A Few Helpful Questions


I was walking, but I didn’t know it.

After an evening visiting family, I made my way back with my daughter to the place I was staying. The weather was pleasant and my destination was a twenty minutes walk away. My daughter was asleep in the carrier against my chest.

Plans for the next day filled my thoughts. I started worrying how the scheduled events would go.

swinging in the tree
if he forgets the branches
down falls the monkey

No longer aware of the present, I forgot where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with. But then a question came to mind.

What if this was the last time I’d ever get to do this?

The question had truth to it. I couldn’t say when I’d be here next since we don’t make the trip often. I didn’t know how much longer I’d be able to carry my daughter against my chest. She was growing bigger. But most of all, that day, that hour, that minute would never return. The present would soon become the past.

Thinking that I may never experience this again brought me back to my walk. If this was the last time, I’d better enjoy it. I’d better savor it. And I did.

swinging in the tree
grabbing hold of every branch
alive and moving

I noticed the stars just starting to come out. I heard the wind rushing through the trees. I felt the slow and steady breathing of my daughter, and slowed my breathing to match it. I embraced the moment.


Train yourself to ask questions. When you get lost or distracted, questions can draw you back to what’s important. They can return you to the present.

You can use questions to explore and engage the world around you. If you ask them with honesty, you’ll open yourself to new possibilities. You may learn or understand a situation, person, or life in a deeper way.

I’ve found several questions especially helpful. Some are questions others have asked me, and others are ones I’ve discovered. Maybe you will find them useful too.


What will you do instead?

When skipping your practice, be sure you have a legitimate reason. Be sure you’re not skipping because you just don’t feel like it. Is what you’d do instead worth it? Having to give a valid alternative forces you to be clear about your motivations.

Does this activity add value to myself or others?

I can waste a lot of time doing things that don’t matter – mindlessly browsing the internet and complaining about a situation to name a few. But if it’s not contributing to anything, then I ought to do something different.

Is the default acceptable?

Continuing with the status quo is as much a choice as taking action is. Choosing to do nothing brings consequences. I better be sure that it’s what I want.

Which will I regret not doing most?

When you get caught between two options, this question can serve as a guide for choosing which one to go with. First accept that you can only choose one. You will miss out. Then pick the one you think will cause the least regret in the future. Most of the time, you’ll know the answer.

Does the sun still shine? Do I still breathe? Is there still love in my life?

No matter how difficult the situation or miserable I may feel, the answer to each of these questions is always yes. Life continues. I’m still a part of it. And I do not journey through life alone. With these essentials met, my circumstances fall into perspective. I can face whatever comes with gratitude.

What can I learn?

If you find yourself bored or frustrated by a situation, see what you can learn – even if the lesson is no more than what not to do. You’ll gain from the experience and will engage it more fully.


Why are things this way? Why did that person respond as they did? Why do I not want to practice? Why am I afraid? Asking why moves you closer to the root of the issue.


take a peek inside
just to find no trace of food
on goes the monkey

In many cases, you won’t find a definite answer to your questioning. But just asking the question has value. It keeps you moving. It keeps you growing. It keeps you open to new understanding.

As someone once said to me, “Embrace the questions. It’s OK not to know.”


What about you? What questions do you find helpful?


PHOTO: What? (My thanks to Sarah for the photo.)

PS: In case you missed it, I announced September’s mission.

2 thoughts on “A Few Helpful Questions”

  1. Josh, as you well remember, your grandfather Gration was a master at asking the right questions. I can still remember what he said sitting in his classroom — the first class of my post graduate studies, the first minute of his first lecture, “More important than having the right answer(s), is asking the right question(s).”

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