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The Question

By Thea Iberall

I had a funny thought the other morning. What if the world were constructed in such a way that, at some point in a person’s life, they came face-to-face with a question so profound that it wakes them up? A question profound enough to ask an oracle. Kind of like Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree finding his answer. But this was more like a science fiction scenario where each person’s question came to them in a flash, like an email from the universe. Maybe some people would hear their question early in their lifetime and it would set them off onto an enlightened life. Others might get theirs when they became adults or maybe late in life. Maybe some people would never get the email. Or maybe they would be so distracted when it arrived that they couldn't process it to get onto their enlightened life. But for those who heard their question, they’d wake up immediately to their core essence and begin living life fully. With a fearlessness that embraces life and doesn’t shy away from it. They’d see beyond what they were brought up to believe, see beyond what they think they know. They’d accept all contradictions as being equal. The veil of ignorance would be lifted and they’d find inner peace. Bodhi, or enlightenment, is the wisdom of an awakened one. I’m wondering what is a question that wakes people up, if not to enlightenment, at least to a more peaceful and connected way of living. It’s probably different for everyone. For many people, it’s a catastrophe that breaks them open out of their complacency. For others, it’s having a deep want that pushes them into action or else forces them to accept life without the wanted thing. Either way, it’s a moment of transformation.

For me, I think the question I faced was how to be in peace no matter what. In 2005, I was in an unhappy situation with nowhere to turn. I was in a very bad relationship and we were living in a big Victorian house. Years before, I had faced another type of hopelessness and at that time, I had learned to live in acceptance by accepting help from a power greater than myself. But now in 2005, my acceptance was stretched to the limit. I was very unhappy, isolated, and my higher power wasn’t fixing the situation. I was wanting the life I have now: a loving supportive relationship and a spiritual community. The situation I was in was far from that and everything I did made it worse. Then I remembered the Valley of Detachment from Attar's book The Conference of the Birds. And I realized I was living the homesteader's life. I was taking care of this Victorian house. Like the dogkeeper, I was doing service for something else. And that was all that mattered. So I changed my attitude. As I watered the lawns and made fixes around the house, I focused on peace from what I was giving. I focused on my senses, how beautiful things looked, how pleasant the morning dew smelled. I listened to the birds in the birdbath in the gardens. I began living in gratitude that I could experience this and that I could give. I felt a bonding between me and the house. And as I detached from the pain of my circumstances, I found peace in being a caretaker and caregiver. So maybe life isn't a sci-fi fantasy of one ultimate question for all. We all face different questions, and we even each face different questions at different times in our lives. What’s important is that we listen for the questions that come our way that help us live in our core essence. So that we can live life fully and find inner peace no matter what. Which is, after all, the ultimate question.

Participants’ Reflections

  • I’m pondering a question for where I am right now. When I look back over my life, it’s pretty much a good one. I heard the words ‘life-giving’ yesterday and it really resonated with me. So my question is, what is live-giving for me and the others with whom I interact?

  • I get about 200 emails a day so I would probably miss the relevant one. The question that came up for me is “Am I serving a higher purpose today?” I’m going to ask myself that everyday now. Thank you.

  • Thank you for this. A few days ago, I had a question come to me. I had been contemplating the vaccine situation. I have two adult children who have families. One family said yes to the vaccine, the other said no. Many people in my circles have chosen differently than I have. All of them—my family and friends—are healthy and doing well. The question that came to me is, is it possible that we are both right? During the meditation this morning, I remembered the Rumi poem A Great Wagon which says “out beyond ideas of right and wrong, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” I experienced that two days ago when my extended family was together in a real mix of vaccinated and non-vaccinated. The weather was beautiful. The joy and love of gathering together ruled. There was no anxiety, social distance, worry. I think both choices are affirming life. It’s people saying I love being alive. So is it possible to be in opposite places and both be right?

  • Thank you. That reminds me of Attar’s Valley of Unity where he says all contradictions are equal. It’s true, they are all equal.

  • I loved the reading. Sometimes it’s such a simple question that really does make you look at the big picture. When I had gone back to college, my life was busy and I was paired up with another student. We were introducing ourselves and then she asked me ‘what do you do for fun?’ A simple question, I should have been able to answer, but I stopped dead in my tracks. Am I supposed to be doing things for fun? I had no answer and it made me think. I was so consumed by all my roles in life I wasn’t making time for me. Another time, at a family gathering, a cousin asked me ‘are you happy?’ That also threw me for a loop. I wasn’t happy. I like what you said about a bad relationship. I found it again difficult to answer the question. I loved this reading today. An innocent question can get you back on track. Thank you.

  • We wind up in situations just because life happens. And we reach a point where we reflect whether we want to be in that situation or change.

  • I think we have to be grateful to be able to listen to what the change in our life is. And to hear a new question. Not the one we’ve clung to for a period of time. It’s a real gift to be able to hear.

  • That’s really interesting. My experience, over my lifetime, my questions have changed. So I don’t ask myself the same questions. For example, I’ve changed my value from being happy to feeling joy. It’s a different level. Things can move and change to a different level.

  • Coincidentally, a friend asked me a question a few days ago—what is your deity? She was trying to figure this out for herself because she wanted to relate to the words ‘holy one’ in a poem. I’ve been working on this question. Sometimes we know but don’t have the right words. So finding the right words to a question helps me think about it.

  • Hearing the question and then digging into it. Which the Buddha did for seven weeks sitting under the Bodhi Tree.

  • In my mind, sometimes it’s okay to answer a question with ‘I don’t know.’ I don’t know can be the real catalyst that we need to get ourselves going.

  • We can sit in I don’t know until we get clarity. To me, that’s acceptance, that’s expectancy.

  • Thank you all for joining me today on this journey of questions. I hope you all have a day thinking about the question of your life and how to answer that so that you can find what you want. I hope you all have a blessed, gentle day today. Thank you for joining.

Photo credit: The Oracle at Delphi by Lucy Blake-Elahi

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