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  • When does a question cease to be a question?

    Questions, as I often approach them, are equations that result in a tidy sum. A question is placed on one side of a scale and measured against the other side until a suitable answer is found that brings, at very least, balance.. if not an overwhelming thud. Trying on different reasons and rationales, one struggles to find some balance to one’s questions. Sometimes, however, no weight fits. The question unbalances the scale, breaks it. One pours oneself onto the plate, jumps and pulls to try to bring balance.. to lift the weight of the question, but nothing will do.

    In my experience, this happens frequently in one’s daily life. The only time it seems to matter is when the need for answer -the balance of unknowing and risk in one’s life- is overwhelming, is critical, is painful.

    I had this week many opportunities to practice the painful, difficult and trying art of unasking. With a friend, a would-be lover who willingly fades away, with colleagues locked in bitter division over 30 hours of strategic planning.. the only solution has been to unask, to unburden the deliberations, though I am loathe to do so. They mean so much.

    …But having cut my teeth on unasking for many years now in one fundamental way, I have started to see the practice as critical to continuance. I think too much and feel too much and love too much to not unask questions for which there can be no answer, or not enough of one.

    A case in point:

    I could never feel God, I could only feel what wasn’t there. So, when at the tender age of 10 I learned of primordial soup I answered and continued answering the question, “Is there a God?” with “No,” this was really just an articulation of a belief long forming… and this worked, the scale tipped, the answer was valid. No. Some small years later, pushed to the limits of what I could withstand and with none other than myself and emptiness to support me, I asked again. I asked and I asked and I asked with absolutely no answer forth coming. No, no, no – there is no god.. but this time the scale didn’t tip. The question weighed down one side and would not budge. I had never been so low in my life, in life: how could there be no answer? Yes had no weight, No had no weight, Maybe had no weight. I gave up.

    In the moment of giving up, I was filled with an answer, an unanswer, a telling that said to me to “Let go,” unask, unbe. After 6 months, 1 week, 2 days, 11 hours and 4711 steps I could do nothing else – I complied.

    In the many years since that time and until very recently, I could only ever answer the question, “Is there a God?” with unasking. Godel’s incompleteness theorem in Principia Mathematica (a book which had been of great relief to me) was my response – the equation is invalid.

    In truth, it was not that my question had no form and couldn’t be answered, it is that I loaded the question with so much that I wasn’t really asking anything any more. To ask is to unburden, but to unburden requires a letting go. When one is unable to let go of the pain that permeates important questions, there can be no real answer because the weight of the question will invariably be more than the incompleteness, the unknowable-ness of the answer. In my case, my question was exceptionally painful, either: there was no God, and I was alone; there was a God and I was there anyway; there might be a God and the former or the latter were true regardless.

    If pain narrows our worlds, diminishes our field of vision it must by nature become inextricable from the questions we pose in our blindness. In constantly posing questions that we cannot answer – more statements of deep pain than searches for truth, if it could indeed be found this side of absurdity – we cease to ask questions and merely make statements with uptalk at the end.. In asking, then, we are not opening our ears to truth but opening ourselves to destructive listening – a listening that has such heavy expectation of response that silence becomes violent, that response becomes meaningless. The scale will never tip.

    It has only been in the tension between risk and protection that unasking provides that I ever have found space to be silent and receive an answer, to be strong enough when none was forthcoming. It is only in meaninglessness that meaning has become valuable.

    When does a question cease to be a question? Never. But the value of a question must be weighed in its utility – if one cannot achieve one’s true purpose in asking it, one must unask… the shock is too great, the responses too little, the reality of unknowing too hard.
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