In all things, I seem to be an experiential learner.
Recently, I wrote a post about my ponderings with gaps (Mind the Gap). Specifically, about my commitment and resolution to respond and bridge a specific gap with my best self.
My best self. What could be better than that? My best self.
Yet days later, the nagging suspicion that, despite my declaration, I had no idea who my best self was, would not leave me alone.
Up to this point in my life, Creation, without fail, had been providing me a steady stream of crumbs to help me grow; clues, situations, people. I no longer felt lost, but I still did not have a clear picture of where I was going. I was trusting in the journey, despite it looking and feeling remarkably like a unalome (Euclid Redeemed). I was trusting that, by living my life and learning along the way, I would come to uncover and know my authentic self. The nagging question of who my best self was would not leave me. I had come to terms with learning about my authentic self, my true self, but my best self? Maybe it was the “best” that was throwing me for a loop and upping the ante.
Now, I know there are plenty of holy books, spiritual guides, and teachers that could help me answer this age-old question, but I knew one thing for certain—the prescribed path was never the right path for me. In all things, I was an experiential learner. Wherever you go, there you are.
And here I was, desperately wanting to get ahead of the learning curve.
When all else fails. I pray some combination of Anne Lamott’s three essential prayers—Help, Thanks, and Wow. In this case, I prayed for Help, and as I was waiting for help, talking to Creation, I began to wonder if I could call it “The Socratic Method” when one party to the discussion, in this case Creation, didn’t engage in the conversation. I had to laugh, because in my experience, even though Creation was a silent discussion partner, the results of our discussions, albeit one sided, were nevertheless enlightening. I was always amazed by what I heard when I stopped to listen. As I thought about this approach to learning, I remembered one of the dictums attributed to Socrates:
The unexamined life is not worth living.
There it was.
Thanks, I prayed. The unexamined life. All I had to do to get ahead of the curve, to make my way to a life worth living and thereby to my best life, was to examine it.
One of the advantages of being a seeker is that I had a wellspring of life experiences and resources to draw on. The answer to the question of how to examine my life had to be somewhere in the recesses of my experiences.
With that, the search began.
It didn’t take long before I saw a certain book and knew immediately what my answer was; the Quaker Queries. Thanks!
According to Wikipedia, Quakers use the term “query” to refer to a question or series of questions used for reflection and in spiritual exercises. Quakers have used queries as tools for offering spiritual challenges throughout much of their history.
The book I owned, Living the Quaker Way: Discover the Hidden Happiness in the Simple Life by Philip Gulley, came with a 30 day guide. Perfect. 30 questions, perhaps a few more than I thought necessary, and I was on my way. All I needed to do was answer the questions and I would define my best self. And so, I began with the first query:
1. Do I live simply and promote the right use and sharing of the world’s bounty?
Well, maybe. Hardly a definitive answer. Thinking that perchance the Quakers listed the hardest query first, I perused the list for an easy one.
18. What unpalatable truths am I avoiding?
28. What am I doing to overcome the contemporary effects of oppression?
Nothing. Strike 3.
Very quickly it became all too clear to me that this was not a yes/no, one and done, exercise. The exercise, the queries themselves, were not about the answers, but about the questions, much like life.
I thought about Rainer Maria Rilke’s counsel that we embrace uncertainty by loving the questions: Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.
I was not sure I was going to be able to love these questions, the Quaker Queries. They were painful. But wasn’t that the point after all? Nobody said the road to our best selves was easy. Apparently mine was uphill both directions. Yes, I was overwhelmed, but I was not about to give up.
I wrote each question on a notecard, and each week, I would take a notecard with a single query on it. Each day during that week I read it aloud, I ponder it during my ritual sits, and I discussed and debated it with Creation. Then I listened, and in the stillness always came the encouragement I needed to keep moving toward my best self.
I’m not sure that I am ahead of the curve, but I do feel more present in my life. The queries are helping me to mindfully take note of things happening around me.
If you are interested in learning more about the Quaker Queries and their commitment to community, I suggest:
The links provided with each book are affiliate links. If you purchase a book using a link, I will earn a very small royalty, which will be used to support the blog.
PS. Are there questions that you ask yourself to hold yourself accountable? Please add your comments.