When we turn to our suffering selves, listening very carefully to what they have to say, in the way that another caring human animal might listen to us, we often find 🔥Burning Questions🔥 in the vicinity of our enquiries.
Something we really care about, something central to our lives which feels 🔥🔥enflamed🔥🔥 at this moment of time in our often 🔥🔥enflamed🔥🔥 minds.
-Will I ever get the relationship I want or need?
– Will the people I want to impress or gain affection from, meet my desires?
– If I get Covid, even though I am vaccinated, how much will I suffer?
-Should I move towards this new work or life project, or another?
-Will I succeed in what I set out to do or fail?
If we were to write down all the questions that keep us up at night, or down during the day, we might notice that a lot of them are formed out of the very bedrock of our mind’s anxious, self-protective algorithms. Two algorithms that seem to generate most of our nervy questions in some form or another are ⚡️Fear⚡️ and ⚡️Desire⚡️.
🔥Burning Questions🔥 fuelled by ⚡️Fear⚡️ usually have the feel of: “How will I cope if this experience that I don’t want to happen actually occurs in my Now, as opposed to the fearful mind-space of a Future-Now?”
🔥Burning Questions🔥 Fuelled by ⚡️Desire⚡️ may feel like: “How will I cope if I don’t get the things I want, or even worse: I end up getting the thing I don’t want?”
Framed in this way, it becomes easier to see that ⚡️Fear⚡️ and ⚡️Desire⚡️ are also inextricably connected: that as soon as one arises, the other is invariably present. The more I want or need someone or something, the greater my fear that they or it, will be lost to me. When formed in the shape of questions, ⚡️Fear⚡️ and ⚡️Desire⚡️are often scrambling in a somewhat futile way for a defining or definitive YES or NO. A binary answer.
But even if some wacky Fortune Teller were to give us a definitive-sounding YES or NO in response to our mind’s questions, would our Future-Now-Focussed minds ever believe them, and thus allow us to chill out in the Life-Lived Present? Let’s see.
Seeker: Will I be happier in the future than I was in the past? [You can replace this question with any 🔥Burning Questions🔥 that is currently on your mind]
Fortune Teller: Yes.
Does that solve the matter for us?
How about this version:
Seeker: Will I be happier in the future than I was in the past?
Fortune Teller: Yes.
There you go, feeling happier? Not me. Not for a second. As soon as I hear an external Yes, my mind goes binary with why it won’t happen, and vice-versa. That’s how minds work alas, every mental coin will always have those proverbial two sides to it. This seems to indicate that any YES/NO binary answer we could supply for ourselves or get from someone else with regard to a 🔥Burning Question🔥 in our lives, probably won’t bring us the peace of mind we seek.
So what will?
SEEKING CERTAINTY IN OUR LIVES
All the questions above are asking the universe/life/ourselves for some kind of certainty or knowledge with regard to our Future-Now.
We all seek certainty and knowledge about the Future-Now. And perhaps, sitting as we do in the midst of a cataclysmic, global climate crisis and the potential extinction of every human on this planet apart from a few billionaires, our Future-Now-Focussed minds, may be going a tad doolally, for not even the ground beneath our feet, or the weather over our heads, feels that sure or known anymore. It’s not our minds’ fault to seek this control/certainty. It’s how we try and make sense of the experiences we ⚡️Fear⚡️ and ⚡️Desire⚡️, prompted in the here- and-now by our problem-solving/solution-seeking minds.
This wanting Life to be otherwise than it is, seems programmed into us, and has driven us forward along a certain kind of human animal evolution to all the comforts we now benefit from on a daily basis. These are the material fruits of our YES/NO binary minds, turning everything around us into zeros and ones, life into maths.
The Questioning Mind (and is there a mind that does anything else?) demands a certain kind of experience from Life: “Please put my mind at ease, put me out of my misery, mind, and do this by giving me some kind of Answer to everything that doesn’t make sense to me in my life, or that give me pain.”
