In my first blog post, I wrote about the practice of RAIN. RAIN is an acronym that stands for Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Non-identify. It is a process model of inquiry that allows one to work with a feeling or issue and compassionately investigate it. Through this process, we are allowing ourselves to break out our story or narrative of “how things are.” Part of this entails embracing the uncertainty and vulnerability of our experience. At the same time, it offers space, flexibility and perhaps transformation. This inquiry is the true applied practice of mindfulness described by author Victor Frankl:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
An important tool or technology in this process of inquiry is the use of questions. Questions offer the promise of creating the space that Frankl describes above to break out of our restrictive habitual tendencies and into thoughtful response.
Please join me on Saturday, December 10 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for Discovering the Voice of Your Heart, a half-day meditation retreat near King of Prussia, PA. Readers of this blog can receive a $15 discount off the retreat fee by entering the promo code “REPEAT”.
We all know that questions can be empowering or restricting depending on how they are framed. My teacher Jonathan Foust offers four empowering questions to begin many workshops:
What are you most excited about in your life right now?
What are you most proud of in your life right now?
What are you most grateful for in your life right now?
What are you most committed to in your life right now?
Notice how these questions challenge you to shift out of the mindset of problem-solving, thinking, comparing and judging that characterizes most of our everyday experience. We might find responding to such questions difficult because they remind us of what’s not quite right yet. But it also opens the possibility for growth, meaning and understanding.
A perfect example of how empowering questions open our minds and hearts comes from StoryCorps, whose mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” You may have heard these stories on National Public Radio. Check out this list of list of wonderful questions for just about any questions that are sure to get right to the heart of the matter in almost any situation.
Here are just a few of the qualities that inquiry and questions can generate:
- Reframing – Questions allow us look at our experience from a different angle. Approaching an issue with a different kind of question shifts our perception and our attitude.
- Softening – They can bring a compassion, an appreciation and even a forgiveness for difficulty, confusion and uncertainty we face.
- Opening – How many ways could I describe the situation? What are the new ways?
- Clarifying – What is really happening right now? Can I be with it? What is important to me? What will I do next?
- Identifying habit patterns that aren’t supportive of wholehearted living, happiness and resilience. We begin to recognize our reactivity and how it may harm us.
- Connection with our passion, our values, and our heart to create purpose and meaning.
At its heart, the practice of mindfulness asks two questions, “What is happening?” and “Can I be with it?” These two questions represent the two wings of the metaphorical bird. Wisdom to see clearly with awareness and compassion to nonjudgmentally be with our experience. In a sense, these are the questions that characterize the experience of mindfulness. As we practice mindfulness, we step out of the story we’ve created in our minds and into the genuine experience of being alive, with its joy, its sorrow, its uncertainty, its faith.
I welcome you to explore questions further by listening to my recently published podcast episode on the topic via iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. This episode includes a meditative inquiry practice called The Five Problem Solving Questions which I think you’ll enjoy experimenting with. If you live in the Philadelphia area, please join me on Saturday, December 10 for Discovering the Voice of Your Heart, a half-day meditation retreat near King of Prussia, PA. Readers of this blog can receive a $15 discount off the retreat fee by entering the promo code “REPEAT”. You can learn more by visiting my website, www.yourmindfulcoach.com. You also might enjoy a visit to jonathanfoust.com or focusing.com to learn more about the tools of meditative inquiry.