A question to be lived

I really enjoy the writing of Mark Nepo, poet, teacher and philosopher. I’ve been dipping in and out of his book ‘the one life we’re given: finding the wisdom that waits in your heart’ for over a year now and always leave the pages of his book with something to ponder or mull over.

Today I read the following words and they resonated strongly with me:

“When we enter life as a question to be lived rather than a problem to be solved, we can find our way in the world”

Such wise words and ones that reflect my recent experiences of choosing curiosity over judgement when my work colleague pointed out that I don’t like talking about myself personally. I found myself asking myself why this is instead of berating myself or jumping straight into action like I’m a problem to be solved.

I’ve mulled over Mark’s words for a while this morning and into this afternoon. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I love this quote so much and what the difference was in living life as a question rather than a problem.

I think for me the difference is that living life as a question brings more options to your life. If I think about talking about personal things with other people (an area I struggle with) and approach it as a problem to be solved, my natural inclination is to give myself goals of talking about one thing each time I speak to a friend or berate myself for struggling with something that others find so easy to do. It brings a feeling of judgement and frustration along with concrete steps that I can take.

But if I approach it as a question, I feel myself unfurling and find myself curious about what’s going on underneath. It makes me look deeper underneath to understand the root of my thinking:

  • What worries me about or stops me sharing personal things with other people? I’m worried about boring or burdening others. When I start talking about myself, I often find myself distracted with an anxiety that the other person isn’t really interested in me and it can feel really uncomfortable to stay in this space. So I often deflect to the other person and ask them about themselves instead. If someone is going through a difficult time, I can also feel like my thoughts, feelings and what I’m going through is not as important and therefore not worthy of being shared. 
  • Why do I feel like what’s going on for me is not important if other people are going through a trickier time? I don’t quite know why this is. I suppose partially I feel like I’ve got nothing to complain about and should be thankful for my lot if someone else is going through a harder time but I also know that there isn’t a finite amount of sadness or difficulty or even pondering that is ‘allowed’ in this world. 
  • What would it take for me to share more of myself with people? If other people ask me questions, I’ll answer with openness and honesty about what’s going on for me. I suppose the crux is that someone needs to know the magical question to ask to unlock what I’m thinking about. It’s not true for all people though – there are some people I feel comfortable talking to who don’t have to ask me questions before I’ll open up – my sister and some good friends I’ve known for a long time, for example.
  • So there are people I feel comfortable sharing stuff with – what are the conditions which lead to me to being able to talk to them? They’re people who ask questions and show interest in what I’m saying. Who give me space to explore what’s going on for me instead of automatically turning the conversation back onto them – this makes me feel like there is space for me to be me. They’re also people who I’ve known for a long time and feel comfortable with – who I know won’t abandon me if I bore them on occasion. 
  • Abandon is an interesting word to use – why am I worried about being abandoned by people? Could it be that I still, in part, feel like I’m only as good as what I do for other people and am not worthy of love and belonging just as I am? 

I could go on for ages like this – it’s almost like a self-coaching session. And I suppose that approaching life as a question to be lived is aligned to a coaching mindset and everything I stand for as a coach.

So I’m going to keep on approaching life as a question to be answered and I hope that this continues to bring clarity and insight into my life.


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