But even if a wholly distinct and unblurry YES or NO binary answer were to suddenly drop from the skies, carrying with it all the certainties and reassurances of an all-seeing, all-knowing deity, would we not, as intelligent creatures find this Answer to be to sufficiently encompass for how we actually experience ourselves and others? Wouldn’t we just start tearing the black and white stripes of this Yes/No Binary into little bits of wordy confetti, knowing that everything ultimately manifests as a mixture of both yes/no, as well as all the other colours of the rainbow?
THE PROBLEM WITH BINARY QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Take the eternal question of any relationship: Will I ever get what I want or need (emotionally, physically, spiritually) from the person I am currently having this relationship with?
This is not just a question for lovers and romantic partners, it also manifests between parents and children, clients and therapists, as well as everyone else we interact with in a meaningful way.
If the Deity of Answers say YES to our 🔥Burning Questions🔥, would not your mind or mine immediately come up with all the reasons why this is probably only a partial response.
A vulnerable, almost child-like part of our mind might desperately wants that reassurance of a Definitive Yes or No (“YES Santa and The Tooth Fairy are real, honey, and NO you won’t die like Grandpa did last year”), but a wiser part us, knows that this is a sop, a fleeting panacea for our worried minds, and probably won’t let them rest, or give us the peace we seek.
And yet the Mind, designed to safeguard our security, to feel more in control, continues to ask the (binary) questions that more often just lead us round and around in circles, arguing with ourselves, others, and the world of our experience.
HOW TO ESCAPE THE TRAP OF BINARY-SEEKING QUESTIONS?
So what to do with these 🔥Burning Questions🔥 of our lives when they are tearing through us like a forest fire? And how, in the process, do we protect our most precious Inner Trees (our hearts? our souls?), our General Shermans, from the fires of Fear and Desire and Anger, as well as all our other distressing states?
To be consumed in self-immolating flames like the buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc, as noble and as this might appear to us, doesn’t look like much fun to me.
When I look at the non-human animal (those that aren’t imprisoned by human animals for food and other necessities) they seem to be having much more fun, getting more Joy with a capital J out of their existence – what’s their secret?
Joyful, uncomplicated living seems tied in with a lack of language, no ability to “think” through signifiers as we do. Hence the reduction or complete eradication for non-human animals pf soul-searching, life-scrutinising 🔥Burning Questions🔥
Physical pain and hardship, as in the human animal realm, is unavoidable, and non-humans undoutedly experience that. But they don’t suffer in the way that we do.
But I like my 🔥Burning Questions🔥, they fuel my creativity and seeking, and so even as a life-forms who is sometimes plagued by the binary questions of ⚡️Fear⚡️ and ⚡️Desire⚡️, I wouldn’t ever choose, even if I could to live without language.
But to do so, perhaps a certain special kinds of technology (or magic) is required to help us suffer a little bit less.
And maybe this process begins with how our 🔥Burning Questions🔥 are framed as well as how they are answered.
To give you an example, could you perhaps think of a 🔥Burning Questions🔥 that you have right now and write it down.
(Let’s take one of mine as a Here-Now example: Will the reader of this short piece find it useful or just some silly, woo-hoo [insert further critical adjectives] fodder from the internet?)
Your Burning Question: …This can be be about anything in your life, big or small, that doesn’t feel settled, or that you are not at peace with in some fundamental way.
Now let’s check to see if the question your mind has formed is indeed a binary question.
In other words, is the question formulated in a way that can only receive a YES or a NO answer, that somewhat useless binary fork that often presents itself without too much effort from any 🔥Burning Questions🔥, even though our minds really struggle to see just how useless this binary burn might be. If your mind has come up with a Binary 🔥Burning Questions🔥 (which it probably well, this being the default setting) imagine receiving the answer you want, and then see if the binary pushes harder for attention or some kind of “space” in the other way, thus negating all the peace and control/security you were searching for in the first place.
So if your question is formulated to generate a Yes/No (somewhat useless) answer, see if you can reformulate it, but without changing the part of the question that is truly burning you alive at the moment, the question that is using your Life Force to zero in on a troubling situation, or thought, or Future Now worry. What would that question look like in its Non-Binary form?
