Rumor has it that on leaving the Garden of Eden, Adam said to Eve: “My dear, we are living in an age of transition.” Ordinarily, life proceeds ordinarily. We dwell securely within the garden of the protective myths, values, and paradigms of our society; our questions are about making a living, purchasing the things we have been taught to desire, raising our children, and keeping up with the neighbors. But times of crisis challenge our comfortable assumptions about who we are and force us to ask more radical questions. Carl Jung reached such a point at midlife when he realized that he didn’t know what myth he had been living.
Since permanent change is here to stay and crises and transitions are an inevitable part of the human condition, a wise person will hone some of the skills necessary for thriving in troubled times. Think of the crises every Adam and Eve must negotiate as composed of three interlocking circles: identity crises, love crises, social crises. It follows that the radical questions we most need to ask in times of transition (when our world is burning) are those addressed to the solitary self, those concerning the intimate relationship between I and thou, and those that have to do with the commonwealth within which we live and move and have our being.
CROSS EXAMINING THE SELF
What is happening to me?
What comes next for me?
What is the source and meaning of my
restlessness, dissatisfaction, longing, anxiety?
What do I really desire?
What have I not brought forth that is within me?
What have I contributed to life?
What are my gifts? My vocation?
What ought I to do? Who says?
What does my dream-self know that “I” don’t?
What story, myth, values, authorities, institutions inform my life?
What is my ultimate concern?
How faithful am I to my best vision of myself?
At whose expense has my wealth, security,
and happiness been purchased?
QUESTIONS FOR I AND THOU
Whom do I love?
By whom am I loved?
Am I more loved or loving?
How intimate are we?
How close is close enough?
What are we doing together?
Do we help each other broaden and deepen the reach
of our caring, to become more compassionate?
What clandestine emotions fear, anger, resentment,
guilt, shame, sorrow, desire for revenge – keep us
from being authentic with each other?
When do our vows and promises become a prison from
which I and thou must escape to preserve the
integrity of our separate beings?
Can we renew our passion and commitment?
When is it time to say goodbye?
PROBING THE COMMONWEALTH
Who is included within the “we,” the community,
the polis that encompasses and defines my being?
Who is my neighbor?
For whom, beyond the circle of my family, do I care?
Who are my enemies?
To what extremes would I go to defend my country?
Can I be just, loving, merciful, and be loyal to my
profession, my corporation, my country?
If we were to measure our success by Gross National
Happiness (the national standard of Bhutan) how would our economic, political, educational, and religious institutions change?
What would have to happen to convince sovereign nations to wage peace rather than expending their wealth and creativity in producing more deadly and genocidal weapons?
If you doubt that asking a new question is a royal road to revolution, transformation, and renewal, consider what happened when Descartes asked, “Of what may I be certain?” or when Newton asked, “How is a falling apple like a rising moon?” or when Marx asked, “Why were men born free but are everywhere in chains?” or when Freud asked, “What is the meaning of dreams?”
Your question is the quest you’re on. No questions – no journey. Timid questions — timid trips. Radical questions — an expedition to the root of your being. Bon voyage.