Questions in Spiritual Practice

“When we become aware of a questioning within ourselves, it is a searching for something deeper and more expansive. The question is always pointing to that truth we are resisting and wanting at the same time.” 

~ Charisse Lyons

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Consider your relationship with asking questions and how it evolved.  For many of us, as children, the impulse to learn, question, find out, investigate, go after an understanding with tenacity was squelched very young with shaming and ridicule.

And now as an adult how often has something been said in a conversation that you did not understand, and you just pretended you do understand?  How hard is it to say, “I don’t understand what you are saying, could you please clarify?” How hard is it to acknowledge, “I don’t know.” How ambivalent do you now feel about asking a question, revealing your unknowing, taking the risk in a group, or even formulating what question to ask? What ego resistance kicks in. – the little voice that says, “be careful, you are going to sound stupid. You are going to be shamed…” Your ambivalence itself is defense.

Every external way of behaving reflects an internal dynamic of relationship. If you do not ask questions, or are afraid of asking questions then this is the internal dynamic of shutting your knowing about yourself down too.  It is dangerous to ask questions because it might take you into the uncharted inner territory of feelings, needs, beliefs – all of which bring pain in awareness.  Better to numb the question, numb the nudge of emotion and need.  Or we seek outer teachings and solutions to the unfelt and unknown inner pain and call this enlightened, when in fact it is just another layer of defense to mask and blanket the inner pain.

Asking questions requires the spiritual quality of humility and tenacity. It requires the courage of saying, “I don’t know.” “I don’t understand.” “I want to know more deeply.” Humility is the quality of facing the shame inherent in the unknowing. To know demands the capacity to say, “I don’t know.”

There is so much shame in learning and growing, that we have an intense ambivalence or even aversion to asking questions and actually getting awareness– especially publicly. And so we project our devaluing on to the one who teaches, and expect that the process of facing the shame of ignorance to be integral to of spiritual practice.  Or we project our ideal self on to the teacher and never claim our knowing for ourselves, and so  bypassing the hard inner work.

How many people have been lead astray by gurus, teachers, priests, authority figures,  because they had lost their inner capacity to pay attention to their deep inner knowing? How many swallowed the cool-aid because they never asked questions?

Can you ask the questions and match the answers with your own inner knowing – or do you not even know, because you never face the inner questioning. Alternatively, how many have turned their backs on teachings that were accurate because it challenged the defenses that protect them from actually knowing the truth within?  Either way, nothing is being learned and there is no growth. In either case you are still living in the unrecognized split of devaluing and idealizing within your own soul.

Can you learn to challenge and question your own assumptions, thoughts, beliefs, values, needs, feelings, ideas, socialized norms, and be open to expansion, change and death of the old?  Can you agree to be “wrong,” so that you can learn something new? This is possible if there is no judgement of younger ways of experiencing and understanding the world. Without judgment we happily move on to a higher level of understanding and knowing, just like learning to read in grade school.  We do not judge that we started with Dick and Jane and it took a while to get to understand and read Shakespeare.  Can you learn to love, honor and cherish your questioning as the way to new freedoms, vaster expanses and see this as a grand adventure. 

“Questioning is always correct. Ambivalence is a defense. Accept both without judgement.”

~Lyndall Johnson

You Should Know Better

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Yes, indeed, you should know better than to say, “I should know better.” This kind of self-recrimination is not enfolding experience in clarity and love. It is to live in the past experience in a repetitive and destructive cycle. No doubt teachers and parents said this at some stage in frustration and anger and now this is the internalized perpetrator, victimizing you. There is no way out of this until you wake up and observe the karmic cycle of misery you are creating and decide to be present to victim and perpetrator with insight, which is a lot different to meaningless judgments and self hatred. Begin to ask yourself, “Where is the observer of my inner dynamic?” Why have I abdicated responsibility for my life?  If I were to witness this dynamic external to myself what feelings would I have? What actions would I want to take? What change would I like to see happen? What power do I have to change this? How would I mediate the situation with love for both? How have I learned to berate myself as a precaution against someone else doing it first? Is there secondary gain in denigrating myself? Have you considered how arrogant it is to judge yourself – wouldn’t you think that if someone else were to judge you, that it would be pretty arrogant?

Honor Thy Father and Mother

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You cannot honor someone you do not see clearly with all their strengths and shortcomings, love and hatred, functionality and dysfunction, imperfections and perfections. Truly learning to honor your father and mother is to clearly recognize how they fell short of being loving and whole in relationship, the hurt it caused and the effects of your life. It is not honoring to uphold some fantasy and idealized version, because you are honoring untruth, honoring an illusion, but not honoring your parents.

The work is to examine the ways in which you were hurt or neglected and then to turn inwards and embrace this hurt with the love you did not get. If you can do this for yourself, which is to take responsibility for your own life, you set them free of responsibility and blame, without living in denial, and you start seeing the way in which you have become your parent internally in relationship to yourself and externally in compliance or rebellion to what you received. When you can see how this happened to you, you will be able to see how this happened to them. When you can love and accept both the victim and perpetrator within yourself, you will be able to love and accept them too. Not what they did, but who they are. Because they are you and you are them. To be perfectly clear, honor also includes limit setting with ongoing disrespect and abuse, which may well be the loving thing for you – and so by extension them too.  Limit setting done in respect and love for self, is also love and respect for the other.

“Clarity is not when the feeling is gone – it is when we know what was then, and how to make it different in the present by enfolding the experience in loving observation. What was then is the same as what is now (in other words, the past is the present) unless you bring your loving witness to it. The mere act of observation in love, will change the Now and so undo the past and change the trajectory of the future.”                                                    ~Lyndall Johnson