Honoring Our Questions: Can Curiosity, Turned Inward, Be a Guide?

The whole purpose of this blog is to explore the questions of life. For a couple of decades now, I’ve drawn inspiration from the Rainer Maria Rilke quote that spawned the title of this blog, the quote that graces the landing page:

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. . . . Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, . . . you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Why? Why am I so deeply moved by the idea of loving life’s questions that I would center a blog around it?

In a word—curiosity.

One of my most deeply held values, as a person and as a therapist, is to cultivate a mindset (and a heartset) of curiosity. Curiosity about myself and what drives my feelings and behavior, curiosity about others and what makes them who they are, curiosity about the way the world works, curiosity about, well, everything. Because curiosity softens me even as it makes me strong.

By curiosity I don’t mean a demand for answers, though. Demands are hard and rigid, while curiosity is inviting and open.

To “love the questions” and “live the questions,” I have to humble myself to the admission that there are many things I don’t know. Many things I don’t understand. Many things I might never know or understand.

But if, in the not-knowing, I can remain open to my longing to know, open to my (sometimes big and painful) questions, and move forward into seeking, with open eyes and an open heart, then I wend my way down paths I would never have otherwise seen, paths where I learn about things I could never have thought to ask about at the start.

When I was a young adult, I sustained a horrible loss. My whole life as I knew it came crashing in on itself and I was in so much pain that I could hardly stand to wake up each morning, much less continue to live my life and raise my child.

A hard lesson I learned in the depths of those circumstances—out of dire necessity—was a way to respond to the desperate scream that often forced its way into my head, “How am I going to DO this??!” I slowly learned to avoid the temptation to either dismiss or escalate the desperation of that question. Instead I began to wonder about the true, core sentiment behind the question itself. As I honored and truly listened to the question contained within the scream, the throbbing desperation dampened into sincere and kind curiosity, turning that very same question into a doorway that opened to each next moment.

Amazingly, the very same question, asked kindly and genuinely, “How am I going to do this?” guided me to live my way to soft and generous answers that fiercely allowed for the unknown that was my reality, even while they escorted me from one unknown moment to the next:

How am I going to do this when I’m so overwhelmed, so tired, so despairing?

By living slowly. Carefully. I’ve been wounded. I need rest and care.

How am I going to do this, when I’m so angry at life’s injustice?

By living the anger. I hate that this happened. And the rage that courses through my veins scares me sometimes. Yet that rage lights flames within my heart that keep the light on inside, that keep me from giving up.

How am I going to do this for ever and ever?

With passion and love. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I will fiercely keep going for my kid. And wow, I’m actually doing it, so I must have a pretty strong life force, and that makes me feel strong.

This practice of transforming the desperate questions in my head into generous curiosity within my heart, guided me toward soft and open answers that contained the unknown within them. Answers that weren’t false. Answers that led to more questions that kept me going. Questions that gave me guidance. Questions that didn’t pretend to lead to big or premature knowns, but rather  became stepping stones that carried me slowly but surely through the unknown and toward a bigger known than anything I could have planned.

Honoring my questions by hearing the sincere curiosity within them began a dance between questions and answers. A dance that kept me moving through my moments–sometimes haltingly, sometimes with sure footing, and sometimes with wild and angry leaps. Until the moments gave way to days, which became years, which became decades. A flow of life that has led me here. To write this. With gratitude.

What desperate, painful, difficult questions run through your head when you’re having a hard time? Is there a way you can find the wisdom of your soul that’s contained within the questions? A way to transform your questions into kind and generous curiosity toward yourself?