spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
milli-question/Ian Hughes
Was it really asking too much to want my partner to be as interested in me as I was (and am) in myself? The way I saw it and continue to see it although I am not in this relationship today is if she had been interested, she would have asked more questions.  Here’s what happened.

Me: I feel taken care of because you’re paying for my dinner tonight.

She: I’ve had a lot of old girl friends pay for my dinners.

I felt slapped when she said that. There I sat with my heart on my sleeve, right after Valentine’s Day, and she didn’t recognize vulnerability when she heard it. But now almost a year later, I know what was wrong.

Truth is, neither of us was really there in that restaurant, which was Dosa on Fillmore across from the Sundance Kabuki.  

Had either of us been truly present to each other, that exchange might have sounded more like this:

Me: I feel taken care of because you’re paying for my dinner tonight.

She: What does that feel like?

Me: I feel vulnerable yet safe. Thank you for giving me this dinner and this feeling.

She: Wow. I didn’t know that. I’ve had a lot of old girl friends pay for my dinners.

Me: And how did that make you feel?

Let’s assume for a minute that for her, there was some seed of sadness, loss or confusion still unexplored about those past experiences with all those old girl friends paying for dinner.  So I ask her more questions.

She: I’ve had a lot of old girl friends pay for my dinners.

Me: Wow, did you feel really good about that, the way I feel now?

I’ve read books about relationships, love, and nonviolent communication, so I know questions aren’t the only way to show interest in someone you care about, but for me questions are big.

I have asked myself questions over the years, but they have changed considerably. Early questions were profound but unanswerable. Like Why was I born? Why isn’t my mother as interested in me as she is in herself? What is the meaning of life? What am I meant to do with mine? If I’m supposed to be Jewish, where’s the impulse? But maturity and eventually meditation shifted me, and I began to pose questions that I, and others, could answer.

How important are questions? Influential Enlightenment figure Voltaire said, “Judge others by their questions rather than by their answers.” And despite preferring not to judge at all, I once asked writer, Francine Prose when she spoke at the Jewish Community Center, a question I wouldn’t object to being judged by.

I asked her “What do you feel for the characters in your novels?” And she said she always found something in their humanity to value whether or not she approved of the actions she had them perform in her fictional worlds. Isn't that a good answer? I could ask myself the same question about people in the real world. 

Questions have value when their potential answers invite surprise and point toward truths.

So far this year I have posed mostly practical questions: For example, there’s the question of my art phobia and if the least painful entrée into creativity would be a watercolor or a figure drawing class. How can I approach collage without hyperventilating?

How shall I upgrade my cooking now that I can’t afford to dine out as often? If I do take a cooking class, should it be beginning knife skills, sushi or intro to charcuterie?

Do I want to put videos and podcasts on my web page or rent a barn and do a one-woman show, which my oldest son suggests I call “The Angina Monologues?”

Though I tackle the practical, I wouldn’t mind knowing why I was born, if there is life after death and what’s my life’s purpose. Answers to those questions start to glimmer as I practice mindfulness meditation and stay present.

I think mindfulness will help me answer the question of how one attains what Dr. Howard Thurman* calls “a new and creative relatedness.” Actually, the answer he gives asks an even more profound question. He says, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive."

People who have come alive are people who are awake to their interconnection with all living beings and who see and honor the dignity in all. No question about it. Namaste

*Dr. Howard Thurman was an African-American minister who, in 1944, established with a white minister, the first racially integrated, intercultural church in the United States in San Francisco.

Guy Rittger
2/6/2012 05:43:27 am

Your emphasis on the importance of questioning reminded me of an experience we had at the Seattle Art Museum, as well as a personal aphorism.

First, the aphorism: "There are no stupid questions, only stupid people." This extension of the well-known observation concerning the intrinsic value of questioning calls attention to the questioner's motivation in asking his/her question. Questions that place value on the responder are those I respect, regardless of whether there is any desire for a meaningful or significant response - i.e., when asking another person how he/she is, it matters not what the answer is; the mere formal civility of asking meets my criteria.

The recollection of our experience, several years ago, at the Seattle Art Museum, was triggered by your passing reference to your art phobia. As we wandered through the exhibits, the conversation turned to the meaning of various works of contemporary art. In my characteristically pedantic and aggravating manner, I was making the point that the significance of such works lay not in what they "mean" but in the questions they provoke. The trouble most people have with such work, however, is that they do not want to be provoked. Or, perhaps, they don't want to have to ask questions of works of art or of themselves: "Why did the artist place this crucifix in a pool of urine?" "Why do I feel anxious or frustrated by this work?"

Unfortunately, this is also why many people prefer not to question our leaders or authority figures in general. They prefer ready-made answers to questions that nobody asks.

2/6/2012 08:50:04 am

Pithy. Now I need to reread it. I think you are making important points here. You could do a guest blog for me anytime you want.

Gregory Jon Rittger
2/6/2012 07:11:13 am

"Questions have value when their potential answers invite surprise and point toward truths." Unfortunately so many of these are ignored or left unanswered.

2/6/2012 08:52:08 am

Where does that leave you? Are you saying you feel thwarted when your questions go unanswered? Love you!!

Gregory Jon Rittger
2/6/2012 10:13:28 am

I was thinking on a less personal level, but that is a good question. I wouldn't say I feel thwarted, more like insignificant and non-existent in the heart/mind of the asked. Now, the next obvious question would be "Why do I care?". Being concerned with the way others perceive me has always been my Achilles' heel. Something I hope to overcome in time. All love and respect to you.

Guy Rittger
2/10/2012 07:54:39 am

Greg - Who are these "others" of whom you speak? Give me a list and I'll take care of them for you. I've got your heel, brother.

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