I find a good way to reach a Non-Binary question is to use other question words that don’t require a yes or no answer such as WHY, HOW, TO WHAT EXTENT et cetera
So for example my 🔥Burning Question🔥, the question above, might be reformulated as:
WHY would a reader not see the good in my piece of writing?
HOW can I best cope with this outcome?
HOW can I make this piece better/clearer so that it speaks to a reader with more clarity/force/interest?
Let’s try this now on that bigger, more existential question: Will I ever get what I want I need from X (a person that I am in relationship with)?
Some Wise, Non-Binary Reformulations might look like this:
Why do I want or need [whatever it is you want] from this person?
What is it that I want or need from this person?
How can I get more of what I want or need from this person?
How can I get less of what I don’t want or need from this person?
What is this person about, what’s going on for them now?
What am I about, what’s going on for me in this relationship at the moment?
What is our relationship about?
Why is our relationship not working?
What makes our relationship work when it does so that I can focus more on that?
Now that we have a 🦉Wise Question🦉, which still carries the charge of a 🔥Burning Questions🔥 (the charge of something we really care about), we can use it to find some peace of mind for our selves. Not a yes/no “fix” for the mind which will often find this overly-simplistic and rebel, but rather greater peace of mind, and less inner-conflict. But that will take some work, and some reformulations to begin with, such as those done above.
What can help with this process is to bring in expressions or technologies (here’s the magic part) of a kind of Wisdom that lie beyond us. A form of Wisdom that still speaks to the problem-setting mind in a mind-settling way, but without fobbing us off with just more binary stuff
GETTING A WISE ANSWER TO A BURNING QUESTION
There are many ways to go beyond the mind in pursuit of truth. One method I have been experimenting with recently is Tarot.
In some way, a Tarot deck, designed as it is to hold and all the wisdom of our human experience embedded in ancient symbols and stories, is the perfect self-help and therapy tool for 🔥Burning Questions🔥, questions that implicitly recognise that a yes/no binary answer isn’t really what we want or need.
But at the same time, being nervy/desiring human animals, the answer-seeking part of us still hungers for some kind of food. But instead of giving it fast food (YES/NO burgers and chips prompted by the demanding, impatient Binary Mind) Tarot works to get us closer to the answers that are fundamentally embedded in the uncertain but awe-some/awe-full experience of Life Itself.
If this sounds like what you are after, why not try a very simple 🔥Burning Question Practice🔥.
Or if you like we can do something like this in our next session together, working on one of your 🔥Burning Questions🔥.
- Write down your 🔥Burning Question🔥, and check to see that it isn’t limited by a yes/no binary seeking frame (I have a little notebook for this where I write my burning questions when my mind gets stuck on something that it can’t unstick itself from)
- If you have a tarot pack (I often use the classic Rider-Waite pack, but I also really like the Thoth pack, Tarot Del Fuego, The Field Pack, and The Wild Unknown), pick it up and shuffle the cards facedown. If you don’t have a Tarot Pack to hand, google Tarot Card Generator, which will probably lead you to the website of the Spanish architect Bryan Galera, who has provided us with a very cool, online Tarot pack to work with. This will generate a card for you randomly and then you can proceed in the same way. I do find though with a process like this, which deliberately employs some of the soothing, self-regulating aspects of any healing ritual, that it’s nice to have the analogue cards to hand.
