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Many teachings focus on healing through declarative positive affirmations and intentions, yet another powerful healing tool can be to pose a question instead. I was first introduced to this concept of self-inquiry from a well-known Indian spiritual teacher Ramana Maharshi, whose famous meditative mantra was to continually ask “Who am I?” with the goal of realizing the truth of our existence, or the true Self.
Personally this question has not done it for me (or perhaps I didn’t stick with it long enough) but I will share some questions that really have proved quite transformational.
What if Everything is God (Shiva)?
Many years ago I was living in an ashram and the teaching for the summer was: “Everything is Shiva (God)”. As I began to try on this interesting awareness, amazing shifts began to occur. Though I wasn’t totally convinced of its veracity, if someone was irritating me, I would begin to ponder “What if this person is God too?” and the irritations would subside very quickly.
For example, I had a particularly annoying encounter with a new employee, who I felt was stalking me and getting in my face daily with problems I should fix — her way. After an unusually grueling day, tired and hungry I was just about to head home, and she grabbed me once more, complaining incessantly standing just inches away from my face. I thought for sure this time I would really lose it.
So I grabbed onto this question to try to shift my aggravation, and queried to myself, “What if this person is God too?” which honestly felt very far from possible at the moment. Yet instantly, everything melted away. I could finally just listen, without reaction, and even appreciate her a little bit. I was blown away, and our relationship improved dramatically from that moment forward.
While I realize this may not be a readily accepted notion, there is much spiritual and scientific knowledge to suggest that at our core essence, we are all one and the same consciousness.
If I try to believe similar statements like “Everything Happens for a Reason” or “Everything is Perfect” I can find this really difficult to digest. When there is so much suffering, or really “bad” things happen that we don’t want, it makes us want to argue with that reality and try to push it away from us (resist).
But the form of the question takes out the declaration of fact which makes my lawyer mind want to challenge it. It softly allows me to posit that there may be a much larger picture that I cannot possibly fathom.
It is sort of like how people will often remark that “It’s all good” even when you can’t quite get there, and it will begin to broaden your perspective and ease your judgments about things not working out like you may have wanted. But when things are really horrific, this statement can be really hard to swallow.
More recently I have taken a bit different tack. Instead of a declaration, which may or may not feel totally true for me, or just may be a big stretch in the moment, I pose a question.
What if this too is Perfect?
Awhile back I shared that I was experiencing a monumental shift in awareness, and felt immersed in joy much of the time. It was as if a layer of worry and stress just peeled away from my Being, even my skin felt a bit overly tender and new, and worry had nowhere to land.
Every time that a stressful thought tried to grab a perch, a counter thought bubbled to the surface, in the form of this question: “What if everything really was PERFECT, just the way it is?” It was like my inner coach was easing me into a totally new perspective by gently challenging the underlying assumption that something was wrong, or out of alignment, or not happening the way or in the timing that I thought it should.
Whenever I feel my sense of ease slipping, or my joy being dampened, this question has arisen spontaneously: “What if this too is really perfect just the way it is??” And I instantly relax, and feel more allowing, and less stressed. It feels like a magic potion. I don’t even really have to answer it; or feel like I know the truth.
Just posing the possibility of perfection in each moment, in life as it unfolds around me without me being in charge constantly, gives me such an instantaneous relief. Release. More trust. And I find myself more easily slipping into “Loving what is” as spiritual teacher and author Byron Katie teaches.
For instance, one day I was really not happy about the fact that I had to run errands during a designated writing period and I was really resisting going out and interrupting my focused work day. I caught myself grumbling and finally remembered the magic question: “What if this interruption is perfect too?” I noticed I stopped grumbling so much, but wasn’t entirely convinced.
As I drove down Roseland Road, cars ahead began swerving around something dark in the middle of the two lane road. When I got closer I saw it was an endangered gopher tortoise, hiding in his shell right on the center line. Cars on both sides were going 55 mph or more and the turtle wouldn’t last long at all.
I quickly pulled over to the side and ran out to stop traffic and rescue the large tortoise. I picked him up and carried him well into the safety of some bushes. He took a look over at me before disappearing, and I reminded him not to try to go back to the busy road! I have done this before and I always fill with gratitude as it feels like a huge blessing to me to be of assistance.
When I returned to my car, I had the radio on which I rarely listen to. There was a song playing I never heard before, and it took a few moments for me to catch the repeating refrain: “I am calling out to Rescue Me; Rescue Me; I am calling out to Rescue Me. Rescue Me.”
I burst into tears at the awesome sacred synchronicity that placed me at that exact moment in a position to rescue that gopher tortoise. There is a saying that if you want to make God laugh, tell Her your plans. If I had stuck to my original plan for the day, and not gone with the flow, the world would be short one more gopher tortoise.
Sometimes we catch glimpses of this “perfection” years later. After being ravaged by 4 consecutive hurricanes in 2004, which certainly did NOT come close to feeling perfect at the time, we witnessed many silver linings in the aftermath. A troublesome infestation of dreaded white footed ants were storming our magnolia tree next to our home, and we were told that they were the most invasive kind, and we should chop down all our trees near the house. After the hurricanes, the ants were wiped out and those trees were saved. We witnessed many other silver linings such as residents getting brand new roofs, new kitchens, and new construction laws for building safer housing.
I am continually humbled by the Divine Plan that always trumps our individual ideas of what “should be.” This is a level of perfection that we rarely glimpse, the perfection of the Big Picture. What if everything really truly is PERFECT?
But don’t just take my word for it; my clients have had similar turn-arounds:
“While on vacation, I encountered some situations I found disappointing or stressful, often times triggering anxiety. My attempts to calmly coach myself through them seem futile. And without prompting, your words, “What if this too were perfect?” came racing to the forefront. I was shocked how quickly and naturally it came, especially given how I had completely forgotten about it in the excitement and anxiety of vacationing. Not sure why, but it helped calm me down when nothing else did.”
From my perspective, just posing the question is amazing because it takes away perhaps the number one stressor–arguing with what is. The root of all suffering some say is thinking things should be different than what they are. This sets up a cascade of stressful thoughts and emotions.
Accepting the scenario as presented, and allowing whatever feelings arise, and eventually, loving what is (ala Byron Katie book) is the way to stop pitting ourselves against what is happening, and beginning to allow and flow with it. Only then, can we respond with awareness and authentic compassion, rather than resistance and negative reaction or denial.
Simple, yet certainly not easy. It is a lifelong practice, and this acceptance and allowing is the first vital step to ultimately healing and releasing the past hurts that can really accumulate when we resist and repress them.
Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?
There was a famous and really long story my guru loved to tell concerning an old man who had a horse and a son. One day the horse ran away. Everyone in the village exclaimed how awful it was that he couldn’t plow his fields. The old man responded: “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”
A few days went by, and the horse returned with a lovely mare and now he had two horses. Everyone was commenting how incredibly fortunate he was, but he continued to maintain, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”
Then his son broke his leg falling off the new horse. Again, neighbors commiserated that he had such terrible misfortune. But when the army came to recruit all young men to fight in the war, his son was spared as he couldn’t walk. On and on it goes. You are getting the picture. Good luck, bad luck, who knows?