Questions are sometimes far more profound than answers...
One of my biggest mentors often said the quality of your life is determined by the quality of the questions you ask and below are three of the highest quality questions I have come across to date. They were questions he devised before his first trip to India, because he knew it to be a place of such spiritual learning.
I ask them of complete strangers at various times in my life in order to gauge where I am at and I relate the answers directly to my life.
I was out for my usual run around the park this morning and I ran past an elderly gentleman with a cane, sitting on a park bench. It was a beautiful sunny morning, blue sky with the birds chirping excitedly and a lovely stillness in the air. As I ran past him and said good morning he said something to me and because I was listening to an audio book on my iPod, I did not hear him but it seemed to be something about me running so I smiled and carried on.
Realising I may have missed an opportunity to connect, I stopped and turned back and asked him if he would mind if I asked him a couple of questions. He said not at all so I took a seat next to him, introduced myself and asked him the first question.
1 –“What is the one piece of advice you would give me from your life?”
His answer: “This may not mean anything to you” he said “and it may seem strange, but nothing really matters. The things we think are so important do not matter in the slightest. Money doesn’t matter … and I’ve had plenty … work doesn’t matter … people get married, stay married or move on … it doesn’t matter … I’ve been married for fifty years …nothing really matters.”
It did mean something to me because I know how human beings have such a tendency towards complexity. We habitually make so much out of so little and so little out of so much. These lessons I had picked up earlier from my mentor. I am currently at a crossroads in what I want to teach in life and really it doesn’t matter as long as I do something.
I told him that was great advice and I was actually listening to Bruce Lipton’s biology of beliefs on my iPod that very minute talking about our misguided perceptions and how to change our realities. So on to the next question:
2 – “What is the most profound thing that has happened in your life?”
He thought long and hard about this one. He said “These are very good questions. It’s hard to pick one, as there have been so many.”
Then he said, “It would have to come down to health. I have had lots of health problems. I’ve had two heart attacks, a triple bypass, Stints, testicular and bowel cancer to name but a few. I am ok now but I have had a pretty rough trot over the years.”
I told him I could see why his answer to question one was so profound. What this meant to me was this. I have always been concerned about health and keeping fit. I believe it is important because without your health you have nothing and you miss out on so much of life as this gentleman had. But after his answer I also saw how being overly concerned with health could be just as detrimental as it can keep you from being present. We can become so fixated on health that we forget to actually use it to enjoy life. In the end it isn’t about how long you live or what you have accumulated but more so about how you live. So I would add to his first piece of advice a little caveat, at least for myself … what DOES matter is whom did you connect with? Who have you touched? Who have you loved? Who has loved you?
“Last question,” I said as he stood up ready to leave.
3 – “What is the greatest thing that someone has ever done for you?”
Again he thought long and hard. “Wow that’s a real hard one,” He said as he shuffled his cane from one hand to the other. “I don’t know that anyone’s really done anything for me.”
I had to stop myself from interjecting with what was running through my mind. Things like what about your wife saying yes to marrying you, or have you got kids? Surely they’ve done something for you? But I shut up and let him dwell on it for a while.
Then he spoke. “A few years ago I lost a lot of money when my business went down the gurgler. The government changed the rules and I lost all my mining contracts overnight. I was broker than broke and to top it off the Doctors had just diagnosed me with motor neuron disease. I was in a bad way.”
He started to cough the words out, as his voice got raspy and he continued “This is quite emotional to talk about, but two guys I had worked with in Kalgoolie came over to my house one night and gave me their wages for the week.”
By this time his eyes had glossed over with moisture. He continued, “They weren’t well off guys by any means and I knew it would have made life hard for them but they just insisted”
I then added a question of my own. I said, “Wow what must that say about you then John?”
“What do you mean?” he said looking bewildered at my question?
I continued, “What must that say about the kind of guy you are John that two guys would be willing to do such a thing for you?” He welled up with tears as he looked up to the sky and when he looked down again tears rolled down his cheeks as he said, “I never looked at it like that before”
I shook his hand and thanked him as I left him to continue to ponder the small miracles that his life entailed and I reflected on what this meant to me.
How often do we brush over the things in our life that really matter? As I mentioned earlier we have a habit of making so much out of so little and so little out of so much. How easy it is to get caught up in the daily grind that we forget about the endless list of things we have to be grateful for. I have great health, a fantastic life and beautiful connections with each of my children and my ex partner of eighteen years. I have the love of quality friends and I do what I absolutely love for work. I travel a few times a year and yet I still seem to find time to worry.
So thank you John for the reflections you gave me this morning and I am also reminded about the profoundness of asking questions of complete strangers. I also know John got to reflect on something he had forgotten about and who knows how that will impact his day.
Thank you also to my mentor, Mitchel Behan for these three great questions he devised and for the awareness he inspired in me to ponder the answers and what meaning they could possibly have in my life.