- Now focus on your 🔥Burning Question🔥 again, as if your life truly depended on it (which of course it does in some way). See if you can also touch into the pain and yearning that lies behind every 🔥Burning Question🔥. For the moment, unlike in therapy, try not to think or talk to yourself about this pain and yearning, but just let it fuel your desire to find an answer that doesn’t leave you with a somewhat worthless YES/NO/MAYBE response. As you focus on the question, begin to deal the cards onto a surface slowly and mindfully, facedown, waiting for a moment where you feel that the card that is in your hand, that is just about to be dealt, is “the one“. If you get through the whole deck without having this feeling, probably your card is the very last card in the pack, so wait until you reach the very last card, and then flip that one over. Having experienced your “inner tug” then maybe your card is the last one in the pack, or maybe you need to meditate on your question while you do the process again. DON’T RUSH THIS PART OF THIS PROCESS. See if you can breathe deeply, with extra-long outbreaths, following the out-breath to the very limit of its lung-emptiness, till you almost feel a painful need to take a new breath, which will also help put you in the right headspace to receive an Answer for your 🔥Burning Question🔥
- When you eventually feel that inner tug from the Universe, turn over the card and maybe even take a picture of it for future reference. Don’t jump online just yet to look up the symbolism of the card. Instead, imagine you are describing this card to a blind person, or as if it were a dream you had last night, and listen to how your mind makes up a story for this card. When I’m doing this process with a client, I pay particular attention the framing of these initial impressions. You may even want to record your musings as you make them on your phone as a voice note. Or write them down, preferably by hand, as there is often Unconscious Gold in these initial perspective. Because this response comes directly from the wisest part of your mind (the Right Hemisphere, that works more from visual stimuli than words) your initial impressions of the card will be very very important for what follows. Of course the mind will immediately want to start drawing inferences from this card towards your question, making language of it, but for a moment just let your imagination create a “world”, or a kind of “map” within the card itself.
- Now go back to your 🔥Burning Question🔥 and familiarise yourself with it again. Look over to the card and start to imagine that the question and the card are in conversation with each other, and that the card is giving you some kind of “answer“ to your 🔥Burning/Soul-Searching Question🔥. Write down anything that you feel you are getting from the card in your hand, noticing any and all associations that your mind finds within that card. Project yourself and your situation onto the card. Which part of the image is You, and which part is the Problem, or the Other. Don’t censor yourself at this point. Let your mind be wild and free in its initial responses to the image on the card.
- After doing this, you might like to google the card and just read in a very general way about some of the archetypal symbols therein, and the various interpretations that have been given of these symbols over the last 5000 years. Unlike our more modern forms of technology (such as the psychotherapeutic and pschological tools, such as CBT, devised in the last century) this particular form of technology has been used and developed by healers and other lovely people for a great deal longer than that. A human technology that has been around for thousands of years to help us with our “special” language-shaped suffering, surely must have something of worth to offer us?
- Read through the information on the webpage which will probably be framed in a somewhat naff, generic way (less naff and generic when we do this process together, I promise), but for now, put aside your prejudices if you have any, and look for a a few words or phrases that perhaps jump out at you and speak in some way to the 🔥Core Burning Question🔥 that you have asked, almost like in a prayer, to be helped with. Ignore all the other bumf coming from the culture or your mind. The “noise” of an online reading can be filtered out with practice, or by doing this process with someone who knows your life and history to some extent, like a therapist or a friend.
- After doing the above, especially if you’re feeling a bit more settled, you can maybe let things percolate a little bit, or you might try and synthesise in one or two sentences what the message/answer that Life, The Universe, Your Innate Wisdom is trying to tell you.
- If the answer to this 🔥Burning Question🔥 settles the suffering of that burn, but only to open up another 🔥Burning Question🔥 (this can often happen, remember we are dealing with burning thoughts which literally spread like wildfire) then simply draw another card!
- Continue doing this until you feel a greater peace of mind and understanding of your situation.
At some very core level, I believe the process above is what occurs in any form of good counselling or psychotherapy. But perhaps in a slightly more focussed, less “going-around-the-houses” way (even though I really like all of that going-around-the-houses with two Answer-Seeking Minds process too!)
Any discussion which helps to guide us out of the confines and the limitations of our problem-solving minds (fired by 🔥Burning Questions🔥) into a space in where multiple potentialities are available and are framed in a way that don’t provoke just another round of Fear and Desire, can only be a good thing I believe, as well as a useful addition to our Mental/Spiritual Health toolkits.
I look forward to us sitting down and working with your 🔥Burning Questions🔥 (with or without Tarot) the next time we meet.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life that you could save.