Ask, Seek, Knock: Midsummer’s Day Four

I promise that thinking will not turn you to stone.
I promise that thinking will not turn you to stone.

Well, everyone, it’s Day Four of Midsummer – we’re well into it, now! Hopefully my dear readers are joyfully living this out as much as I am. Endless greetings and blessings. Today is a holiday! Perhaps you’re stuck at work and it feels just like a regular old Monday, and all that entails, but this is like any twenty Unity Tuesdays rolled up in one. Try to think of it that way, and live the remainder of the day as best you can accordingly.

Anyway, these big moments in the calendar exist for our benefit. I mean, objectively speaking, they exist entirely independent of our awareness of them. Right? Whether or not you or I or any of the other humans were here, Planet Earth would still rotate around the sun in the same way, just as it would still spin like it spins now. There would still be a summer solstice even if nobody pointed their finger or built monuments or called it that. Paradoxically, that’s also exactly the reason why they do exist for our benefit. Being that we’re the ones pointing the fingers and making the classifications ourselves, it stands to reason we do so because it is to our advantage to do so.

And indeed – it is to our advantage, on many levels, to celebrate. It is to our advantage to commemorate. It is to our advantage to notice the procession of the earth around the sun, because it’s the space ship we live on, and we ought to know how it is flying. And did I mention it’s to our advantage to cut loose and celebrate? Yeah. But in the midst of all of these advantages and pleasures, the relaxation and the joy, the pause inherent to the High Holy Days invites us also to allow ourselves the time and space to think and explore and work things out. In fact, this pause compels us to be serious for at least five seconds and engage in the kind of contemplation that will helpfully mold our journeys and even the stories and narratives we tell to ourselves each day.

Now, answers are really great things. When I think about thinking, I think about answers. I love them. I accumulate them, employing some in key positions on a fairly constant basis and carefully filing others away in the event that I need them some other time. I have been quoted by others as saying that my goal is to know all the answers by the time I’m thirty. (I won’t confirm or deny, but, for the record, I still have nine months left, so it’s not entirely a fantasy.) But let’s face it: we like answers because answers are easy. Answers can be grasped in your hand. Answers are, at least theoretically, static. They’re not supposed to get up and walk away from you.

Picture of a man conjuring lots of answers - unfortunately, each one of them is wrong.
Picture of a man conjuring lots of answers – unfortunately, each one of them is wrong.

Questions, on the other hand, are much less appealing. They center around an aspect of doubt, because if you’re truly asking a question it’s because you don’t already know the answer, and doubt is profoundly uncomfortable – especially for people like myself who love answers and have a bunch of them. Questions involve work, because you have to either struggle with competing ideas or exert effort on a sort of investigative basis. And sometimes, perhaps worst of all, questions require patience, because their answers are not immediately available no matter what you do. That’s what I am talking about today. That kind of questioning, the hard kind. The kind that comes with a long waiting period attached to it.

Of course, there are many different kinds of questions to ask, and some are more fun than others. It’s always important to question leadership and authority, even if you’re understandably inclined to do so in a manner that won’t get you fired. It’s important to question cultural assumptions, even if it makes you or anyone around you uneasy, even if it makes you a little unpopular in some circles. Perhaps most important, however, as well as the most difficult, is to question yourself – to question your motivations, your goals, your thoughts, your actions, your perspective, and anything else you can think of.

Since he didn't cause the world to get totally blown up and all our parents to die, he may have gotten a couple of answers right.
Since he didn’t cause the world to get totally blown up and all our parents to die, he may have gotten a couple of answers right.

This isn’t a block of advice that I’m throwing outward at you, it’s my own personal labyrinth, both my own major asset and my own major liability. If I come across in my posts (or in real life) as self-assured and confident in my statements, positions, and broad approach, this facade belies the fact that I can almost never stop this kind of self-questioning. It makes me sharper in some ways, but also makes me more tired in others. At its best, it makes me humble and open, while at its worst it makes me defensive and conflicted. Most of the time, it doesn’t feel as though being my own harshest critic and holding myself to (at times) unattainable standards is a switch that I can flip on and off, but the fact that my willingness and capability to self-examine and be self-aware has increased over the years suggests to me that in some aspects, it’s a learned trait.

If anything, though, I’m a little extreme about this. I should be very clear that I am not suggesting that everyone start beating themselves up about every little thing. I wouldn’t suggest that on a regular day, never mind Day Four of Midsummer. Eff that! Not today!

What I am attempting to suggest is that, without asking questions, there aren’t any answers – and the tougher the question, the more valuable the answer. But if you can summon up the boldness to raise the question, you actually will receive an answer almost every time. The form of the answer and the length it takes for it to arrive will vary wildly, but it will come because you have summoned it. Probably the Bible says it best, in the words of Jesus, Matthew 7:7: “Ask and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” If that sounds crazy-simplistic to you, that’s because it kind of is. Nevertheless, what I’m saying here doesn’t have to be something mystical or mysterious or magical. Quite the contrary.

