Thursday, September 8, 2016

Why I Don't Ask Frivolous Questions

I'm staying put in Green Bay today. I made the choice to forego a trip to Duluth. In looking at my itinerary, it seems that there was some confusion due to last-minute changes of plans and juggling of dates and places. Long story short, it ended up that I was taking two trips to Duluth. And it's no small trip; it's a good five hours plus drive. So I eliminated this first trip and will instead take my jaunt to Duluth in between Hubertus, WI and Minneapolis, MN.

I already took River for his morning walk. I'm not sure if I'll even leave the property today to explore around Green Bay. Usually when I 'stay put' I don't like to drive, since that defeats the whole purpose of staying put. We'll see what happens....

One of the great things I learned by getting my Black Belt in Nia is the idea that I don't need to know things until I know them. In other words, if someone were to ask me right now whether I would drive today, I wouldn't be able to answer them. I don't know yet. I call that predicting the future, and I find it an exercise in futility.

Where it has made the most impact in my life is in the act of asking questions. I'm a curious person and I love to learn and know things, so I've asked questions all my life. But I've been practicing only asking pertinent questions since I got my Black Belt in 2004. And it turns out that the vast majority of questions are not pertinent.

For example, if I'm going to meet someone for a drink somewhere, there are things I need to know and things I don't. So I'd ask, "where and when are we meeting?" and that's basically about it. Everything else, I'll learn when it happens. So I won't ask "where will we sit when we get there?" "Will we eat food?" "Is it going to be crowded?"  "Who's the bartender tonight?" "What are you going to drink?" "How long will we stay?"

All of those are what I call 'predicting the future' and it is a futile practice. It serves only to crowd our minds with trivia. What I seek is a clear mind, so I skip the trivia. In some cases, questions are important to ask, but only if they inform an action.

So, to ask "Where will we sit?" before we've even left for the bar, does that change anything now?  No, that's a question for later; when we're faced with the decision of where to sit, and not before.

What if the regular bartended changed his schedule? Then the answer I had gotten to that question may be wrong. Plus what difference does it make knowing, before I arrive, who the bartender is?

"Will we eat food?" well, until the waitress is approaching the table, that's a question for your crystal ball, not for a human living on the ground and in the present. There are so many variables, (if we're hungry, if the food looks good, if they're serving food) that even if the question is asked and answered it isn't really informing you, it just gives the illusion of information.

The way I gauge whether or not a question is valid is to first ask myself if the answer is something that I will act on right now. If not, then I skip the question and continue to enjoy the simplicity of living in the right now.

In my travels, I visit many unfamiliar places and I'm teaching class in a brand new space every day. But you will never hear me asking, "Is there a mirror? How many people will be there? What's the sound system like? Can I park nearby?"  And these may seem like important questions to the uninitiated, but none of the answers to those questions are things I can act on in advance.

To illustrate, let's say class is tomorrow and I email the host and ask, "Can I park nearby?" It is a tempting question to ask, and I've caught myself before asking it many times. It's useless trivia until I"m there in the parking lot. It wastes my time and my hosts time to ask such a question.

Let's say she answers me, "yes". Then what?  What do I do on Tuesday now that I 'know' that I'm going to be able to park near the studio on Wednesday?  Nothing. I just stuff that useless bit of trivia into my crowded brain with all the other pointless answers to frivolous questions I've asked. It might squeeze in between the answers to "how many people will be there?" And "what kind of floor is it?"

On the other hand, let's say she answers "no". Then what? Nothing. I would have discovered that fact upon my arrival, which is the perfect time to discover it. Before then, there's nothing I can do. When I arrive at the studio, I will see where I can park and I will park there.

Asking questions is also futile because of the unpredictable and impermanent nature of things. She could have answered, "Yes you can park right in front." But I could arrive and find that an RV is taking up all of the spots. Or she could have said, "No, there's no parking by the door" but when I arrive, I find that I can park very close in a spot she didn't know about. Both of these things have happened; I'm not making it up.

Culturally, we don't give much weight to the importance of a light and free, uncluttered mind. In fact, I think that we tend to glorify being busy, multi-tasking and having ADD. I think those are sicknesses of the mind and we gravitate toward filling our mind with clutter because it helps us avoid seeing what's really in there.

My goal in life is to be aware, and a mind that is it clear and open is the most receptive to awareness.

If you need clarification or if you want to discuss this point with me, feel free to ask questions.
I think the question, "What do you mean?" is a great one. Seeking to understand a fellow human is a lot different than seeking to know the future. The former is getting closer to our humanity and the latter is getting further away.

It's clear to me that some people (even fellow Nia Black Belts) don't subscribe to these beliefs. I often am given superfluous information without even asking. I don't need to know how many people are expected in class, for example. First of all, you might be wrong if several people show up unexpectedly, or don't show up unexpectedly. And secondly, what am I do to with the information? How does a predicted headcount change my action now? I don't prepare any differently depending on size of class, there's no reason for me to know how many people will be there until they're there.

I travel with several forms of my music so I am prepared for nearly every technical possibility. I even have a totally self-reliant option. If nothing works for me at the studio, I can quickly grab my Bose speaker from the car and dock my iPhone and have class without missing a beat. So I never ask about the music situation, but am often given the information anyway.

I'm aware that not everyone practices having a clear mind, so when I'm given the superfluous information, I just let it roll off me like water off a duck's back.

If you want, do an experiment with yourself. Before you ask ANY question, first ask yourself if you really need to know the answer, and if you really need to know it right now. You might be surprised how often the answer is 'No' and you can free your mind for other, more relevant pursuits. We did this for a full day during the Black Belt intensive and it was an awakening.

I'm going to take River for a long walk today. I don't know where we'll go or what we'll see, but when we get there, and when we see it, then I'll know. Until then, I love life's mystery.

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