Five year olds are the best at one skill: questioning.
This week, I had the joy of spending time with my extended family members, including my five year old cousin Madilyn. With a sparkling imagination and vibrant sense of humor, Madilyn reveals the curious nature of mankind. Anyone who has spent time with five year olds know that their vigorous search for truth often dissects what we consider mundane and common “facts of life”: Why do you go to work? Why do people start wars? Why do the deer get to live outside?
Okay, truthfully, I made those questions up – but my inner five-year-old still ponders common premises silently pervading my subconscious. The Questions Game is alive and well in my soul as a growing young adult. Though I am only nineteen, I imagine the “Trying Twenties” is just a more high-stakes search for identity and belonging than when I spent my days playing dress up and imagination games.
Along with spending time with my extended family and younger cousins, this week brought the adventure of being immersed in society on family trips. Surrounding myself with large crowds of people, I discovered, prompts ample questioning in my mind. I will describe two experiences of playing the Questions Game in “the real world.”
My first trip was with my sister Julie and my cousins Lisa, Josh, and Madilyn, with whom I absolutely love spending time, to the city of Baltimore. Baltimore has a growing, tourist-populated inner harbor where I spent my day delivering notes of kindness to strangers. Their varied reactions, from denial to confusion to reciprocity, could prompt an entirely different blog topic; essentially, I realized that day how much we need to be told we are loved. I enjoyed my visit because I was able to greet people on the street, share a moment of kindness, and be free to roam in the sunshine. I felt alive and connected, even in one of America’s large and crime-filled cities. This made me question why our cities, especially Baltimore, have become places of violence and hunger, poverty and danger, when there is so much potential for interconnectedness.
Then, on Friday, I spent five hours in one of America’s largest shopping malls in suburban DC. There were hundreds upon hundreds of people flooding stores with eyes searching for the prize object of their desires. I became one of those frenzied shoppers – and I felt my awareness drift out of my body and into the pretty, glittery clothing in front of me. The thousands of choices for dresses alone left me hyper-anxious, wondering, What if someone else has this at Davidson? What if I don’t know the current style? What if, in college, I don’t have friends because I don’t have the right clothes? These questions seem ridiculous when written, but in all honesty, I felt fearfully disconnected from reality and from God, from myself, in those stores. My inner voice of loving kindness was drowned out by in-store hip hop radio and advertisements.
In my mind, these two experiences illustrate the human dilemma associated with our sometimes conflicting needs for authenticity and belonging. When I was in the city, I lived out of the question, How can I give love to those I meet today? How can I share who I am? In the stores, however, my questions were reversed, essentially becoming, How can I fit in where I am today? How can I be who society accepts? The difference between these two questions is the paramount distinction between living out of Truth or illusion.
Buddha once said that there are two errors in finding the way to Truth – not starting, or not going far enough. During both experiences this week, I began the search when I began asking questions. However, I realized that questions born out of fear of rejection can only lead to a dead-end circle of self-doubt. They don’t go far enough to reach the Mystery of our whole identity, the nature of our being, the true longings of the heart.
Several weeks ago I did an exercise inspired by my favorite poem, “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, that models this experience. I began writing two lists: one titled “It doesn’t interest me…” and the second titled “What I really want [to know] is..”. The two columns were not meant to be a judgment on myself or others who ask either type of question. But the practice led me to a deeper awareness of my true heart’s longing. Now, repeating the exercise, this is my list:
It doesn’t interest me what I write, or learn, or achieve this day or any other. What I really want to know if I can sacrifice perfection knowing I am loved as a child of the Universe.
It doesn’t interest me how I can use medicine and material prosperity to numb the pains of life’s suffering, how I can be saved from uncertainty to escape discomfort. What I really want to know is how it feels to be alive with shame and anger, and transform energy to poetry.
It doesn’t interest me how to have ample money in my bank account, or to have a steady income. What I really want to know is how to live my purpose, and what calling to alleviate suffering echoes through my dreams.
It doesn’t interest me how to furnish a home or how to upgrade the size of our television screen. What I really want to know is how I express love for my family, and my gratitude to my Creator, for being alive and well in this world.
It doesn’t interest me what size of clothing from what store I wear, and how inexpensively I bought it. I really want to know if I feel comfortable in my own skin, and if I can refuse to sell my soul to “success” at all costs.
It doesn’t interest me if I can fit in to a dysfunctional society that rejects authenticity and enslaves Nature as its own property. What I really want to know is how I can cultivate love and meaning in this concrete jungle of a world, and see Beauty shining through its cracks.
And as always, I give gratitude to my readers, and to the trees for my inspiration today.