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