Who am I?
What is my purpose?
What do I desire?
What is the meaning of this?
Should I have the red or the white?
The sea bass or the steak?
Questions. We answer probably a hundred a day (triple that if you live with a seven-year-old) and ask dozens more. This kind of inquiry is part of our life. But usually, we’re focused solely on finding the answers. We pursue outcomes, seldom stopping to think about the questions themselves.
Yet it is the questions we ask that make us unique, not the answers. The questions that determine the kind of life we’ll lead.
Here’s why: when you ask a question, your brain fires off a bunch of neurons to find answers, seek patterns, take in data and make decisions. It is wired to seek and find solutions. So, the second a question is posed, the brain starts sorting through a rolodex of relevant information in search of the answers. It flips through memories and emotions, visual cues and explicit memory.
If it doesn’t find what it is looking for, it often comes up with something anyhow – “I’m pretty sure I ordered the steak,” or “I guess I didn’t get the job because I’m not very good.” It doesn’t necessarily matter if the answer is true because the brain will pull from patterns and associations, memories, past emotional references, to try and make sense of it all.
Ask Good Questions
Notice then, what happens if you ask a negative question: Why am I so stupid? How could have I gotten myself into this mess? Why am I so fat? Why am I a failure? Why doesn’t he love me?
You’ll get plenty of negative answers. And these answers will help you establish limiting beliefs. From those beliefs you’ll create a slew of negative behaviors – many of them unconsciously -- and instead of creating the life you desire, you’ll get a bunch of experiences you’d rather not be having.
Of course you can’t blame your brain. It’s just doing its job, setting off on a journey of discovery based on the questions you asked. So, if you ask “Why am I so stupid?” Your brain is going to get a long list of all the stupid things you’ve ever done, as well as a litany of moments when you felt belittled and stupid.
Change the Questions, Change Your Life
Notice then what happens if you reframe the question. If you ask what it is you really want to know.
For example, instead of saying: “Why am I not successful?” “You may ask: “What can I do today to become more successful?” And, feel your brain and behavior moving to the launch pad.
Instead of asking “Why am I so fat? “ which is geared to give you plenty of answers like “well, er, because you ate the whole pizza, dummy.” Ask: “What can I do to create optimal health?” Then, pay attention to the answers that show up.
Feel how much more productive and useful and active this line of questioning is?
Instead of asking “Why does he not love me?” Ask “How can I become a more loving person?”
Contemplation is the Seed of Spiritual Growth
For many, the art of asking questions is part of a contemplative practice.
Contemplation is a spiritual practice that has been used for centuries to tease out information and personal insights that can only arrive when we get quiet, align with our spirit or inner voice, and become aware.
It works like this: you settle down for a time of planned quiet. Then, you pose a question aloud or silently. At this point, some people journal their thoughts or impressions. Others sit silently and mindfully and notice the thoughts coming in and out. When you get quiet, and ponder a question for which there may be no obvious, logical answers, profound insight or awareness can occur. Epiphanies, even. Or there can be nothing at all. Sometimes it can take months for the answers to reveal themselves, but the practice develops our awareness.
You can do this throughout your day, simply by pausing long enough to contemplate what you truly want to know. Then, ask a specific question, and pay attention.
Answers may reveal themselves in the weeks or months to come through impressions or synchronicities, or through a deep sense of knowing. Or they may burrow into your brain in such a clear way that it feels as though you’ve known the answers all along.
Contemplation then is really about living with the question.
When we send our brains off in search of answers it’s bound to come back with something. By giving clear thought to the questions you ask, you are making sure the information it brings back is data you can use to create a positive experience.
Portions of this post originally appeared on www.imperfectspirituality.com