A Brief Meditation on the Questions

I have had a busy couple of months and have regretted being absent from here. I wanted to let you know that I am still around and will return to blogging here again after the New Year.

Winter morning

Winter morning (Photo credit: blmiers2)

In the meantime, I want to share some short but juicy tidbits about dwelling with questions and the unknown. This is a topic near to my heart, as many of you know, that started truly percolating with my graduate school experience and my Masters thesis research on therapists’ experiences with uncertainty. And now with the coming of the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year, and the always evolving journey of striving to live as my true self (which brings ceaseless rounds of questions), it feels like a topic that is more alive and important than ever. My intention is not to provide any narrative or reflection but to just drop these thoughts into the well here as sparks for your own reflection during yet another season of darkness in the cycle of life.

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There is something of the Winter that is primal, mysterious and utterly irreplaceable, something both bleak and profoundly beautiful, something essential to this myth of ourselves, to the story of our humanity, as if we somehow need the darkness of the winter months to replenish our inner spirits as much as we need the light, energy and warmth of the summer.

– Sting, liner notes for “If On a Winter’s Night” album, p. 8-9

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There are a lot of facts to be known in order to be a professional anything – lawyer, doctor, engineer, accountant, teacher. But with science there is one important difference. The facts serve mainly to access the ignorance. . . . You use those facts to frame a new question. . . . In other words, scientists don’t concentrate on what they know, which is considerable but also miniscule, but rather on what they don’t know. The one big fact is that science traffics in ignorance, cultivates it, and is driven by it. Mucking about in the unknown is an adventure.

– Stuart Feinstein, Ignorance: How It Drives Science, p. 15

And later in the same book:

Science, then, is not like the onion in the often used analogy of stripping away layer after layer to get at some core, central, fundamental truth. Rather, it’s like the magic well: no matter how many of buckets of water you remove, there’s always another one to be had. Or even better, it’s like the widening ripples on the surface of a pond, the ever larger circumference in touch with more and more of what’s outside the circle, the unknown. This growing forefront is where science occurs. Curious then that in so many settings – the classroom, the television special, the newspaper accounts – it’s the inside of the circle that seems so enticing, rather than what’s out there on the ripple. It is a mistake to bob around in the circle of facts instead of riding the wave to the great expanse lying outside the circle. But that’s still where most people who are not scientists find themselves.

–  p. 28-29

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Here, where an immense country lies about me over which the winds pass coming from the seas, here I feel that no human being anywhere can answer for you those questions and feelings that deep within them have a life of their own; for even the best err in words when they are meant to mean most delicate and almost inexpressible things. . . . I want to beg you, as much as I can, be patient with all that is unresolved in your heart. Try to live the questions themselves like locked rooms or books that are written in a foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers; they cannot 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. You will then, gradually, without even noticing it perhaps, live along some day into the answer.

– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

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