Issue #24: Questions
Living a life of inquiry
When we first started this newsletter, we saw it as an opportunity for us to explore questions close to us and see if we could articulate any insights we gleaned from them. This is our 24th issue, which means we’ve written a year’s worth of essays. To align this issue with a year of contemplating, feeling, and writing, we decided to explore the question that currently occupies our lives.
Here’s what we have for you.
Essay // How Might I Live Up to Philosophy? // by Daryl
Essay // Let The Questions Guide You // by Rosslyn
Food for thought // The Value of a Question
Announcement // New event by Rosslyn
May you taste the juiciness in curiosity and wonder.
Rosslyn & Daryl
ESSAY // by Daryl
How Might I Live Up to Philosophy?
My current question also happens to be a persistent question for roughly the last 13 or 14 years: How might I live up to philosophy? That’s an odd question, you might say. What do I mean by living up to philosophy? And how might I do it? To understand this seemingly odd turn of phrase, we have to go back to ancient Greece and talk about a man called Socrates.
Socrates was someone who spent his life conversing with all sorts of people in the agora or what we might colloquially call the marketplace; nobody was too high or too low for him to converse with, and he almost always spoke to them by inquiring into their beliefs. What do they believe, and why do they believe it? Contrary to modern parlance, philosophy isn’t a singular set of beliefs that prescribes a ‘truth’ to abide by to the point of excluding everything else. That’s not philosophy but dogmatism or ideology. Philosophy, properly speaking, is the love of wisdom—philo (love) and sophia (wisdom)—and wisdom is knowledge of the nature of all things. But how can we know everything, isn’t it impossible??? Indeed. It’s impossible for any man to know everything about everything due to his finite existence. And Socrates was acutely aware of that fact but that didn’t stop him from attempting to because the choice-worthiness of any given endeavor takes its bearings from its end or purpose. For instance, extremely few of us will readily say we’re perfectly virtuous yet we strive to be in our everyday because the end of being perfectly virtuous is lofty enough for us to extend ourselves towards it. The same goes for knowledge and wisdom because reason, which sets us apart from brutes, comprises man’s essential nature, and exercising it to its fullest capacity to live up to our human nature is a sufficiently lofty undertaking in itself.
The loftiness of this undertaking, consequently, sets limits on the manner I engage in it. Philosophy requires me to have a certain purity of intent. It’s so easy to engage in destructive questioning disguised as a genuine inquiry into the nature of things; I could engage in conversation with someone over the existence of (their) god because I’m truly interested in finding out more about god’s existence, or I could do so because I want to see their worldview crumble from realizing their belief in a providential god is not very different from believing in a flying spaghetti monster.
As my teacher once cautioned me, “Teaching someone to argue is to teach him to win.” There’s the danger of getting addicted to the rush of power from dominating someone in speech and thought, and this love of victory is endemic to the tyrannical soul. Every so often, I need to check in with myself to ensure that I’m still on the straight and narrow lest I’m guilty of sullying this enterprise.
Following that, am I also steadfast enough to stay on this path? Philosophy requires humility for it demands me to lay myself at the feet of wisdom and admit that I only know that I know nothing (in the grand scheme of things.) I’m painfully aware of the times I couldn’t bring myself to ask a question out of fear of appearing foolish. Such occasions only prove I love appearances more than truth since I would rather appear intelligent and wise rather than seek to understand the nature or essence of what I don’t know. Socrates was known as the wisest man because in knowing that he knew nothing, he was able to stay away from error; he would always choose to inquire rather than operate on a set of beliefs (whether true or false) that has no reasonable ground. When I’m able to rein in my vanity and engage in active inquiry, I am actually nourished both intellectually and emotionally. The sweetness of contemplating serious questions and the apprehension of insights is a kind of pleasure that is hardly found elsewhere. No wonder the true Epicurean values the pleasures of the mind over those of the body.
Considering that these two attributes are found in Socrates—the paragon of the philosopher—keeping them in sight as I continue on my journey would stand me in good stead. It’s a particularly apt moment to pause and reaffirm my creed as I embark on the final stage of my doctoral programme before moving on to engage more like-minded individuals.
Till next time, may you, in true Epicurean fashion, indulge in the pleasures of the intellect.
ESSAY // by Rosslyn
Let The Questions Guide You
Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Live the questions now. I cannot help but return to Rilke’s wise words in my essay, for he is the first man who invited me to embrace curiosity as a life practice, and not just as a means to productivity. And, of course, this has thankfully not been a tedious practice because I live with another who lives a life of questions too.
What does it mean to live a life of questions? After all, as humans, when do we ever stop asking questions? Perhaps let’s begin by examining the questions we ask—how do they serve us?
“What do I want to have for lunch?” serves our need for survival, comfort, or enjoyment.
“What is this?” can be the result of idle curiosity or the gateway to deep inquiry.
The following examples serve our doing and performativity:
“How should I do this?”
“What shall I do over the weekend?”
