Being an ESL teacher taught me to answer every question – even the ones I didn’t quite know the answer to. I, after all, was the default expert on English and living in America, and experts are always expected to have an answer.
Pranayama has taught me to ask, listen, and experience quiet.
Maybe you had a job like mine, or a 3 year old in your life, or heard a koan and ached to give a logical answer, or were raised in a culture that rewards quick correct answers.
If gets interesting, for people like us, when we don’t answer – when we give space instead.
Because when we know how to listen, the answers are right there – we’re living them all the time.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyph to those inquiries he would put. He acts it as life before he apprehends it as truth.”
Or as Rilke said, “I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
Work with this the next time you’re deep in question in your practice or life by dropping the pronouns, but keeping the question. Sometimes, as Stephen Batchelor writes, all you’re left with is “?”.
The question becomes both smaller and larger than you – less personal and with less pressure to answer – the tightness you didn’t realize you were holding around the question loosens. That space allows for creativity in answer, and intuition a moment to creep in.
In your next asana practice, contemplate what your questions are. Perhaps one of these, or something altogether different:
What motivates my practice?
What is my path of yoga?
Why do I bother stretching my hamstrings?
Then allow it to become a mantra, a koan for your practice – just the question, without answering it. Practice it, live it, and then, perhaps, creativity will seep in with an answer in the most unexpected way.
Thanks for this Jen, especially the Rilke.
Sometimes the speed of life is very confusing and saddening.
Lovely and insightful post, Whitney! I’m always inspired by your blog. Thank you for taking the time to write things down.