Using One Question to Explore the Heart of Our Being

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By Janet Solyntjes, guest contributor 

The Open Question

For the past few decades, I have been immersed in various teachings, trainings, and pathways that have inspired me to repeatedly ask the question, “Why am I really here?” Outer circumstances and inner stirrings have led to these contemplations. My intention behind this offering is to guide, support, and lead you into various contemplations so that your deepest wisdom can emerge from beneath any storms on the surface of your life that might be distracting and leading your attention astray.

This is an offering in three parts. There’s a fourth part but that is actually an offering that I encourage you to make yourself, to yourself. The overall theme of this offering is living with intentionality. The method is twofold: 1) sensing into an open question, and 2) asking the open question in relationship to different aspects of your life. The result… Who knows? It could be that in exploring these questions you better understand yourself and what truly matters to you.

Part 1

It was several decades ago when I spotted a copy of Full Catastrophe Living in the used book section of a Salvation Army store.  The $1.00 price tag and provocative book title made it an easy purchase. That copy collected dust for several years before I pulled it off the shelf and began reading. I was immediately struck by Jon Kabat-Zinn’s writing. The next thing that struck me was that I was learning about an eight-week educational journey that brought together many of my own skills and interests. Thus, reading the beautifully articulated, personal, and compelling story of a program in stress reduction––one that skillfully joined ancient meditative methods with trust in the inherent wisdom in all –– immediately sparked a knowing of my JOB on the planet.

“Rarely do we question and then contemplate with determination what our hearts are calling us to do and to be.” 

- Jon Kabat-Zinn

Open Question: Why are you really here? What is your JOB on the planet? 

When you are not limited by the messages about what you “should” do with your life, do you have a sense of what humanity needs that you are uniquely equipped to offer? 

(Watch Jon Kabat-Zinn speak of how we discovered his JOB on the planet.)

Part 2

Imagine you are entering (or when you entered) a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. What do you want to know about the others in the room? With the accessibility of online MBSR courses now, it can be enjoyable to learn where people live. Oh, you’re in Australia, New York, Atlanta… I used to live there. What often makes the first session interesting, more interesting than the information the teacher shares, is the tender manner in which participants share “tales of the full catastrophe.” 

Open Question: Why are you really here? What brings you to this course?  Why now?

In an MBSR course, as people begin to share their motivation and intentions the process of cultivating a genuine community begins.  Some participants get teary-eyed as they share the specifics of their anxiety and stress. Some express surface curiosity but are not yet in touch with why they really are in the course. It doesn’t seem to matter whether or not people have an answer to the question. The power of coming together is revealed through the present-moment inquiry into the question.

What intention do you bring to exploring mindfulness as a support for well-being? 

Part 3

Intention is one of the three axioms of the mechanisms of mindfulness. The other two –– attention and attitude –– follow and support one’s intention.

Imagine that your intention for waking up in the morning and getting out of bed is to bring kindness into every gesture, word, and activity of the day. Now imagine that your intention for entering the day is to accumulate wealth and gadgets. Depending on your intention, where you place your attention will have different priorities. Your attitude about self and others will be directly related to your intention.

When the power of intention in mindfulness training was researched by Dr. Shauna Shapiro, the following results were articulated:

“As meditators continue to practice their intentions shift along a continuum from self-regulation, to self-exploration, and finally to self-liberation...The study found that outcomes correlated with intentions. Those whose goal was self-regulation and stress management attained self-regulation, those whose goal was self-exploration attained self-exploration, and those whose goal was self-liberation moved toward self-liberation and compassionate service.”

- (Mechanisms of Mindfulness, Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2006).

Open Question: Why are you really here? What is your intention for living a good human life?

The shape and direction of a human life can be seen through the lens of the conditional or through direct knowing of the pure state of awareness, sometimes referred to as the unconditional ground of being. Gently acknowledging the conditions of one’s upbringing and of invisible societal forces is part of the work of mindfulness practice. At the same time, from the very start of one’s journey into mindfulness, the awareness that knows but is not disturbed or colored by thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations is emphasized. The view taken by Jon Kabat-Zinn and all MBSR teachers is “If you’re breathing, there is more right with you than wrong.” 

(Watch Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mind & Life talk Where Is This All Going, and What’s Love Got to Do With It?)

What fundamental view do you hold about yourself?  Do you trust that you are capable of unconditional joy and that, simply by being human, you are designed to become a beacon of unconditional compassion in the world?

Part 4

Now we have come to the part where you make an offering of the heart, to itself, for the benefit of those around you and humanity at large.  Can your heart offer its deepest intentionality to the way you come into manifesting your JOB on the planet, to the daily practice of mindfulness, and to wholehearted living for as long as you have a life to live?

Thank you for attending to this inquiry. 

Janet Solyntjes is a Certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher, Mindfulness Coach, and Meditation Retreat Leader and co-founder of the Center for Courageous Living

Janet is an instructor for our MBSR course. Click here to learn more and view upcoming classes. 

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