8 July 2022 | BY ANDJELKA JANKOVIC | Life
The world was on fire and no one could save me but you
I was having lunch with my friend Ande a while ago, and the first thing she asked me when she sat down was: “What is a revelation you have had lately?”
Okay WOW, I was blown away. I had not been asked such an imaginative question in a while.
Around this time, my life had become a quest for the most beautiful question in the world.
It is now a day-to-day practice and discipline of mine to ask more thoughtful, provoking and invitational questions.
This all started with a poet asking me the most beautiful questions I’d ever heard, and me realising that I had missed many opportunities to do so myself.
A beautiful question always enlarges the context in which you’re living – deepening the horizon – and taking you out of yourself and into yourself at the same time. One of David Whyte’s personal definitions is:
A beautiful question shapes your identity as much by asking it, as by having it answered. It deepens your sense of yourself.
In this search, everything I know about asking better questions can be distilled into this:
Ask beautiful questions, get beautiful answers.
It is as simple and terrifying as that. And also quite hard.
How you ask a question is important.
If you’re going to ask a beautiful question, be prepared to actually listen to the answer. The job is only half done otherwise.
Sometimes the best question to ask is listening.
In Maps to Ecstasy, Gabrielle Roth writes:
In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions:
When did you stop dancing?
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop being enchanted by stories?
When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?
Where we have stopped dancing, singing, being enchanted by stories, or finding comfort in silence is where we have experienced the loss of soul, Roth says.
These are examples of beautiful questions. Ones that lead us to more real, honest, and refreshing conversations.
There’s a brilliant video by Alan Watts where he asks: What would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life? Alan Watts tells you to do that and forget the money. Anything you can be interested in will find others.
A beautiful question can completely reshape your life.
There is something so satisfying about a really good question like this. It awakens you, shaking off the sleepiness and inviting you to reveal something new.
A friend once asked me casually in a cafe: What would it take to be yourself?
I am always interested in the shape of your solitude: Can you be alone and do you like the company you keep?
And perhaps there are some questions that will always be unanswered like: What happens if I eat too many pappadums?
A real question is beautiful and a beautiful question is real.
We’re all just waiting to be asked.
Being engrossed in this pursuit of beautiful questions has led me to uncharted territory where I am map-making as I go along. Let me give you an example.
I was having lunch with my beloved mama on Mother’s Day last year and she asked me when I was going to give her grandkids. This is the most asked question in my family (after, where is the salt?) and a bit of a trigger for me. I have told them many times that yes, I wish to have children when I meet the person I want to have children with. My mum explicitly knows this, and yet – I was being asked the same annoying question again as if I could be spontaneously pregnant (like when she bought me a cute wooden tea set for, as I pointed out, the children that I do not yet have). Normally I would blow up, but this time I took a looooong breath and I said instead: ‘Mum, if you ask a beautiful question you will get a beautiful answer.’
We were silent for about thirty seconds. I resolved to not speak until my mum did. Then she asked: ‘What kind of joy do you want to bring into your life?’ Now THAT is a beautiful question and finally, we could have a real conversation.
It is true: joy is coming.
A beautiful question like this leads to a better foundation for understanding.
A real conversation is noticeably different to the humdrum of other ones. It will bring you to a new frontier of understanding yourself, and others as well.
As David Whyte writes:
There is no self that will survive a real conversation. There’s no self that will survive a real meeting with something other than itself… And after a while you realise you don’t want to actually keep that old static identity. You want to move the pivot of your presence from this thing you think is you, into this meeting with the future, with the people you serve, with your family, with your loved ones. It’s in this self-forgetfulness where you meet something other than yourself that all kinds of astonishing things happen.
Glorious as usual, David.
A beautiful question is going to leave you hungry for more.
An average question tends to get an average response.
As David Whyte writes in his 10 Questions That Have No Right To Go Away: ‘A real conversation always contains an invitation. You are inviting another person to reveal herself or himself to you, to tell you who they are or what they want. To do this requires vulnerability. Now we tend to think that vulnerability is associated with weakness, but there’s a kind of robust vulnerability that can create a certain form of strength and presence too.’
So, why is it difficult to ask a beautiful question?
I’ve been sitting with this very question for many months now, and have failed multiple times in the attempt (although they make great examples of what not to say).