“When do I need to get this done?”
What happens when we live those questions? What kind of life do they lead us into? When I lived those questions a decade ago, I led a bodily and material life. I sought to feed and comfort my body just enough to get it to perform well in the eyes of society.
The important point to note is that there is nothing wrong with any of these questions. Rather, I am choosing to flesh these examples out as an invitation for us to pause and consider how the questions we ask regularly, or even thoughtlessly, are contributing to our lives. They may be necessary questions to our surviving but are they essential to living? Also, what are the underlying motivations of our questions? Are they governing or guiding us?
Here are two questions running in the background of my daily life serving as guiding beacons for me.
How might I live a life true to me?
How might I serve as a conduit for greatness?
The first question is one I’ve taken on since coming over to America. Along the way, it nudged me towards uncovering my heart’s desires. If I want a life true to me, I have to know what truly draws me. What excites me? What will I be a commitment to? What is desire? How do I listen to my desire and lean into it? How do I experience my heart’s desire? How do I know it’s my essential desire and not an impulse driven by my insecurities? It turns out there are many pieces to this puzzle of truth, what’s more, it’s to be lived into from moment to moment.
There is neither an absolute answer nor a destination, yet it leads me on a meaningful path towards my truth. More questions arose, and are still arising, as I considered the themes of truth, commitment, and trust, even betrayal. How is it for me to go against my truth? Is that a betrayal? How do I betray myself? How do I build trust with and within myself? An edge shows up whenever what’s true to me is at odds with loved ones in my life. Can I still trust myself and commit to living such a life? Each question leading to more; informing me about the importance of belonging first to myself, listening first to my own truths, then consciously navigating the world from my Polaris, leading me into another frontier.
Moving along to my second question on being a conduit for greatness. There are moments I ask myself whether it is an ideal or merely wishful thinking, yet asking this is not life-giving. There is still, however, wisdom to be mined from it. Seeing how it casts doubt on the way I want to live life, I’m informed of dissonance in me which opens a path for me to explore the doubts I carry: are they truly mine or internalised voices in my mind?
So, how would I dive deeper into my big question, “How might I serve as a conduit for greatness?” I begin with wonder, considering some questions I can ask myself to support me in living my question. First, I can sharpen my vision: what is greatness? Why the choice of greatness? Because I want to be a conduit for the divine / higher self. Why conduit and not vessel? Because I want the universe to flow through me; I want to be space, on top of being a container of spaciousness. With each answer I come up with, I could again check back with myself as I express them. (Tip: it works to say it to another trusted friend or to the mirror, then hear the words resound in your body.) As I pay attention to my experience in my three centres (body, heart, mind), I am again receiving more information on how my answer or question is sitting with me, which could lead to more openings. I can also ask myself what qualities of body/heart/mind are needed to be such a conduit, and design practices that will help me develop them.
Questions bring us to places like an endless mystery quest if we are asking a truly open question, and attend to it with curiosity and wonder. The big questions in life are meant to be lived, creating space, even vastness, as we constantly live to answer them while being guided down deeper questions, beckoning us to consider and contemplate their purpose and meaning in our lives. The joy is not in nailing down the exact answer to your question, but in venturing down the trails and streams brought alive by it. Open-ended questions asked with openness are life-giving. They energise and propel us into new fields of richness and abundance.
Only when we live our questions are we guided and brought closer to our truths. May you hear your question calling to you, and live it with courage and curiosity.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The Value of a Question
It’s often thought that the value of a question lies in its answer, that it’s worthless unless it can be answered. But that’s not true. The very nature of a question is the embodiment of possibility. It guides our mind’s eye towards the horizon where we have the opportunity to appreciate the wider import of what’s at stake.
A well-phrased question gives us a sense of the whole instead of limiting us to merely its parts. Yet, we have to beware of questioning for the sake of questioning. Asking questions without any serious attempt to answer it is merely idle curiosity because it means we are unwilling to get down and dirty to grapple with its manifold complexities.
Remaining engaged with a good question can give rise to insights that open up new vistas in the way we understand the world and ourselves. And those insights can give rise to more questions that expand our minds and souls more than any inquiry-closing answer could.
The key is to treat our insights as tentative answers we can temporarily lean on until we discover better ones. Like the Ship of Theseus, we could transform an existing worldview we currently hold by replacing faulty parts as we navigate the ocean of life through sincere questions that seek to uncover the truths of our lives.
Did you know…
the phrase “curiosity killed the cat” has a second half to it? Here’s one variant: “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back,” which conveys the value in the satisfaction of uncovering knowledge/truth.
Either way, inquire and find out what’s true for yourself. How and where are you with your curiosity?
New Event by Rosslyn: Circle of Truth
A weekly space for fellow truth-seekers who are interested in doing the inner work to explore the ocean of your being and connect with the essential aspects of yourself.
Meeting most Wednesdays, 3:00 - 4:15 PM Eastern Time.
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