A few years ago, a friend of mine told me I needed to rid my vocabulary of the word, “why.” I immediately asked him:
He said the word was riddled with implication of judgment. This one word is intended to be a simple information gathering device, but depending on tone we could be saying one would need a pretty damn good reason to change OR have an opinion. Why means we need evidence and justification for our actions, and usually, “because it feels right to me” isn’t one of them. When my friend made this recommendation, I balked. It’s just a word after all. However, I did start understanding and hearing subtle ways in which we judge and shame people just with this simple word:
I’m quitting Crossfit.
I like to eat pickles with fried eggs on Wednesday afternoons.
I could see the judgment, but I felt I needed this word. I strongly felt that we couldn’t change our own behavior or prevent further wrong-doing if we couldn’t ask, “why”? I needed to know why I was anxious so I could stop being anxious. While the self-inquiry provided me with a lot of theories, the information itself didn’t liberate me.
When I began my training with yogaHOPE, I was very bogged down in the why’s: Why do I feel this way? Why do I get nauseous every time I think about a certain event? Why am I not better yet? The why’s felt important because they were the only way I could get better, get healthier, and get more sane. Yet, I discovered that all my questioning was actually a distraction. If I could think and question away from pain, I won’t have to feel it. Also, “why” is distracting because sometimes there is no answer. Maybe you can’t fully remember the triggering event that started all this anxiety. Maybe it isn’t one thing but many factors all together. Maybe whatever happened or however you are, just is.
Oh, and that “just is” part is very tough to hear; because it really leaves us to sit with how we feel. It just is because it is, is like a dank corner in a creepy basement. We feel trapped, and the exploration and contemplation of the why feels like the way out. I’m starting to find that asking why just keeps me in that dark corner with my eyes clenched tight and my ears plugged. Asking why might tell me how I got to that dark basement, but it isn’t going to help me find the light switch and the stairs to get the hell out of there. There is no getting through any hard thing while asking why… Why me? Why now?
I don’t think why should be eradicated from the vocabulary. It’s perfectly fine question. Questions are good. They expand our cognitive awareness and make us curious and free-thinking people. Yet, we have this entire nervous system within our tissue that doesn’t even have to consult the thinking, cognitive mind to react. This whole system is designed to keep us safe and has no real consideration for the why’s. It just knows that we are in danger, and we need to fight, run, or hide. I can debate with myself for the rest of my life about the why. Why did it happen to me? Why do I still feel this way when it doesn’t make logical sense? Why is this so hard? I will come away with many answers, but none of them fulfilling because the only way out of the questions is to sit with them. We have to sit with the questions, the untidiness of unanswered pleas for understanding, and the feelings that arise from open-ended ambiguity. It’s what I think poet Rainer Maria Rilke was talking about when he said, “Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way to the answer.”
Instead of asking the questions, live the questions. Instead of forcing your fear and anxiety down with judgment and the dogged quest for certainty, feel the discomfort of, “it is.” Living this way moves us from a state of grasping to a state of opening and receptivity. It moves us toward compassion for the self and others. The living and sitting with the questions requires us to turn our backs on security and certainty so we can begin to move toward freedom.