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The Gift of a Question

  1. Jul 5, 2004 #1
    "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change." ~ Carl Rogers

    Because we are ignorant we may learn. Acquiring new insights can seem effortless when we nonchalantly accept our ignorance and spontaneously follow it wherever it may lead. In many respects, our ignorance and questions themselves are much more important and meaningful than any particular answers we might find. Each new answer generates countless new questions, but it is the questions themselves that drive us to find the answers in the first place, and our ignorance that makes it all possible. The meaning and import of our answers then, lies as much with our acceptance of our ignorance and questions as it does with the answers themselves. It is the humble acceptance of the gift of a question and the paradox of existence, which is a pearl beyond price.

    For many ironically, without acceptance the depths of their skepticism, rationality, and pragmatism suffer. Being diligent in tearing apart and thoroughly analyzing the vast multitude of possibilities life presents us is simply not enough to restore these losses. Stoically pushing aside our feelings and striving for objectivity is perhaps one way to regain some of this loss, but often a rather modest beginning rather than a means to an end. The various emotional contexts in which we live our lives, including the calm and peaceful acceptance of our existence, is the foundation of reason and how we most effortlessly and effectively find meaning in anything.

    Without the acceptance that makes working towards objectivity possible in the first place, it can become a mindless and uninsightful mechanical process essentially no different from the way my computer crunches numbers. If we adopt a contentious unaccepting approach, the meaning and import of the answers we might find can be lost amidst our emotional turmoil. Whichever way we might pursue leads inexorably back to the central issue of acceptance.

    Exactly how each of us goes about finding and promoting acceptance depends upon the individual, and can be as easy as taking our next breath or more difficult than rocket science. There isn’t any intrinsic difficulty with the task at hand, but instead, the problem lies most pointedly with our internal struggles. As paradoxical as it might sound, sometimes we just seem to want to be angry, sad, and generally unaccepting for no apparent reason at all. At other times, when attempting to make ourselves feel better we seem to draw a complete blank on where to begin. However, whether we recognize it as such or not, the attempt itself is just such a beginning.

    On such occasions exploring the source of our feelings, thinking of things we can be grateful for, presenting ourselves with the gift of a question, or otherwise directly addressing our negativity in an assertive but accepting manner can be extremely helpful. Making a habit of doing so and learning to value and embrace the process itself can take time, but fortunately this can be achieved in any number of ways. The gift of even largely rhetorical questions can sometimes be invaluable as a way of at least getting the process started, a faint reminder of what we need to do in order to find renewed understanding and meaning. These faint reminders can then prompt us to take the process further by writing down our feelings, talking to a friend, meditating, or whatever.

    This attitude we call acceptance then is at the heart of philosophy, science, spirituality, relationships, and life in general. Nonetheless, few people actually study, much less master, it in any kind of formal setting. Consequently we can go to extremes to implement ad hoc solutions or frantically search for answers when simply asking sincere questions could save us a tremendous amount of time, energy, confusion, and discomfort. Despite the enormous power of the gift of accepting questions, society at large does not demonstrably value questions. On the contrary practicing the art of asking questions, especially introspective questions, is frequently cited as extremely confusing, frightening, unproductive, and generally undesirable. Thus we are more often than not left to our own devices to struggle with the confusing morass of conflicting feelings and beliefs we accumulate over a lifetime and can become embroiled in on a daily basis in our interactions with others.

    Questions can feel threatening and futile to even the most self-confident and otherwise open-minded among us. Feeling needy, vulnerable, or that questions are futile are among the most formidable barriers to overcome if we are to present the gift of questions and learn from whatever answers we might discover. Logic and reason, facts and faith, can all be invaluable tools for exploring life, but without acceptance their inherent power can be severely diminished or even turned counterproductive.

    Sincere questions are inherently accepting, and do not demand answers or anything else for that matter. Our personal desires sometimes help to prompt our questions, but can also be so unrelenting and forceful they tend to drown out the import of the answers when they come. Such questions progressively become more rhetorical as any modest germ of sincerity they might possess is overwhelmed by our demands. In finding ways to at least temporarily put aside our demands or otherwise cultivate acceptance, we not only create the opportunity for genuine questions to arise but also, just as importantly, provide an environment in which everyone can more easily listen for the answers.

    Acceptance therefore is especially critical to any epistemological inquiry we might choose to under take. Whether we conceive of acceptance in any particular situation as merely a tool or something much more personal and affecting, its influence on us all is undeniable. From the prosaic acceptance of the air we breathe to the most profound of personal or intellectual insights, acceptance plays a key role in how we learn and what we come to know. In our attempts to understand ourselves, the world around us, or existence itself, acceptance and the gift of the questions it makes possible for all of us is irreplaceable.

    Wu Li
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 10, 2004 #2
    That's quite a speech, isn't it weird how there's a certain calmness to buddhist monks, it's likely they are exceptional at acceptance type mental combat as evidenced by how they make people cry and feel inferior and become slaves to starring at walls and rocks for the rest of their lives deluded that it is a happy experience to do nothing but accept a mere and fleeting existence, what power of control they must enjoy, probably the most menacing barbarian on earth is the buddhist monk.
  4. Jul 10, 2004 #3
    What bigotted rubbish. Meditation is now recommended by the AMA as a healthy practice that can promote longevity. In addition, brain scans of practicing Buddhists have demonstrated that they really are happier than the average joe.

