Answering the Big Questions Through the Small Ones
The smallest questions have the power to bring you back to your true self
Posted Apr 15, 2014
In his 1982 song “think too much” singer Paul Simon debated whether he overthinks things, or perhaps does not think nearly enough. In the first verse of the song he says:
“I started to think too much
When I was twelve going on thirteen”
Do you remember this age, when you started to think about the big questions?
“What was I put on this earth to do? Who am I, really? What is the meaning of all life? Could there be any meaning at all, if our planet is only a tiny speck of dust? If God is not up in the sky, then where is he? Are we alone in the universe? What happens after you die?”
These could be considered to be the most fundamental questions in human life, or the most meaningless, depending on your perspective. If you knew today with certainty that there’s intelligent life on a different planet, if new research would show that each galaxy is, in fact, a living organism, if scientists proved that your soul remains immortal in some form of energy – would you live any differently than you do today? Would you be any happier, more fulfilled, or satisfied with your life?
The (fictional) ancient alien civilization in Douglas Adams’ book “The Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy” discovered the hard way that the big questions are often irrelevant. They sought to find “the meaning of life, the universe and everything”, and built a super-computer called Deep Thought that worked for seven million years to find the answer. When the computer finally finished, its response was “42”. As meaningless as the question was.
As children, our big questions were very different. They were the smallest questions that we ask today in our adult life: “what is this ant carrying? Would it really be long before it becomes summer? Why does my teacher have freckles on her arms? What does lemon ice-cream taste like?“ If today you substituted your adult big questions, with new, “small questions”, is it possible that they would answer your big questions for you, or make them redundant? And what would your small questions be? Perhaps you would wonder what your child’s hair smells like when you kiss her good night, or what your father is thinking about right now, or how it feels like to be in love again. Whatever your small questions are, they have the power to bring you back to your true self. To rediscover your inner child who was naturally curious and amazed by the small things, but also believed that anything is possible, however grand.
Towards the end of his song, continuing to debate whether he thinks too much, Paul Simon describes what happens when you stop thinking, and abandon the big questions:
“Have you ever experienced a period of grace
When your brain just takes a seat behind your face?
And the world begins The Elephant Dance”
In modern life, this state of being that he describes, where the mind is quiet and thinking is “turned off” could be extremely hard to obtain. But ignorance truly is bliss. Not because you choose to be oblivious or shallow, but because you choose experiencing over thinking. When you let your brain take a seat behind your face, and let the world do its dance, the answers immediately arrive. Even the big ones.