jungle by a large cat, who indicated I should crouch down behind a bush. I did. Through the leaves I saw an ibex or an antelope or something come walking along munching as it went. It passed by, and the cat turned to me and said “Improper hiding.”
Then he turned his attention back to the path on the other side of the bush, and another ibex or something came by, munching away. He immediately leapt out and tore its throat out. Laying blood soaked on its body, he looked me dead in the eye and said, “Proper hiding.”
That blew me away. Definitely not something I expected or even made sense to me as it was happening, but it felt profound and relevant. I had been hiding in my life at the time, and feeling like a coward because of it. What I took from that is there is nothing wrong with hiding, just do it right and for the right reason. Also that I am powerful and that hiding has nothing to do with a creature’s strength or ability. It either has utility, or it doesn’t. I realized my hiding had no utility. So I stopped and found out I was just as powerful as that cat.
For this journey I very carefully formulated my question. As Ferris says “If you want heartache and confusion ask a vague question.” So I had a really great one, very specific. I intended to ask “What can I do, what actions can I take, to best be in flow with my intentions and goals.” I was very proud of that question. When I asked that question, what I got was... you guessed it:
“For one thing, you can ask better questions than that.”
Also, “Instead of asking ‘how can I align my actions with my goals and intentions?’, ask ‘what intentions and goals can I have that I can be in alignment with?’”
That might seem like a small difference, but it occurred to me thinking about it, that there are a range of goals and intentions that I am already in alignment with. One of them is sitting around doing as little as I can. But many of them aren’t! And most of those are way more gratifying than sitting around on my arse doing nothing.
I’ve been going about this goal setting thing backwards, and I think we often do. I presume my job is to figure out what the right goal is. I come up with a goal I think I’m supposed to have, or one that I think would make me happy (how many times have you gotten what you thought would make you happy only to find out... it didn’t make you happy?), then I try to wrench my behavior around into making them happen.
Very often I find parts of me resisting this...
But what if, and stay with me for a moment here, instead of assuming there is one thing I’m supposed to do and one thing that will make me happy and I have to figure it out - and it will be hard... I look for all those things that feel easy and interesting and exciting and healthy to do.... And then sort through those, seeing which ones might produce results I’m interested in having.
I think that’s where real courage comes in. It takes courage to accept what we are, what we find gratifying and how what is meaningful and right for us is different than all the stories we’re told and assume about what those things are supposed to be. Who we are supposed to be.
Sometimes the difficult thing about getting what we want, is admitting what it is.
I think Dolly Parton put it best... “Find out who you are... then do it on purpose.”
I’m curious... for you - what would it look like if that were easy?