by Troy Chapman
(published October 03)
Several years ago I realized that my life was governed by a question, what I’ve come to think of as my “life question.” We all have a life question. It sits — often unseen and unexamined — behind all our thinking, our actions, and our ways of being in the world. When I realized this question was governing my life and that my life wasn’t working I put two and two together and thought: Maybe there’s something wrong with my question.
My life question at that time was, “What will make me happy?” Out of this question came a value system and a whole way of looking at the world — what makes me happy is “good” and valuable; what doesn’t is “bad” and valueless.
This is a pretty popular life question that comes in many variations:
• What will make me rich?
• What will make me popular?
• What will make me powerful?
• What will make me attractive?
These are all forms of the question, “What will make me happy?”
When I began to suspect that this question was ruining my life I set about to change it. After looking around for a better question I ultimately settled on one that transformed my life. Instead of asking, “What will make me happy?” I began asking, “What will give my life meaning and deepen my connection? What contributes to self realization?”
This question also produced a value system: whatever deepens meaning and connection and promotes self realization is “good” and valuable; what doesn’t is not. Now I ask this question when I’m angry; I ask it when I don’t want to forgive; I ask it about the way I’m handling a conflict; I ask it about the TV programs I’m watching, the way I’m eating, the things I’m writing about, the technology I choose to embrace, the way I look at the trees changing colors, and pretty much everything else I think or do. It’s a life question so it applies to anything that might be defined as “life” or “living.”
I’m astounded that one little question can change so much. Now I’ve begun asking it about world affairs and political/religious ideologies: Does this way of thinking and behaving promote meaning and connection in the world? Does it advance collective self-realization?
It’s amazing how much of what we do fails the test when we ask the question. Suddenly things that might have made sense under the light of some other question, make none when this one is directed upon them. What if we committed ourselves to doing only things that deepen meaning and connection and promote self-realization? How would our lives be different? How would our world be different?
This is the real spiritual work. Answers come and go, they entertain our intellect, but it’s questions that shape our lives.