Sunday, February 3, 2013

Loving the Question Mark

Ever since I began my juicy love affair with Rainer Maria Rilke, I have loved his advice about seeking answers.

He wrote, "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 now 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 then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." 

I had an affinity for these words long before I understood exactly how one could love the questions and let go of the answers. That process has been a very rich and continuous journey for me. As with many valuable lessons, I seem to have learned them most vividly during the times that seemed most difficult. To be able to hold a question in its own space without constricting around the answers is a beautiful thing.

Can you taste the question? Feel its texture? Find where it resides in your body? Can you breathe the question? Can you open up to it. Can you do all these things without searching for the answer? Without expecting the answer?  

I'd like to add to Rilke's words, actually. Maybe you will not live along into the answer. Maybe the answer will never come. I think this is very important to consider. It takes away from our experience when we are waiting for a particular result. It's like a yoga class during which the teacher is constantly saying, for every posture, "If you keep doing this, eventually, one day, your nose will be touching your toes, your spine will be perfect, you'll be able to wrap your elbows around your shoulders while standing on your head...." So is that really going to help you be in the posture, where you are, now? Now when your nose is more like at your belly button and the prospect of it touching the floor is pretty daunting. Answers can be daunting too. And distracting. 

To try and experience the question as a question is amazing. To hold it there and relax around it is liberating. Suddenly, it's okay to not know. It is. It is totally okay to not know. Who says we have to know? And how much knowing is just to fill up the space? How much knowing lacks a genuine quality?

So this weekend, I attended a program entitled "Who Are You?". Isn't this sort of the ultimate question? Our teacher gave the analogy of how we walk around as exclamation points all the time. I am a writer! I am a woman! I am an American! I am a Buddhist! I am... whatever. Why don't we walk around as question marks? So the teachings revolved around opening up to that question mark. 

Over the past six months, I have felt a greater opening of my own sense of self in many ways. Mostly sparked by losses on many levels, I found my own idea of who I was becoming even more shaky. And I found myself actually being grateful for that. How liberating not to have to maintain some particular identity. How liberating to invite a curiosity into my own sense of who I am. 

I stumbled upon this quote the other night, from Chogyam Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism:
"You do not constantly have to manage yourself. You must disown rather than attempt to maintain control, trust yourself rather than check yourself. The more you try to check yourself, the greater the possibility of interrupting the natural play and growth of the situation." 

Don't our labels and identities for ourselves turn into a way of managing and monitoring? Am I acting like the yogi that I claim to be? If I am a professional, I can't do this. As a woman, I should be conducting myself in this way. Rather than trusting in our experience and our transience, we fixate on some mode of being or doing. And so, can we let go? I dance, but I don't have to identify as a dancer in every moment. I am a woman, but that doesn't matter on some levels. 

So who are you? Can you open up into the question?


Court Anonymous said...

Indeed, I have so often fallen into the trap of trying to live up to my words, rather than let the words catch up to me--or, better, to not concern myself so strongly with the marriage of words and reality. I can hardly help it: I love words, and want to believe they are magical, capable of containing reality.

But when I tell myself, "I am the wise, aloof guru," while getting dunk and singing karaoke; when I tell myself, "I am a friend to this person," while taking painful action against him in my own interest; when I tell myself, "I am strong of will and can be trusted to perform my duty in the face of temptation," while absolutely giving in to every pleasure "this time," I become at first a caricature of myself, and soon not myself at all.

I do walk around as an exclamation mark (or rather, in my humility, and in my faux-humility, as a simple period--but with conviction! Even my period is an relation mark), and even now when I've proven all I say to be false, even when my heart contains only questions, I have merely been looking for new exclamations to be.

I don't want to become comfortable where I am. I don't want to know this place as happiness. I WANT to be the exclamation mark again. (It's who I was, who I AM goddammit!) And yet I know.

I know I have only become the exclamation mark when I have been absolutely happy with who I was. The exclamation mark is not the reality, it is the downfall.
I know the question is the life I lead--I refuse to live any other life, don't I?
I know I've learned this lesson before, multiple times, and with greater cost and pain each time.
I know what you say here is right.

Thank you.

Leslie said...

So eloquently put. And I like how you explain it as becoming a caricature of oneself. It is like the shell is so full of expectation, that the being almost pales in comparison. Though I wouldn't go so far as to say the exclamation mark is the downfall (really it's just an experience), I would say it's interesting to see when we are using these punctuation marks as roadmaps for living, and when we are actually living.

Another thing is that the really fascinating part to me, is how when I first began to accept this idea of not attaching to an identity, I immediately attached to this idea of being the searcher, the inquirer, or the seeker. We can equally attach to the exclamation point of being a question mark. See where it goes? Slippery slope.

Gentoku McCree said...

I think that there is an an exception and an important one to this idea and that is the power of intention. We all too often accept exclamation marks without any real depth of investigation. Identities are very fluid something I have learned again and again.

Vow on the other hand can be a firm anchor in this realm of flux. It can be a north star as this impermanent sea shifts under us.

The more I see through my identity the firmer my vows become, because my vows came from a place below the thinking mind.

As my teacher would say, "We take our lives seriously and our selves lightly." It's a balance we have to strike lest we fall into the void of nihilism that can threaten as we let go of our idea of the self.

Nice post, Toku

Leslie said...

I think your point about tending toward nihilism is very important. Once we have understood the fluid nature of self, we still have to live in the world. We sometimes must be "the writer" or "the teacher" or "the business executive".
It is important to be able to move in and out of these concepts. To use them when needed, but not attach.
I think the same is true for vows. We cannot create this identity of "I am the vow taker" because then our vows become less genuine. Our actions are inspired by a label instead of a pure intention.
I find that living a vow is something that occurs in each moment. In each moment, I vow again to come back to the present. In each moment I vow to do no harm. It is a constant renewal of intention, which makes it much more authentic than vowing something once and then fastidiously living out the concept of that vow.
I don't think vow is actually one of those exclamation points- the solidifying self- it is more organic.