    Personally, I am not a Buddhist, but I am certainly not a flaming bigot either!
  5. Jul 10, 2004 #4
    Thank you, Wu Li. Your original post is, in my opinion, true universal wisdom that goes beyond any religious, social, or philosophical lines. We, I at least, need often to be reminded of such basic truths. Its good to see you back participating here again. I've missed your inputs.
  6. Jul 10, 2004 #5
    jammieg, you just contradicted your memory conditioning post with the word "deluded". Is there any more happieness in any act? The total sum of pain = the total sum of joy in any life. It's manifestations are equal. To see beauty in a rock or the feel of the wind or to look at the clouds is no greater than to ride an amusement park ride or to do drugs. One style of anything may release greater quantities of joy or pain upon your life, but then there will be the oposite to contend with. Sometimes you will contend with a desolate desert with no water to be found anywhere. This is the nature of life, the delusion is to think that you will any happier doing anything else than being. This is the power of not the Buddhist, but the power of any human realization from any culture or race.
  7. Jul 10, 2004 #6
    Thanks for the compliment. It is written in a particularly difficult to master mystical style typical to Taoist texts. Ironically, your response highlights this style.

    Note that the pronouns are very slippery, it is difficult to say with any assurance whether they refer to to the individual reader or people collectively. The idea is that the reader be free to interpret the text according to their immediate mental state, or not make any interpretation at all.

    For example, some might be tempted to argue with the basic premise of the text and assert that it is so much idealistic nonsense. Others, such as yourself, might view it as being purely descriptive. While some might interpret it as so much meaningless nonsense or psycho-babble intended to calm and focus the mind. Hopefully, there is no single correct interpretation. :tongue2:
  8. Jul 10, 2004 #7
    That may (at least, I hope) be why I enjoyed it so much as I cut my teeth, so to speak, on Taoist texts so many years ago whether I understood any of it or not. Each time I read it I gain more understanding and am even more amazed and in awe of Taoist thinking. Would I be wrong is thinking that it was the beginning or first of such thinking or philosophy?
  9. Jul 10, 2004 #8
    Around two thousand years ago or so the entire world went through a philosophical and theological revolution as technology and civilization began to radically reshape human thought. In addition to the origins of the modern great religions, more fundamentally was the development of the logistics integrated with them. Formal logic was born first in India and then in Rome, and the two types developed, the Vedic and Aristotelian, covered just about all the bases conceived of to date.

    Taoism is considered the meat and potatoes of Asian thought and Vedic logistics, simplicity itself but with incredibly subtle depths. As physicists like to say, it has elegant simplicity. The Tai Chi or Yin Yang symbol of Taoism can be found integrated into virtually every Asian school of thought, not because they all espouse Taoism particularly, but because it is considered a universal worldview among Asians. Linguistically and conceptually, it speaks directly to the root of asian worldviews.

    In the west, Aristotelian logic was so widely accepted and incorporated without the slightest reservation, that certain glaring mistakes in it's original formulation were not corrected until modern times. This same unreserved adoption of formal logistics also occured with the Vedic logics, and both occurances suggest that the societies of the world were simply ready to become more organized. From the original tens of thousands of religions and lifestyles in prehistoric times, the modern world now counts perhaps a few hundred or thousand.

    Taoist thought itself can be traced back to prehistoric chinese shamanism, however, it's more formal modern incarnation is thought to be mixture of Indian Panthiesm with the original Chinese Shamanism. The end result is neither, it is a form of mysticism with strong correlations to shamanism and pantheism. It also stradles the line between Eastern and Western thought, resembling the Heraclician Pantheistic roots of western philosophy.

    In other words, evidently it does speak to something fundamental, but if we knew what it was exactly it would not be Taoism. :0)
  10. Jul 10, 2004 #9
    EXactly! Thanks for the information.
  11. Jul 10, 2004 #10
    I have been, for twenty years, what I choose to label as a senior scholar. A senior scholar in my definition is an individual over forty who is a Critical Thinker and a self-learner. I have a number of years of formal education but my process of understanding began with my senior scholarship.

    I indulge my curiosity where ever it takes me. I follow my questions. I borrow books from my local community college library. I read history, biography, science, mathematics, etc.

    I find that my questions develop much faster than do the answers. When answers do arrive it is exilerating. This senior scholarship is the best hobby I have ever had. I suggest everyone give it a try during the second half of life when ambition and family demands subside a bit.
  12. Jul 10, 2004 #11
    I agree that it's extremely biased, but how far did you get in trying to accept this radically odd view and understand this opinion before judging it? I'm fairly sure I might have laughed at it if someone else had posted it and felt it wasn't even worth a response, but then that could be a more subtle form of bias.
  13. Jul 10, 2004 #12
    There is a difference between a judgment and an assessment. If I say, "The sky is blue" it is an assessment." My response was nothing more than a standard response to my assessment of the post. Websites such as this are moderated for a reason, but sometimes it helps the moderators if you point out the obvious. They can't be expected to closely follow every post.

    As for how long it took, it was automatic. Acceptance does not mean one jumps in front of a moving vehicle or allows another to walk all over you. If a post is bigoted it means accepting that it is apparently bigoted and responding accordingly. Just as sincere questions do not make demands, neither does acceptance.
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