The best way to find the answers we need most...
“Is all of this just a bad dream...?”
My dear friend’s words punctured the balloon of breath she had been holding while bracing for her daily dose of disturbing news. Her inadvertent inquiry escaped on the bluster of an exasperated sigh. She pulled her earbuds out of her ears just as the NPR theme song faded into another update regarding the state of our national politics, global pandemic, and atmospheric pandemonium of this particular period in time. She may not have meant to externalize her inner response to what has been happening around our world right now, but she had not been the only one to do so. The disheartening sentiment of bafflement seems to be widely shared—and has been voiced locally, nationally, globally. We are certainly in an unprecedented era where confusion tends to abound.
As her words whispered in the winds around us, I realized how seductive, how instinctual, how—frankly—neurobiological it was to answer an open query. We human beings, equipped with the incredible gift of consciousness, are hardwired to answer the questions we posit. For all of us who have ever begged or bemoaned some iteration of: “Why does this always happen to me?!” or, “why can’t I ever just get what I want?!” or, “why can’t I ever find an honest guy/have a job I love/lose weight, etc...?!” most of us have experienced our brain responding with, “Oh! She must want a list! Here are all the reasons why you don’t deserve to receive what you desire: you missed the boat/you didn’t go to the right school/you don’t have the skills for your dream job/your whole family is big-boned therefore you’ll never be happy with your body,/your not smart enough/pretty enough/driven enough, blah blah blah” etc. Our very neurology is innately circuited to answer the questions we ask. It’s anthropological.
Our oldest, most primal portion of our brain, the paleo cortex, is built to recognize patterns. It is also built to recognize disturbances in those patterns—for example, alerting our fight or flight reflex to a saber toothed tiger skulking in the brush. Our innate neurology is what has allowed our species to survive for millennia. We are dogged in our hypothesizing, problem recognition and solution discovery. If you want proof of this, just take a moment and look around your immediate environment for all things RED. Make a mental list as your eyes search the space around you for everything that is cherry red, fire-engine red, ripe-apple red.
Now close your eyes.
And list everything around your room that is...BLUE.
Wait, whaaat? I bet you found it difficult to answer a question different from that with which we primed our brain’s search engine, wasn’t it?
WE FIND WHAT WE SEEK.
We put our life on alert to look out for the answers to the questions that we ask.
So, perhaps now it is the time to ask deliberate questions. Questions that lead to more productive, better feeling, profoundly inspiring answers we shall inherently, naturally and automatically seek.
In catching sporadic snippets of the news over the last few months, I have noticed my own impulses to throw out pleas to the universe in apocalyptic fury akin to, “is this all just a bad dream?!” And yet, the answers to those types of questions almost never feel good. Our natural inclination to gather evidentiary proof for whatever we postulate will start to stack...regardless of its positive or negative charge. Instead of priming ourselves to answer our life’s questions with all of the reasons we canNOT do something, or don’t deserve to have what we want; instead of prodding ourselves to list all of the details that make our present reality a ‘bad dream,’ what if we, instead, asked things like, “what is the vital information that this situation is offering?” “What lessons can we take from this situation to improve our own life, and that of those around us?” “What is the best thing about this particular situation?” “What is the most important thing that I have learned to improve during this time?” “How has this situation inspired me to change my life for the better...right now?”
It may seem simple, it may sound trite, but WE ABSOLUTELY ANSWER THE QUESTIONS WE ASK.
If we know that the crises in our world are calling for soothing, for ingenuity, for repair and revitalization, then what questions can we ask to allow critical, creative, and capacious answers to come forth...?
The quality of our individual and collective experiences are determined by the quality of questions we ask. And, the world needs what all of our lives have to answer...