In Parker Palmer’s column at On Being, he writes about allowing his life’s unfolding to be guided by open-ended questions that look at the big picture.
Here is an example question he gives at the end of the post, which he arrives at after some give and take with the wording: “What do I want to let go of, and what do I want to give myself to?”
Questioning the universe and then listening for its wisdom seems like a gentle and good way to live a life. In yoga there is a similar practice of sankalpa, translated as an intention, a resolve, or a wish.
When I practice yoga nidra, a 45-minute relaxation meditation, at the beginning of the session I allow a sankalpa to manifest itself in my mind. Sometimes I have a clear image of myself realizing my wish. When I was preparing for my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, I would see myself walking on an open road under a blue, blue sky, experiencing total freedom. And ultimately, at moments, this freedom is what I experienced.
When my son returned from India, he told me he learned that a yogi makes plans, sets an intention, and then lets the intention recede from his conscious mind. In other words, he doesn’t fret over the outcome. All his actions will lead toward the manifestation of his wishes.
I like the practice of posing a question and waiting for the stream of life to unfold. By allowing a question to guide us, our very lives become the answer.
My question is this: How can I feel more at peace in my heart and mind, and how can I share this peace of mind with others so that they too can experience peace?
In a way, the question is a mission statement for a life, but since it’s open ended, it doesn’t presuppose that we already know how to achieve the outcome or even what that outcome will look or feel like.
When I came home from Spain on June 30, I was not anxious at all, even after discontinuing all the medications I had been taking. Now, two and a half months later, some of the old anxieties are creeping back, and even though I continue walking, meditating, and reading inspiring books, it’s rare that I don’t feel the pain of some ancient grief bubbling up.
The difference now, after the Camino (A.C.!) , is that I don’t take any pills to muffle the gnawing, nibbling discomfort. As I learned from the gentle teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, I say to the anxiety, “Oh, hello old friend. What do you have to tell me today?”
My old friend anxiety says: Keep walking. Keep writing. Breathe deeply and slowly. Listen deeply. Be patient.
Chattahoochee River, Late Summer
*** If you take medications, please don’t stop taking them because of what you read here. I’m not a professional therapist of any kind, and I only speak of my own experience. I have taken different anti-depressants for decades, and I think they might have helped me at one point or another. They certainly seemed to help. But I have the support of a therapist, my family, and many years of life to help me face my inner demons, and I believe I am ready to do this one day at a time, breath by breath.