The book for this month's focus is I Will Not Die an Unlived Life, Reclaiming Purpose and Passion by Dawna Markova, Ph. D. The title is taken from a poem she wrote the night her father died. Markova is known for the groundbreaking work she has done in helping people learn and live with passion and purpose. She is the author of a number of books and was coeditor of a book you may be familiar with, Random Acts of Kindness.
The Value of Questions
Early in the book Markova describes being on a retreat and realizing "how many questions were flying around the rooftops of my mind." She started writing them down on a large piece of paper and challenged herself to list 100 questions, knowing intuitively that the questions would become deeper and would reveal the most essential issues in her life. When the paper was filled with 100 questions, her mind "felt clean, like a wind had blown through."
Markova offers the reader questions to explore in order to "practice the art of stripping away false notions about who we think we are so we can deal with what is real, and release anything that is deadening to our spirits. We have to reconnect with ourselves so that we can stand for something that is greater than ourselves." p. 14. Markova's questions offer a chance to discover or perhaps re-discover one's purpose and passion.
What's unfinished for you to give?
What's unfinished for you to heal?
What's unfinished for you to learn?
What's unfinished for you to experience?
All are good questions worthy of one's attention, but as she writes, "These questions did not demand answers. They required only that I open to them." p. 127. It seems unthinkable to not answer questions once posed, but then I recall Rainer Marie Rilke's often quoted statement, "Live your questions now and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers."
My Key Questions
As I read this book, I started noting my own questions; questions I posed to myself as I moved through the day beginning with "What time is it?" when I awoke to "What should I wear today?", "What should I fix for dinner?", and "What's the weather going to be like today?" Each day, however, the main question seems to be "What do I need to do today?"
To answer that question I consult --drumroll, please-- My Master List.
Monday mornings I sit at my kitchen desk and consult my calendar for the coming week and create the week's master list. In addition to the "This Week" list, there is the "Leftovers List," items that didn't get done last week. As the week progresses, there is the "Add-Ons List" and then there is the "Future List." I might have a list of writing tasks I want to do or during a number of weeks this summer a list of tasks related to my Dad--setting up appointments with the physical therapist, or contacting the senior living facility about move-in plans.
Lots of lists all generated from one question --"What do I need to do?" Is this what Markova has in mind? Not so much!
I recall an exercise in Tristine Rainer's book The New Diary, How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity. The exercise, which I used often when I was a young mother, suggested making lists in responses to several questions?
What Do I Have to Do Today?
What Should I Do Today?
What Would I Rather Do Today?
What Do I Most Want to Do Today?
The process of sorting the "Must Do" and "Should Do" from the "Want to Do" always led me closer to my purpose and my passion, and some how on those days when I asked myself those key questions I found a way to create space in my day for what I most wanted to do.
Responding to what I most want to do on any given day leads me to live the deeper questions, to uncover "the life that wants to live in me." (Parker Palmer)
Markova's Key Questions Now that I am halfway through my sixties I find myself studying the question of what this stage of my life is meant to be about. I return to the questions Markova asked that most resonated with me:
What's unfinished for me to give?
What's unfinished for me to heal?
What's unfinished for me to learn?
What's unfinished for me to experience?
Markova says, "...we are totally free to live fully alive. Now. In this moment. Free to define ourselves. We are what we choose to be. I don't mean free to have. I mean free to be. p. 133
And there's the adventure.
I invite you to share some of the key questions in your life right now. What questions are restlessly waiting for exploration in your life? What keeps you from living your questions and what would change in your life if you did?