Thursday, April 14, 2011

Harness the Power of Questions

Questions have paved the path to wisdom, enlightenment, and solutions in cultures throughout history. You may recall that the Socratic Method was based on the use of questions between tutor and pupil. Jesus often posed questions to his followers. Zen roshis challenge disciples with koans (enigmatic riddles like what is the sound of one hand clapping?).

Fortunately you don’t need a time travel machine or a guru to tap into the transformative power of questions. Every person on earth is born naturally curious, and mining the depths of our own curiosity can lead to a wealth of wisdom. Journaling and freewriting are powerful ways to harness that power for any purpose you wish, whether that's solving a perplexing problem, finding your way through the maze of life, or untangling your thoughts as you write a memoir.

As you write, you may often find yourself wondering some version of, “Why does this keep happening?” or “What’s really going on?” or “How else could I go about this?” Listen to that small inner voice, and write down the question, then without further thought, start writing the answer. For example, you might ask yourself the question, “Why am I so stuck?” You might be startled to watch an intuitively obvious answer emerge from your pen or fingers: “Because I don’t really want to be doing this in the first place. I’m only doing it because Grunterman will have a fit if I don’t and . . . .”

It’s okay to stop and think as you formulate the questions. For the most powerful health benefits (both physical and emotional), try asking from multiple points of view. Use questions like “How would (someone you respect) handle this?” or “How might (your tormentor) look at this situation?” Another set of power questions involve your feelings about the situation you face and possible options.

These questions may uncover attitudes, grudges, fears and ugly motives you’d rather ignore, but once they’re out there on the page, you can deal with them honestly and constructively to get them out of your way. They may simply evaporate in the light of day, or you may need to keep digging until you resolve them. The good news is that at least as often, you’ll find stunning answers and wisdom you were unaware of.

Where do these answers come from? Some say God, some say The Universe, some say your creative subconscious, maybe your muse, maybe angels. Perhaps The Force? Who knows? Make up your own answer. Does it really matter where they come from if you can access this source and rely on it?

It may take practice to become aware of these questions. Not everyone thinks this way naturally. If you don’t notice them spontaneously bubbling up as you write, at the end of your session, go back over what you’ve written as if someone else put those words there, and look for questions to ask that person. It may help to let the entry age a week or so before you review it. Eventually the questions will arise more naturally in the moment.

Don’t be discouraged or disappointed if you don’t fully resolve your concern in one writing session. One question tends to lead to another. If your concern is complex, you may write your way through a personal Wonderland before you find the exit. Be brave and persistent and you will find your answers. If you decide to seek advice, professional or otherwise, you’ll be ahead of the game.

In the next post we’ll examine one specific set of questions that has proven to be life changing for thousands of people.

Write now: sit down with your journal or blank paper and write about a puzzling situation. Ask yourself the questions you’d ask a friend, and write the answers without deliberate thought. Expect to be surprised.

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