Just One Question – a new column in Coast Mountain Culture magazine

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Reuben Krabbe’s incredible photograph Nebula stars as Coast Mountain Culture’s cover

I’ve been contributing to Coast Mountain Culture magazine since their debut issue, and this winter, have taken that relationship to the next-level, with my debut column, in which I apparently endorse tarot cards, dancing instead of wrestling, and the Buddhist concept of Mu.

Mostly, what I want to say is, if we want better solutions, let’s start asking better questions.

And: thank you so much to my editor Mike Berard, my  incomparable copyeditor Tara Cunningham who knows exactly where to nip and tuck, to art director Chris Rowat, and the whole beautiful award-winning kudos-deserving team at Mountain Culture, for this space, and for hitting 18 years swimming upstream crafting a beautiful print publication.

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The tarot cards sat on my desk for weeks, hidden under a sheaf of paper, before I gained the courage to tear off the shrink wrap. The salesperson I bought them from grew up in a family of tarot readers, and she confirmed my reservations. Trendy, but not to be trifled with, she intimated. I can’t stop wondering, if you open yourself to other worlds, how do you ensure you only hook the good guys at the end of the line? More practically, what do you do when you get a download from the future?

Divination. Stars. Tea leaves. Crystal balls. Entrails. People have sought foreknowledge  for eons. I have never been tempted. I like the way life seduces me with surprise revelations. Also, incense gives me a headache. I don’t want to be anyone’s sucker, but worse, I am afraid of discovering that the future has already been written, and there’s nothing we can do to change it. The salesperson gave me two pieces of advice: don’t approach with fear, because that’s what you’ll attract, and, know that nothing is set in stone. Everything is an opportunity to make a choice, to act. I’m not beyond anointing a 20-something retail worker as my spiritual advisor. 

I shuffle the cards for a long time, wondering if our demise as inevitable as it seems. Are we doomed? My long-ignored intuition stutters a response: it’s neither that simple nor that stark; ask a better question. Irish poet and peacemaker, Pádraig Ó Tuama, urges the Buddhist concept of Mu. It means you are asking such a limited question that you’re already trapped by the lack of possibilities. Ask a better question. Ask a question that courts possibility.

As the Buddhist deep ecologist and activist, Joanna Macy says, “Of all the dangers we face, from climate chaos to nuclear war, none is so great as the deadening of our response.” When I feel awake, when I slow down enough to tune into the quieter nudges, the less shrill and clamorous thoughts, those clues can come from anywhere — every one is an opportunity to choose what you’re giving your attention over to.

How do you choose to respond to the urgency afoot? To a terminal diagnosis? When you’re in the midst of a crisis, what is the appropriate speed at which to react? Which pressing need to you attend to first? For years, I wrestled with slowing down, being productive, finding the appropriate velocity for life. Then Güliz Ünlü, a teacher, animal communicator, and seer, offered me a new perspective, saying: “So much wrestling. Why not try dancing?” The questions, she explained, are the cookies left on the trail.

What is true right now?

The point of the cards, like any practice of slowing down, is to tune in to a different signal, the long-ignored and subtle voice drowned by noise. I shape clumsy questions, as awkward as kneading sourdough, my attention sticky. With each attempt, things take a smoother shape. After a while, the question runs to greet me. And I sit in that space, listening. Not rushing, for a change.

The future is a destination we will never reach. It’s just a mirage distracting us from the now, this lovely pedestrian path beneath our feet.

What matters most now?

Ask the best question your heart can hold, and then lean in close.

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