For me, this week has been all about questions and not answers. My unemployment extension got delayed by six weeks, which forced me to ask, “How am I going to pay rent, buy groceries, get by? What compromises am I willing to make?” As I marched in the Occupy San Francisco protest on Wednesday, I pondered, “What are the politicians hearing in this movement? Why am I crying as I walk down the street? When will justice prevail?” Everywhere there were questions begging answers. And I got caught in pontificating and wanting swift action steps.
Margaret and I got together on Friday to work on our first 14 Black Poppies workshop. Each workshop is rooted in a proverb written by Margaret and me and uses arts, wellness, and community practices to explore it. This month, the proverb is “The question is not so much why but how.” We had a basic idea of what we were going to do. Or so I thought.
Thanks to the wonders of cutting and pasting mistakes, the word “sometimes” was edited out of our proverb. It is supposed to read, “Sometimes, the question is not so much why but how.” It seems like a minor editing mistake, and yet it led both Margaret and I down a black hole of doing. We became obsessed with questions of how almost to the point that, as we sat in her dining room working out our agenda, we saw no way to end our workshop.
No end in sight and pondering our incorrect proverb, we decided to let the agenda sit over the weekend and come back to it on Monday. As we packed our bags and got ready for a drum circle at the Spiritual Enrichment Center, something struck me about the incorrect proverb: regardless of the missing “sometimes”, it still did not negate questions of why; it just stated that it is “not so much”. This insight led us to realize the most important words in our proverb were “the question”.
Still, we had no clear ending.
We drove to the drum circle exhausted from trying to work out our puzzle pieces and answer our own questions of process. I was excited to stop doing and just be, even if for a moment. As I felt doing melt into being, a solution presented itself: a fishbowl exercise rooted in the process of clearness committees where one is just asked open-ended questions. Refreshed, we let this possible solution just be as we walked into the Spiritual Enrichment Center.
After the drum circle, I felt invigorated and renewed. I got entranced in just beating the drum and finding both the harmony and dissonance within playing in a group. Using hands, vocal chords, and rhythm I got absorbed, and then lost. All thought left my brain.
I took the 33 bus home and immediately got to work on my blog post. I realized how obsessed with finding solutions and answers I had become. I had wanted to stop the questions because they seemed so large. They were there as I marched in the Occupy San Francisco protest. They were there in my unemployment delay. They were there in our working out our workshop agenda. They were there as I turned on my computer and read the news. They were every I looked, and I couldn’t escape them. They were threatening my sanity because I just wanted movement, a direction, instructions. I just wanted them to stop.
I finished up hand writing my blog on Saturday morning happy to have found some resolution. I texted Margaret eager to share the news, and she texted me back, “you know our proverb starts with ‘Sometimes’.” Ding! It confirmed what I was feeling: it is the question.
Yes, people have a tendency to over analyze the questions of why to the point of inaction. Why does poverty exist? Why is war unending? Why is Occupy Together happening? They are vital questions. They seek out motivation and intention. And they are also trap. Poverty exists. War does have an end. Occupy Everywhere has multiple whys.
In our rush to figure out how to take action and how to solve the problem of the workshops, we got caught in actions that ended up stalemating us. We were spinning our wheels doing without realizing why we were doing it.
When we allow our selves a moment to just sit with the questions, not trying to answer them directly, a direction emerged. We found a conclusion that feels complete, whole, and refreshing and allows our selves to be renewed.
We still live in a crazy, topsy-turvy world. Inequity surrounds us. It seems like there is no end in sight. And yes, jumping in and taking action IS DOING something.
These are also all part of living: we suffer; we act. We must also be.
As I sit there typing up this blog post on a cold, wet, foggy Monday afternoon, I am still meditating on our proverb “sometimes, the question is not so much why but how”.
Only now, I don’t see it as a conflict between why and how. I see it as a scale with the question, not the answer, hanging in the balance.