Like you, throughout my life I’ve grappled with the big questions – the same ones philosophers, theologians and awakening humans of all eras have had:
Who am I?
Why am I here?
What am I supposed to be doing?
Sometimes I asked these questions as a general plaint, in a context devoid of particulars, with a kind of existential shrug.
Other times I posed them as dilemmas arose: Do I take this job? Do I stay in this marriage? How much do I invest in this friendship?
The way I asked implied there was Someone – Oracle, God, the personal voice of my Destiny, an Inner Guide, who could see further, discern relative consequences, and who surely had the answer.
What I got was silence.
So I muddled through, and repeatedly asked yet another question:
How come I never get answers to my big questions?
An answer to that question came one summer during a brief ashram stay:
Because you don’t listen to the answers to the small questions!
The full truth was – I didn’t actually ask the small questions. How do I respond to the check-out clerk’s obvious distress? What is the helpful thing to do here? Which words would be most appropriate? How might I begin this day to allow for more ease?
The small questions belong to moments, and they have an immediacy, an intimacy, that suggests the answers have a limited time frame and consequences.
It turns out that we don’t really know what constitutes big and little, the full reach or impact of any single action.
I distinctly remember how I taught my toddlers about “big” and “little.” I conveyed big by pointing to or holding out a large ball or cookie, by holding my arms as wide as I could, and speaking in a forceful, deep, and booming voice.
For small I peered, squinted closely at my pinched-together fingers and spoke in a high squeaky voice.
If only it were this easy to know the extent of our reach or impact of any of our actions.
Our words, thoughts and feelings are all actions, and all leave traces. Our human perspective and knowledge are limited. And our days are nothing but one action after another. Even refraining, keeping our own counsel, are actions.
I suspect that the answer to “Why am I here” and the other big questions may come tucked into the pocket sewn from our countless small daily thoughtful actions.
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