In the weeks leading up to our present celebration, I was repeatedly taken back in time a year, to the 2012 summer solstice. We hadn’t started this blog yet, of course, but I had privately drawn up for myself a rough blueprint for Two Weeks of Midsummer, much as we’ve done publicly in 2013. Naturally, I wanted to get things started on the right foot, with a bang! Sure, I was going to have to go to work each weekday as usual, but in my mind I was going to be on holiday, because the procession of the year is sacred and transcends all this stupid shit I have to do every day.

I didn’t a hundred percent know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew that even if it was just going to be my lovely girlfriend and I, I wanted to make a big feast, probably on the grill. I knew that I wanted to smoke merrily and have some drinks to good cheer. I knew that if I couldn’t have a real fire to celebrate the longest day of the year, I would at least light a candle, watch the stars appear, and pay homage to the fading of the Longest Light. The only problem? When the day itself actually came, I didn’t feel emotionally up for any of those things. I was beset with the kind of mood you can’t cajole or trick yourself out of, the kind of foulness of spirit that leads you to throw all your good intentions out the window.

The interval between 2011’s winter solstice and the following summer one, due to unpleasant but necessary developments in my personal life,  had included one of the all-time most difficult half-year periods of my entire story thus far. By June, the circumstances were old news and I was well aware that the worst of it was in the past. Intellectually, at least, I knew well that the passage of the next six months would be easier and involve a not-insignificant relief of most tensions that still existed – but being conscious of these things couldn’t change the fact that I was weary and drained. It went even beyond that. Newly freed up by the easing of the large issues I had been having, I now had the space to confront the absence of true deep-level friends departed to far-off lands and the pain of other friends I’d simply lost, in some cases for reasons I couldn’t fully understand. I had then, and still have now, a very active sense of gratitude bubbling to the surface, and even in my hour of darkness, I was grateful for the wonderful partner to my soul, for the two wild creatures otherwise known as my twin one-year-olds, for my parents and my siblings, for the good souled friends who yet remained, and for the fact that I had thus far possessed what it took to avoid being forced down to my knees or flat on my face. This was not a time of unmitigated disaster, merely one of profound uncertainty, one in which I was seriously questioning my role on the planet, questioning the higher purpose of my current location and current job, questioning how I’m supposed to be buoyant enough to do all of these other things without some of my favorite people around to have my back. On top of all that, or perhaps because of it, some little defeat or injustice of the work day propelled me out of it in a complete state of deflation and dejection.

Seriously, this guy had more of a clue than I did that day.
Seriously, this guy had more of a clue than I did that day.

So it was that I found myself on the afternoon of a day reserved for millennia for celebration and joy embroiled totally in gut-wrenching and heartfelt questioning. I didn’t just do nothing, or sit on the couch staring off into space thinking about this, or close myself off in isolation. Instead, I spent the first hour after work with my beautiful queen, working on our modest garden. That’s when all of these things started to breach the surface and flow out. We stopped at home and I paused for a little much-needed toke before we cruised on over to one of my favorite and most sacred spots, the Cathedral of the Pines. We found people in the main cathedral preparing for a folk earth concert (appropriate), so we quietly set up camp down below, in the Mother’s Chapel. This is the chapel that celebrates the fullness and fruition and fertility of Life with Mother Nature, surrounded by multicolored flowers and with a poignant waterfall running down the center of the front edifice, behind the simple pulpit and altar. Here, deep in the embrace of life, beneath the blast of the still-going sun, in the shadow of my beloved mountain, I asked my questions. I asked almost all of them out loud, and I asked almost all of them in the general direction of the sky. Both of us knew we weren’t there to get the answers. Both of us knew, in any case, that we weren’t going to get any of them. This was a juncture at which there was nothing left to do but ask things. Forget about the answers, in fact. This time was just for the questioning.

As a psychological exercise in confession, as you might expect, it was incredibly effective immediately. Saying these things out loud, admitting to my frustrations and failings and doubts and even the kind of dissatisfactions we repress so that we can continue onward without breaking down, this predictably released me from what I had unwittingly allowed to become a heavy burden. Furthermore, now that I had taken the three seconds (or hours) to articulate these questions without a filter or a rationalization, I was able to understand myself and my challenges in a much deeper and more useful way – entirely without anything resembling an answer. Here, the questions themselves were sufficient. Within them and them alone could be found the kernels of my struggles and my destiny.

