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?