“Why?” The Most Useless Question

Yesterday during an intensive session with a client, he said, “Why did she leave me? Why didn’t I see the red flags?”

Today during a phone session with a man in his late 60s, he said, “I’ve always asked myself why did I get to come back from Vietnam and so many of my buddies didn’t?”

Some of my “Why’s” include: “Why did my father become an alcoholic? Why did I?” and “Why did God/He/She/It make man’s best friend the dog who gets so few years to live when whales and parrots and elephants get to be 50 and 60 years old and you can’t take any of them for a walk in the park?”

There are 10,000 answers to every “Why?” we could ask, and none of them will really give us the peace “…that passeth all understanding…” as the Bible says.

The question, “Why?” can take up lots of wasted time and energy and get us humans to use so much of our allotted time on earth looking for the answers.

Ah! But, “How?” Now that’s a question worth devoting a lifetime to answering. How do we survive a divorce, a death, a longing? How do we heal and recover from alcoholism or being born into the family disease? How, as Stevie Nicks once sang, “…can the child within my heart rise above? …can I handle the seasons of my life…?” How can be taught and modeled for us; experiences, strengths and hopes can be shared among us.

But I have to tell you the truth, I still find myself in the deep, dark, empty well of “Why?” But I don’t stay there nearly as long as I used to.

I wish I knew what to tell you regarding why the things that hurt you, lost you, or found you occurred. However, I will keep encouraging and supporting you no matter how smart you are, jump into the oasis of “How?” and drink the cool waters of life.

…Be patient toward all that is unsolved and try to love the questions themselves…

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…

~ Rilke Letters to a Young Poet

 

What Now?

Thoughts and Poetic Direction

When you come to a fork in the road, take it. Yogi Berra

No matter what age you are or what stage of life you are in you will come to Berra’s forks in the road. Most folks have four prongs pointing forward, none to the past unless you turn the fork on yourself and stick it in you to see if you’re done. People ask me all the time, “When will I be done?” My silly reply has always been the same, “Only steaks get done.”

Alright you’ve lost a relationship, parent, career, your youth, or a home. I, by the way, have lost all of these the last couple of years and I’ve asked myself this question every day: “So what now?” 

For many this question gets harder the older some of us get. But most of us are driven to seek out the answers anyway. Some of us go slowly and tease the answers out like pulling cotton from its stubborn boll or taking a pearl out of an oyster that doesn’t want you to have the “great prize.” Others attack the question like a bull in the china shop only to get hooked by our own horns – hooked on drugs or alcohol or other numbing processes to make us think we’re really searching for the answers, but we’re not.

To put all of this in a more poetic way, if we’re not careful during these difficult times we may, to quote William Stafford, “following the wrong god home we may miss our star.”

Perhaps you are having to do what I’m doing – drawing on the support of new and old friends even though sometimes making contact using my 300-pound cell phone to call them when I’d rather pull my comforter over my head and go back to sleep. I’ve also enlisted the help of a new therapist – nope, I’m not done with therapy or 12-step meetings.

I also have to keep cultivating good crops of patience, something I don’t grow very well because I want the answers to “What now?” When? Now, damit!

Then I re-read T.S. Eliot’s words one more time:

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Another thing I try to remember is to pay deep attention to my body and a little less to my mind – thank you T.S.

I recall the words of the Sufi poet Rumi: “Let the body speak openly now without your saying a word, as a student’s walking behind a teacher says, this one knows more clearly the way.”

And if I don’t listen to my body during these tough transitional times and slow everything down I will commit way too many errors in my impulsive decision making and end up like another of Rumi’s poems:

  Who makes these changes?

  I shoot an arrow right.

  It lands left.

  I ride after a deer and find myself

  Chased by a hog.

  I plot to get what I want

  And end up in prison.

  I dig pits to trap others

  And fall in.

  I should be suspicious

  Of what I want.

Translated by Coleman Bark

So I hope this short post, while not answering yours or my question: “What now?” provides a little comfort and some poetic pointers to the way forward.

You are not alone and I’ll give Rilke the last words for now: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror…” and “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…”