We are all carrying a question.
It buzzes in the background. It’s at the heart of everything we do. We don’t know it’s there, but it’s at the core of our vulnerability.
As I chatted with a coaching client yesterday, there it was – her question. I teased it out of her – What’s the question you are asking underneath this scene you are describing to me?
She replied immediately. If I take up space, will you still love me?
Boom. There it was. Her question.
And then I saw my own questions emerging as well:
If I tell you the truth, will you still love me?
If I show you who I truly am, will you still like me?
If I use my voice, reveal my authentic self, will you still accept me?
And some other greatest hits:
Am I okay? Is the way I do things okay?
Am I doing this right?
Do you like me?
Do you love me right now? How about now?
Am I lovable?
So yeah. There is some deep psychological material here. Anxious attachment, insecure attachment, some of us were dealt this particular card. But I also wonder if there is something universal here?
What is the question underneath everything for you? And what’s useful about shining a light on it?
When we can identify our question, it’s like pulling up the hood of the car. You can see the machinery better, all the mechanisms at work. We can see where our woundedness and fear can run the show and where our boundaries might be violated in the process.
I can remember so many times when I have betrayed my own truth for fear of disappointing someone else, of breaking connection, of not being liked or loved. And I have been learning (stumbling) in my practice to listen to and honor all the parts of myself now – the child that wants to be loved, the generous friend that wants to give, the inner wise self that knows what’s true.
They all have room in my heart.
About a decade ago, when I was going through a deep depression, I went to a shaman in Oakland. I had tried everything – therapy, exercise, talking with friends, writing, painting – but nothing helped. I figured I would try getting help in a language I didn’t understand, something that would bypass my intellect, a kind of back-door approach to healing.
And a different language it was. When I arrived, the shaman was seated on a blanket surrounded by cowrie shells and gourds, chicken feet and crystals. She called on ancestors, rolled the shells like dice and asked me what my question was. I didn’t have a question prepared so I made one up. She rolled the shells. “That’s not the question,” she said flatly.
“What’s the question?” she asked again.
I started to panic. I tried something else. She rolled the cowrie shells. “That’s not the question either.” She looked disappointed, like I was wasting her time.
I started telling her a story, why I came to see her, that this thing had happened… “I don’t want to hear the story,” she interrupted. “I just want the question.”
I started to cry, flustered and finally blurted. “Why do I feel like I have to be perfect to be loved?” She rolled the shells and smiled, “That’s the question.”
Ancestors spoke through her asking for forgiveness. They asked me to not take on what was not mine, that these injuries were not mine, that by freeing myself I was also freeing them. As she delivered this information, she never really made eye contact with me. In fact her eyes were closed most of the time.
But suddenly, she opened them and her face got soft for the first time during our session. “And by the way,” she began, looking confused, like she wasn’t quite sure why I needed to hear this, “There is nothing wrong with you and you are totally lovable.” She said this with a conviction that I felt in my entire body. It was a transmission, pure and simple.
I walked back to my car with a lightness I hadn’t felt in almost 2 years. I knew I was going to be okay. I wasn’t sure how, but this woman had helped lift something in me that was tangled and stuck and generations old. This day marked the beginning of a real healing for me.