“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke
What are the questions that guide your life? Socrates famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living, and the key to examining life is the quality of the questions we ask.
Whether we realise it or not we are always asking questions and seeking answers in life. But are we, day by day, asking the right questions, the best questions, questions that are most conducive to living a good life?
Perhaps the most fundamental question we ask throughout our lives is:
Who am I?
The search for identity and the need to make meaning of our experience are fundamental to the human condition. We may not be consciously reflecting on these questions but our choices, decisions, and actions are guided by a deeper intelligence that searches out answers to this question.
Day-to-day we ask many questions that fall more under the heading of problem-solving, fire-fighting and trivial concerns. Because these are so immediate, we can lose track of the deeper, existential or ‘ultimate’ questions that are crucial to constructing a meaningful life:
Why am I here?
What should I do with my life?
How can I live a life of meaning, connection and purpose?
How can I find peace and joy in the face of the suffering of sickness, old age and death?
How can I make a difference in the world?
What values do I want to live by? What ideals do I aspire towards?
What is my vision for my life?
To borrow a phrase from Joseph Campbell, perhaps the most important question we can ask is:
What is the altar on which I wish to sacrifice myself?
Carl Jung writes:
“The meaning of my existence is that life has addressed a question to me. Or, conversely, I myself am a question which is addressed to the world, and I must communicate my answer, for otherwise I am dependent upon the world’s answer.”
If we consider our lives a question, or an attempt to communicate an answer, what is the question that your life represents? What is the answer you are seeking to communicate?
A useful exercise might be to write out the questions that lie at the core of your life. What are four or five questions that are most important to you? What would it be like to keep these questions at the forefront of your mind, to use them as guides for thought and action, and to live these questions each day? See if you can live these questions not just intellectually, but bodily, emotionally and spiritually, in your actions and behaviour.