Of course, it’s always useful to externally express the energies, concerns, and flows of your internal experience. It’s always serves to illuminate and to comfort. But the reason that this whole episode had come so prominently to my mind of late was not merely because we were hurtling toward yet another summer solstice. What thrust all of this to the forefront of my thoughts was the unintentional realization that, over the course of the whole previous year, this explosion of frustrated inquiry had really worked. For the most part, I didn’t really notice it as it was happening, but the answers so elusive just twelve months ago had gradually been granted me in full. None of them came through epiphanies or equations, through reading or research or instructions – nor even did they directly spring from quiet contemplation or more regular mindfulness. They came via that which is entirely outside of my reach, the unfolding of the story. The coming of the new solstice provided the benchmark I needed to remind me to look back on it all and take full notice of what I was seeing. As it turned out, my hopeless questions from the first half of 2012 were answered, one by one, by the events of the second half of last year and the first half of this year.

I do believe there are tricks and methods, I believe in transcendence and I grant the human mind a higher degree of power than that to which is ordinarily ascribed, but I also hate lazy solutions that are easily disproven or abandoned. Positive thinking does have power, but I do not buy the capital-letters “Power of Positive Thinking” or “The Secret” or any such nonsense that suggests that if you just imagine something a lot, it will appear as if generated in some Great Cosmic 3-D Printer. That’s not spiritual, that’s play-magic of the most childish sort. The last thing I want is to give anyone the impression that you can “get things” by thinking about them. Disclaimer made, I will say plainly that you’re much less likely to get answers you want without intentionally asking the questions you have. It’s not enough to simply carry them around, feeling them regularly in their vague gestation. You have to form them and bring them into manifestation by asking them. If you do that, you’ll probably get answered.

It won’t be tomorrow. It won’t be next week, and probably won’t be in time for the winter solstice. I can’t even promise you’ll get it by next June. It might not be the answer you like the most, and it might not come to you in the sort of straightforward and easy way you are expecting. In fact, answers invoked from the universe like this are sneaky sorts of creatures. They almost always come from a direction you don’t expect and you almost never see them coming. Quite often, as in my experience this solar year, you won’t even realize it sprinted on through until long after it’s already gone. You just realize one day that the answer is with you.

There really doesn’t have to be anything paranormal about this unless you want there to be. The effect is quite easy to explain. By asking these questions, by articulating these inner needs and flows, we orient the thoughts in the back of our minds to this loose and non-restrictive framework. All of the events to follow fall under the post-question umbrella and can later be interpreted along these lines. Perhaps it leads you to attribute significance to events where only pure chance exists. On the other hand, perhaps there are events of significance that happen all around us every single day of our lives, and the mindset from these questions allows us to actually notice some of them – and from that, derive wisdom. That’s what I am saying. This is how we can intentionally direct our thinking towards understanding the events of our lives and deriving applicable knowledge from them.

You know something I learned, not from one single event or even one single answer, but from the combination of all of them? I found that somewhere along the way I’ve gained a certain (and authentic) steadiness and constancy; I discovered that I somehow possess what it takes not only to survive without the proximity of my dear comrades, but to go forth and proudly represent those aspects of them which made them so dear to me in the first place. The increase of knowledge along the lines of last year’s questions is self-reinforcing and will only continue to build over time.

That’s why I’m going to be sure to take a second, or a day, during this brilliant and blazing Midsummer’s Jubilee, to figure out this year’s questions, and ask the hell out of them. You do it, too! Seriously. Think of the things you most want to know, and ask for that knowledge – and then forget about the whole thing immediately. Enjoy the feeling of being a little bit lighter, and go about the rest of your celebrations and on your merry way. Don’t set any calendar reminders, and consider maybe not even writing the questions down. When the time comes to reflect on them again, you’ll know, because they will appear on their own along with anything new you won’t have realized was even there.

No need for me to sketch out a ritual or anything. You don’t have to make a big thing of it. If you believe in deity, ask your questions of him or her or them. If you don’t, ask them of the air or the sky or the cold empty void of space. If you don’t want people to know you are speaking out loud to outer space or spirit-beings, do it when alone in the car or in the bathroom or any time that you get to yourself. If you want to involve fire in some way (I pretty much always want to involve fire in everything), light a candle in a dark room, and speak your questions to the lit flame. You might even spice it up by writing down the questions on a piece of scrap and then burning it with the candle. When you’re done, you can just blow it out, and let the smoke wafting up represent the release of your questions to the world.

Worst case, you have a little fun doing something strange and learn a couple of things about your deepest desires and concerns.

Best case? Best case is that, if you ask questions of the world, the world will produce from its bowels the answers to throw back at you.

Raise your hand and ask the world with me.

And it doesn't hurt to smile while you do it, either.
And it doesn’t hurt to smile while you do it, either.

Salaam and happy Midsummer.

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