Asking the Questions



If you, over the course of several years and maybe a lifetime, ask yourself the question what am I doing? over and over and over, ask your journal, the trees, the fields, best friends, random dogs, the cat, the candles, the oracles, (maybe god,) your family, what am I doing, what am I doing, what am I doing, here are some things that might happen.


You learn there are a lot of things you aren’t, in fact, doing, and actually don’t want to do.


You learn that the answer to this question what am I doing? doesn’t come directly, that you have to listen pretty hard but also diffusely. And that you have to practice listening to what doesn’t come directly - the wind, the sounds of geese over the water, the ways someone else’s voice changes when they get a glimpse of what's theirs to do.


You learn that the answer both matters so much and really not at all.


Is there a difference to the world if you spend your days talking on the phone with people, typing vigorously at the computer, feeling smart and awesome; or walking down the road feeling the sun on your back? You’ll probably get one answer from the trees and another from the fox and another from the internet or your neighbor or your beloveds.


You learn that it's hard to ask this question, in the age of capitalism and neoliberalism, in a culture that's constantly shouting "YOU YOU YOU" over your shoulder while also mercilessly extracting as much from you as it can. That there's so much pressure to have a good or right or real answer, and so much in the way. That maybe it isn't about whether you're good at asking the question, or figuring things out, or listening hard enough. That even if you do these things well you'll still have doubts, a sense of something missing.


You might learn that if you aren’t at the center of some larger plan to punish, judge, or make life perfect for you, then sometimes it’s clearer - just be there for people and share what you have, notice when you’re being an asshole, don’t worry so much if you’re keeping up or behind.


You might learn that while you are not owed everything or anything from some abstract “head person in charge,” we can and do give each other everything –belonging, love, safety, care, recipes, seedlings, jokes. Everything is waiting for you, as David Whyte says - and everything might not be a pile of riches or fame or all of the ways our culture marks and lauds individual success, but might, in fact, be everything: the sunlight, the itchiness of the grass, the steadiness of the river and the heron. The soup that shows up, or gets sent, at the exact right moment. The experience, maybe, of living with an ear towards, and tending to, the relational networks that sustain and undergird us.


You learn, too, that no matter what, the questions don’t go away. That, in fact, you can build a life around asking questions and following the guidance you receive: from your body, from the earth, from those books that show up at your elbow in the bookstore, the vultures, the song on repeat, the poem your friend sends you, on and on.


And so, if you too are going around asking the question that persists, that pops up in the night, in line at the grocery store, when you're in a meeting, or walking the dog, or reading, or making breakfast, just know that wherever you are, no matter how good or bad you are at listening or answering that question, you're in good company.


And the persistence of the question sometimes indicates that you are, in some kind of windy, non-linear way, on a track towards an unfolding that might be so much more real than any neat and tidy answer.