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Three Questions to Ask During Difficult Times

The practice of asking ourselves questions can support us in living with our full energy, in working more effectively, and in being more connected to ourselves and others.

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During painful, unusual, and uncertain times when it feels easier to retreat, shut down, or be swept away by fear, dread, or distractions, I find it useful, and actually quite important, to ask myself some straightforward, yet penetrating questions. The practice of asking ourselves questions can support us in living with our full energy, in working more effectively, and in being more connected to ourselves and others.

Here are three surprisingly simple questions that I find particularly useful:

What brings me alive?
What do I have to offer?
What action will I take next based on the previous two responses?

Let’s look at these questions, and each one’s specific purpose, in more detail now.

What brings me alive?

Mindfulness practice involves a shift from being on auto-pilot to living with greater choice and freedom. It takes intention, practice, and some courage to let go of our old, safe models and limitations, especially in times of great uncertainty.

The question – what brings me alive? – can be life-affirming, love-affirming, and is a way of shedding any old habits or stories of being powerless, or a victim of circumstance. It can be a way of moving in the direction of discovery and owning your inner power. This question reminds me of a quote by Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder…”

What happens when you allow yourself to wonder?

What do I have to offer?

This is such a great question. It needs to be asked with some kindness, directness, and of course, with some humility. Reflecting on what we have to give reframes our thinking and our approach so we start to deviate from feelings of needing, wanting, or lacking. It takes us from a mindset of scarcity to abundance, right in the midst of whatever challenges, fears, or even potentially catastrophic situations we might be facing. We almost always have something to offer whether it’s a kind word, a specific skillset, an act of generosity, or simply our attention. All over the world right now, people are volunteering their time to do things like making protective masks, creating content that uplifts people, preparing meals to donate, and looking out for others that are vulnerable. Many of these offerings are new or novel, and inspired by this uniquely challenging period in human history.

I don’t know the source of this quote, but it fits well here:

“Love without an invoice.”

What action will I take next?

“Those who can, do” is a saying I’ve got lodged in my memory from somewhere. The third question – what action will I take next? – turns this saying around to “Those who do, can!” (I think this saying may come from my friend Patricia Ryan, and her wonderful book, Improv Wisdom.) Essentially what this saying means is that by taking action, by making a choice, you shift from possibility to actuality. There is power in doing, in making choices. Even if you choose no action, that is a conscious choice, and may be the best choice for now.

So now, over to you – try on these three simple questions:

What brings me alive?
What do I have to offer?
What action will I take next?

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    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

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