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Posing an Open and Generous Question

The following quote by Rainier Maria Rilke — from Letters to a Young Poet — is never far from my mind.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer.”

It reminds me to pay attention to the “big questions” I ask myself because they help shape the course of my life.

If I want a life-giving answer, I’d better ask a life-giving question, because “some distant day” I may find that I’ve lived my way into an answer — for better or for worse! A question like “How can I get even with those who have wronged me?” creates a very different life-path than “How can I best serve the needs I see around me?” or “How can I more fully enjoy the beauty of the natural world?”

A few years ago, as I entered my 70s, I began pondering a question I thought of as a good one: “What do I want to let go of, and what do I want to hang onto?”

But the more I “lived into” that question, the more uneasy I felt about it. So I asked a few friends to help me explore my uneasiness. By the end of that session, my question had morphed into something better: “What do I want to let go of, and what do I want to give myself to?”

“What do I want to hang onto?” is a clingy question, with a whiff of desperation about it. But “What do I want to give myself to?” is an open and generous question. That question has taken me into places where I have found new life, and I’m grateful.

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