Friday, February 4, 2011

Freedom from "Why?"

Sometimes I joke about the joy of not knowing (see video below).

But ultimately, I'm finding it to be pleasant and relaxing, even restful.

There are some things in this life that curiosity wants to investigate. How do leaves change colors in the fall (and how does my hair turn gray, for that matter)? Then there are practical questions: which road do I take to get from here to the bank? or what time does the bank open on Saturdays? There are questions that have specific answers: what was the Billboard #1 song on this date in 1973? It was Crocodile Rock, by the way.

Then there are questions that have answers that might make sense to us, but they are less certain: why does my partner yell at me when I leave the clean laundry in the basket instead of folding it? Why won't my mother learn to text? Why do I keep texting that boy who doesn't text me back?

I work in a psychiatric hospital, and I was considering these things as I walked through the unit today. In the mental health world, we often look to two major areas for answers. One is chemistry. We say that bipolar disorder comes from an issue with one's brain chemistry and there are medications that can help even out the mood swings. This is often shown to be effective. The other area is social history. What was the scene like in the patient's house while growing up? Is there a history of abuse or other trauma? These lines of questioning also lead to answers and conclusions that often make sense.

But then there are exceptions to both of these scenarios. There are people for whom medication doesn't work. There are also people who have had intense abuse histories who appear to be healthy, well-adjusted and healed. So how can one history (or explanation) be the cause of the current situation, when there's so much variety in results?

Before I go on, I should say that I'm not suggesting people shouldn't take their medication, especially if they've found it helpful! And I'm not suggesting that if a person has trauma in his or her background that he or she should go through life unaffected by it.

What I'm saying is: in the present moment, there is no history, and there is no "why."

What is - right now - is.

I was walking through the hall saying hello to different co-workers, noticing that I smile at some, say hello to others, warmly greet others, nod and pass by the rest. I started to wonder how it is that this happens. Why do I not offer the same greeting to everyone? Why would I be warm to some and lukewarm to others?

And then the questioning dropped away and there I was, walking down the hall, being in the experience. I notice in moments like this that the sensory experience often brightens. I see colors more distinctly. This morning I was eating grapefruit, mulling over something from the [recent] past in my mind. Then I checked in and saw that nothing right then was happening - or needed to be understood - other than exactly what was happening in that moment. Suddenly my grapefruit cheered with flavor and I found myself saying, "Mmmmm."

In our own mental/emotional lives, we often look for the "why" behind what we do, especially behind what we do that we don't like or don't approve of. We also do this with our partners, parents, siblings, friends, bosses, teachers, etc.

I've noticed that there can be a comfort in analyzing what might be driving someone to behave a certain way. I've mentioned in this column before that I used to analyze my boyfriends with a friend of mine who's a therapist. If I was feeling broken-hearted, it was soothing to me to find reasons why the man wasn't calling or wasn't behaving like I wanted him to. We would come up with scenarios from his childhood about his own trauma in his upbringing that led him to be uncomfortalbe with intimacy. One of my favorites was the one that says he likes me so much it scares him and that's why he's retreated. (As if, I say now. But I digress.)

Making sense of why someone else acts the way he does might work for the mind that seeks answers or comfort. But it's much more challenging when you turn it on yourself. Why do I chew on the inside of my mouth (and drive my sister and people over the past 20 years crazy)? Why am I ambivalent about my own intimate relationships? Why do I still hope for approval from my father, at age 40? Why do I stay up and sleep so late (again, at age 40)?

[It's funny, as I'm writing this, I'm realizing that I don't usually do this with the things I consider positive. Why is my home so comfortable? Why am I a good cook (when I get around to it)? Why do I love to exercise? Why can I sing? Why am I a good writer?]

We seek the "why" in the supposedly negative situations because we think that insight will lead us to some healing or to a change in the behavior. Well, here I am at 40 saying, I'm not interested in "why," and I will go so far as to say, it doesn't even exist. If, in a moment, I find that I'm chewing on the inside of my cheek (I know, it's gross, right?), that's happening because it's happening. There is no "why" about it. If I'm feeling unsure about where I am in a relationship at any given moment, there's no "why" about that either. It's just what's arising right then.

I also see that this sort of allowing - or letting go - results in the dropping away of concepts that have held these scenarios or behaviors in place. Take, for example, ambivalence. For years I've claimed that I am ambivalent when it comes to relationships (and I've often said the men in my life are, too). Well, what if there's no such thing as ambivalence - just as there's no such thing as "why?" What if there's only what's arising right here in this moment now.

When I look for what's there, I don't even see any thoughts. Ask me again in the morning, and there well could be be some mental churning (I do my mental calisthenics most rigorously in the first few hours upon waking). The point is, what's arising right now is what's arising. It might be a thought. It might be a sound or a sensation in the body. But show me the arising of a concept like ambivalence. I'm coming to see that it doesn't exist.

This all begins to sound very passive to me -- and I'm pretty sure my partner thinks so too! And I can understand that. We've been programmed to think that decision-making needs to happen. One teacher years ago told me, "Just keep getting off the fence." And there may be moments to do that.

But what if we don't need to know -- and in fact, we can't know -- until we know?

Two things may happen. One, the questioning, if allowed to come to rest, can drop away naturally, leaving us right here, present, awake, colorful, alert, alive. Or, two, an answer, be it a needed action or solution or possible understanding, is allowed to arise in its time, without our mental pushing for it.

There is freedom here. Freedom for us as individuals and freedom for others in our lives. When we aren't fixated on the questions about why someone is a certain way, that person is allowed to be. Well, the person is allowed to be already, just by the fact that he or she is. And then we no longer have a personal agenda to create anyone in any other way besides exactly how they are right then and there. And the same goes for us as individuals.

So when I wake up tomorrow morning, if I'm churning with thoughts or agitation, I can remember, through resting in the present awareness that is always here, always awake, always inseparable, no matter what is arising, that everything is already allowed and I need not pressure myself to attempt to change it.

Miracles happen through such allowing. The need to repeat behaviors to keep story-lines alive can relax.

But don't let's try to logic our way into this now, folks! That's just more should-ing. That's just more pressure. That's just more rejecting, wearing a dress called wanting-it-to-be-better.

We don't need to know why. We don't need to know what's next. We don't need to look for the causes that will create the next scenario that we then have to feel badly about.

It's all okay. It's all right now, if it's anywhere at all. And if it's not right now, it's not. Don't ask me why.



If questions arise from this writing, please email

Here's the Answer