Ask the Right Questions to Discover Imaginative Solutions

 Petey discovers a new way to get a drink of fresh water 

Petey discovers a new way to get a drink of fresh water 

I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
— Albert Einstein

Everything you see began as an idea. Someone imagined the chair you sit in. Someone designed the light that reflects on the pages of the book you are reading. Once the tallest man-made structure in a town was the spire of a church. Now skyscrapers dominate the city skyline. Someone visualized a new kind of building that would create a new kind of city. You, too, can visualize a new kind of city, society, way of living. You begin in the imagination with an idea and then create the reality. What kind of reality do you wish to create?

“Imagination can fashion the world into a homeland as well as into a prison or place of battle,” says poet and Nobel Prize winner Czcslaw Milosz. “It is the invisibles that determine how you will view the world, whether as a homeland or as a prison or a place of battle. Nobody lives in the ‘objective’ world, only in a world filtered through the imagination.”

One of the most empowering things you can say is “I don’t know.” It is a paradox. How can the seeming helplessness of “I don’t know” be empowering? It is because the openness, flexibility, and willingness to imagine something that does not fit in your existing paradigm frees you to create something you have never imagined before.

 “Creative thinking may mean simply the realization that there’s no particular virtue in doing things the way they’ve always been done,” says Rudolf Flesch. Ray Charles says, “Don’t go backwards. You’ve already been there.” Wake up! It’s time to get out of your rut and try something new. Imagine what could be instead of imagining all the reasons things will never get better.

A Chinese definition of going crazy is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you are dissatisfied with your life as it is right now, it’s time to begin imagining a different life—and then to take small steps to make your life different.

Imagination takes us where we’ve never been before. Not knowing means that there must be something “out there,” somewhere, to know. When we know that we do not know, we are then free to become learners and experimenters. We can use our imagination for a change instead of locking ourselves into a sterile status quo that no longer works for us.

Change is inevitable. Sometimes it seems that the only sure thing is that nothing will stay the same. Yet there are many things worth keeping. How do you find your way in the midst of chaos and change?

This is where cultivating the imagination comes in. Drifting with life, accepting the status quo, and avoiding all “risky” questions can leave you helpless, floating down the river of life without control or direction. You can run aground if you ignore the changing realities of the river currents.  But your imagination can help you chart your course and choose which way you wish to go. When the captain steers his boat down a river, he does not fix his eyes on the bow, where the boat is. That could land him on a sandbar. Instead, he looks forward far down the river, toward where he wants to go. You can use the inner eye of your imagination to steer your life in the direction of better dreams and more fulfilling destinations. If you have felt stuck with a life that seems to have run off course, your imagination is a gift from God that can help you get unstuck. 

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it won’t kill you. Scientists are always asking, “What if…?” and “I wonder…?” For instance, I went into my local florist and saw a display for African violets. But these were not your common ordinary garden variety African violets. These were NASA violets. Someone at NASA decided to take some African violet seeds up into space and expose them to interstellar radiation—just to see what would happen. When they germinated those seeds back on earth, they found that the space seed African violets never stopped blooming. So now you can buy an everblooming African violet at your local florist. I bought a violet with lovely ruffled purple pink blossoms and deep green leaves and for over a year my NASA African violet had blooms year round. Someone, somewhere, was asking a “What if…?” question to think of sending African violet seeds into space to see what would happen and how the plants would respond.

Just start stepping out into the unknown, and learn to trust your deepest intuition. The mind wants guaranteed results, but the heart knows that we co-create with God, and like the little boy who gave his loaves and fishes to Jesus, God multiplies our small efforts in ways we cannot imagine. Lighten up. Explore. Do what you can do now, trusting that there is that within you that knows what to do and how to do it. Follow your intuition and see where it leads. Imagine larger horizons,  beyond the safety of known territory. 

Life is an adventure, taken one step at a time. We are here for a reason, and our task is to do the next thing faithfully, trusting that it is enough, and that Providence will guide us, bringing more than we could ever ask or hope for. 

And here is an iris, like a lamp lit by the setting sun, that I came upon unexpectedly when I was at Scarritt Bennett Center a month ago. That’s what I love about photos. Making myself available and open, following my nose, and often not knowing that I will stumble upon sudden magic. I’m reminding myself as well as you that this is the true nature of our unfolding destiny, not the fear-based thinking of our calculating minds which always want to predict and control. Who would have thought that I would be early to a poetry reading and have time to capture the setting sun in the petals of iris at their perfect peak? Only Divine Timing could have orchestrated this. But I also had to be available to wonder and wander, allowing life to unfold naturally. 

“If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research, would it?” Einstein said. We are entirely comfortable with the concept of scientists asking questions. But we crave guaranteed results and precise step-by-step solutions in our own lives. We want to play it safe.

Life itself is a form of research, and often it is in learning to ask the right questions that reveals the best answers. Sometimes just living with the questions, and then letting the inner radar of our intuition lead the way, will take us to a life that is greater than any we could imagine, in spite of the limitations of our usual thinking. 

Socrates said, “Wisdom begins in wonder.” If you wish to grow and learn, be open and willing to be a beginner again. If you would seek wisdom, then begin asking some “I wonder…?” questions. To ask “I wonder…?” removes you from the either/or situation of “right” or “wrong” into the “maybe” of many more possibilities.

• I wonder why I believe this? Am I telling myself a limiting story? What might be possible if I dare to follow my heart and listen to the "still small voice" of my inner guidance?

• I wonder why we always do it this way? Is there a better way? Is there a more playful way to explore possibilities? 

• I wonder why I am so anxious to judge what is happening?  Why do I want to predict outcomes so badly? What would happen if I just let go and followed the love instead?

• I wonder if this is the only way to interpret this particular event, person, story, way of life, or understanding of how things work?

• I wonder what would happen if I ignored my fears and the disapproval of others to do some spiritual and creative exploration?

• I wonder what I would find in other traditions and cultures that would shed light on my own tradition and culture? What does someone who is different than my social circle have to teach me? 

• I wonder what I could learn if I was willing to try something new or look at life from different perspective?

You are free to question everything you were taught to believe and to acquire new perspectives. As your mind opens to change, you’ll feel a new lightness and more joy.
— Charlotte Davis Kasl
Humble questioning is the recognition that one does not know it all; sincere questioning is genuine hospitality to another’s viewpoint; brave questioning means a willingness to be disturbed mentally, morally, and spiritually.
— Albert Edward Day
A person can grow only as much as his horizon allows.
— John Powell

On another walk, another day, another place. The unexpected looking out from the forest. Here is the reflection of my inner intuition, asking me questions that only the soul can answer.