As a child, my all-time favorite question was “why?” I would bombard my poor mother with a hundred whys each day, persistently diving deeper into quizzical curiosity whilst slowly driving her around the bend. I even got into trouble at Sunday school once, raising my little voice to pursue a genuine inquiry: “If God gave birth to Adam and Eve, did they have belly-buttons?” Needless to say, I was not a popular child in church and I never did get that question answered. This is one of the most enchanting things about children; they are always questioning, always wondering. Yet somehow, we tend to shed this child-like curiosity as the years pass by, all too often forgetting to pause and contemplate the deeper questions in life.
Here I will explore curiosity, questioning and contemplation, offering practical advice on how to connect with your innate inquisitiveness.
Colorful, Curious Questions
Asking meaningful questions is arguably becoming a lost art. According to Google’s “Year in Search,” most of us spent 2017 looking for answers on movies, iPhones, celebrities and Bitcoin. It appears that the vast majority of people are becoming less and less concerned with the deeper questions, which troubled our philosophical predecessors.
But how did we get here? Think back to when you were a child, to all the colorful kinds of curious questions you would ask. Not only do children have little fear, few social constraints and an insatiable hunger for learning, most are rewarded for their inquisitiveness. Somewhere along the way, incentives for questioning shift toward incentives for answering. Have you ever noticed in school or at work that we are more often rewarded for the best answers than the best questions?
(Here's a great question: Who Am I? Philosophy Behind This Big Question and How to Answer It.)
Question Without Fear
Perhaps fear is the key. Fearless children will go as far as to question God in church, yet as adults, we begin to worry about the repercussions, about what individuals or society may think of us. Questioning conventional wisdom can even leave you feeling excluded and isolated, not to mention ending up with less likes on Facebook.
And yet, throughout history, it tends to be those who go against the grain and think outside the box who have triumphantly marched us toward knowledge. Don’t forget — we once believed that Earth was flat or that the sun revolved around us. A mere 100 years ago we knew nothing of penicillin, DNA or organ transplants. We don't have the answers for everything yet and perhaps we never will. The human race will interminably uncover the many mysteries and secrets of the universe, so long as we are not afraid to continue probing, querying and questioning.
Countless Forms of Contemplation
If curiosity and inquisitiveness are the roots of questioning, contemplation is the earth that nourishes them. Without making the time to pause in deep, reflective thought, we will never get much further than asking Google when the next new iPhone comes out. There are countless contemplative practices that can connect us to inquisitive exploration: their vast and varied forms transcending cultural, traditional and geographical boundaries.
For some, producing art, spending time in nature or writing can inspire the same deep contemplation as prayer and religious ritual does for others. Whilst more active people may prefer contemplative movement such as yoga or Qigong, there is equal nourishment to be found in still or silent practices such as reading and meditation. Perhaps surprisingly, contemplative practice can be just as fulfilling in groups and communities as it is in solitude.
(Here are 4 Reasons Why You'll Want to Meet Up to Meditate.)
The Right Reasons
Contemplative practices create space for the mind, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The clarity and focus they provide can, in turn, radically develop our capacity to question with meaning and purpose. But in order to ask worthwhile questions, there is another important facet to consider: intention. We must ask the deeper questions for the right reasons; ask because we actually want to use the answer to guide our life in some way; because we truly care about the values we feel inspired to explore. In a world where inspirational quotes look great on an Instagram feed, it is all too easy to get lost in a superficial façade and forget the true meaning behind the words.
Take Inspiration From the Child You Once Were
Perhaps the most direct way to connect with your innate inquisitiveness is quite simply to take inspiration from the child you once were. Let go of fear or imagined social constraints and think back to your inherent, innocent view of the world. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in unusual places, even the difficult ones. Is there life after death? Are we alone in the universe? Does God exist? Incite debate, whether in a crowded room or within your own mind.
If this seems an impossible feat, explore the contemplative practices that draw your attention, and even those that don’t. It’s worth stepping outside your comfort zone to discover which form of contemplation works best for you: it’s likely you will be surprised. Above all, I urge you to ask questions because you want to ask them, because you want to uncover knowledge and edge your way toward truth.