Friday, August 26, 2011

The practice, questions and answers

"I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within you the possibility of creating and forming, as an especially blessed and pure way of living; train yourself for that but take whatever comes, with great trust, and as long as it comes out of your will, out of some need of your innermost self, then take it upon yourself, and don't hate anything."

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, trans. Stephen Mitchell

As I read these words from Rilke, I was struck by how aptly they describe the practice. Many of us are conditioned from a young age to try to know the answers to all questions. I guess this probably begins in elementary school, where one is expected to know everything that is in the lesson for that particular day, so as to be ready to spout out the answer when called upon by the teacher. I can't help feeling that this mindset carries over into the rest of our lives, where we are supposed to know what to say or do in any situation that we are in at work, or with our friends or family: We tacitly assume that there is some kind of guide book for everything in life which tells us the right answers, and the right things to do or say all the time.

In many ways, the practice turns this mindset on its head. Sure, there is a set sequence of postures, and we have teachers who can guide us and advise us on the most productive ways to approach different aspects of the practice, based on their experience. But ultimately, our practice is our own, and the journey is one that we can only experience on our own. This is especially true when difficulties arise in the practice. When injuries, life changes or medical conditions make it necessary for us to modify our practice, for example, the question "How/what is the best way to go about the practice right now?" is a question that we have to face on our own every single moment, and the answer is not always easy or readily forthcoming. Very often, a fair amount of working with different approaches to the issue and adjusting one's own life and/or practice is needed, and the specific answer that is best suited to one's own situation can only arise after a lot of honest reflection and creative struggle. Sometimes, the best answer may take months or even years to emerge. Perhaps the thing to do, then, is to live as fully as possible in the process of questioning. Try our best to find the answer today, but do not be too disappointed if no answer arises today. Then get up tomorrow, and try again. And again the day after. And perhaps one might just come to enjoy the process of continual questioning. And the answer, when it comes, might very well flow unnoticed into the deepest parts of one's life, so that one unknowingly comes to live the answer for which one is searching. As always, do your practice, and all is coming.