Tag Archives: questions

questions, koans

sometimes asking the right questions is what turns a problem around. and often making the questions as precise as possible is a good thing. i’m going to take the liberty of using one of raul’s posts. he asked, “why can’t i sometimes help the people i love the most?”  (by the way – read it. it’s quite moving.)

maybe that was the right question. and i wonder, how else could this have been approached?  let’s take the word “sometimes”. when it’s important to indicate that something doesn’t happen all the time, it’s a great word. on the other hand, there are situations where “sometimes” obscures what’s going on. in that case, it might be a good idea to ask something like

“why can’t i help my loved ones who have cancer?”

the good thing about rewriting a question is that it helps us see it in a different light. looked at it this way, i start to wonder, is this really a question, or is it a – a sigh perhaps, a sigh phrased as a question …

what, though, if it really is a question? in that case i’d like to know what the questioner is trying to accomplish, what the exact knowledge is that he wants to gain. in this case, i imagine that raul wants to help his loved ones who have cancer. so we could end up with this question:

“how can i help my loved ones who have cancer?”

this is a question that can be answered much easier, and can lead to action.

there are other times, though, when taking this rational approach doesn’t go anywhere useful or satisfactory.

“why can’t i get over my negative feelings about my father?” is a question someone (let’s call her perl) asked the other day. turning this into “how can i get over my negative feelings about my father?” didn’t have any effect. it was a long-standing problem that just didn’t want to go away. “what will your life look like once you’ve gotten over it?” produced only a lukewarm discussion; it just didn’t resonate, the possibility seemed too far away. “do you want to get over it?” is a question i asked quietly – it didn’t seem appropriate to ask at that particular point. so we were at a stalemate.

then we let go of reason. all we wanted was find a question …

“why can’t i get over my father?”
“why can’t i get my father?”
“why can’t i get it?”
“why can’t i let go?”
“what’s it like to let go?”
“what’s ‘let go’?”
“what’s let, what’s go?”

when we arrived at the last question, perl started laughing. it was a loud, free, happy laugh.

“it’s a koan!” she said, “i found my koan!”

the question doesn’t make much sense. but then not being able to let go of her negative feelings about her father after all these years of therapy didn’t make much sense either.

a koan goes deeper. it pierces through the shield of rationality – an important shield, one we are in great need of, but it’s not the level at which most of our life takes place. “why can’t i get over my negative feelings about my father?” it’s a mystery. so we went to a place of mystery.

what will perl do with this koan?

i don’t know.

where does a koan go?

what poem opens your heart?

after the post on happy questions last friday, i decided to ask some happy questions on twitter and it was a wonderful weekend conversation. you can find most of it by searching for #happyquestion on twitter. one of the questions was inspired by qrystal, one of the first people i ever followed on twitter (it seems so long ago now! a whole 2 ½ years!) qrystal, like i, likes poetry, so after reading one of hers i decided to ask

what poem opens your heart?

i`d like to share with you some of the responses i received:

wallace stevens’s “mozart, 1935”

rainer maria rilke`s duino elegies

w.s. merwin the rain in the trees (he reads a bit of it here in the youtube video)

leonard cohen: love itself

pablo neruda: sonnet xvii

the precious treasury of the basic space of phenomena by lonchen rabjam

clearing in the woods by l.e. sissman

sonnets to orpheus by rainer maria rilke

rudyard kipling`s if

poems by rumi

dr. seuss’s lorax (that was mine)

mary oliver`s the journey is the one i`m reprinting here:

the journey

one day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“mend my life!”
each voice cried.
but you didn’t stop.
you knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
it was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
but little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

what poem opens your heart?

10 happy questions

as you know, questions have a special place in my heart (see this post on encouraging questions, for example.)

as i was preparing for a little workshop i facilitated today on solution focused coaching and counselling, i realized that my first discovery of the power of questions was not back in 1999, when i first really learned about the various delightful forms of brief therapy (solution focused brief therapy being one of them) but back in 1991, when i was studying to become a TRAGER® practitioner. TRAGER® is a form of bodywork that, among other things, asks gentle, curious, open questions about delightful possibilities we carry in our minds, hearts and bodies.

we gently shake out our hands, feel the weight, and ask: what could be lighter?

we let our arms hang down loosely and ask our shoulder joints: what could be freer?

we let our legs dangle from a massage table, allowing the calf muscles to relax and ask: what could be softer?

this shows that meaningful questions can be useful not only in one-on-one therapy, with the therapist posing the questions. they can have an important place even if we ask them of ourselves. in fact, questions like these are designed to bring us joy simply by asking them, without regard to what the reply might be.

other example of such happy questions are

  1. what puts a smile on my face?
  2. what feels good on my fingertips?
  3. what’s the beauty in this?
  4. what opens my heart?
  5. how does this delight me?
  6. what’s the song that makes my heart dance?
  7. what feels silky/cool/warm [whatever your favourite sensation is]?
  8. where in my body do i feel god/the creator/the universe right now?
  9. who do i love with all my heart?
  10. what does happiness look like?

what happy questions do you have?

(post script on october 19 – there is a fabulous companion post about this topic on joanna young’s blog – coaching questions of the season)