Asking the Right Question

Dr. Joel Ying, MD

Physician, Educator, Storyteller. He hosts this website for "Living the Present Moment" as a conscious journey of Body, Mind, Emotion & Spirit. Holistic and integrative, his practice includes Tai Chi and Yoga, Craniosacral Therapy, Healing From the Core, Meditation. Always exploring his edges, he shares them in the blog, newsletter, courses, and online study group.

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—by David Whyte

if you move carefully
through the forest

like the ones
in the old stories

who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,

you come
to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

that can make
or unmake
a life,

that have patiently
waited for you,

that have no right
to go away.

~ David Whyte ~

Seeking Answers

I like to have answers (and perhaps you do too). In my search for answers, sometimes I am unaware of the question that I am asking.

When I was in high school looking at careers, I asked: “What will make more money?” Later when I actually got a job, I asked: “What will make me more happy?”

Both questions are valid and important. However, before I identified the second question, I couldn’t figure out why I was getting the wrong answers. (Has that ever happened to you?) Only if we are lucky, do we stumble on the right answers with the wrong question.

Powerful Questions

Among other things, the field of “Appreciative Inquiry,” tells us to start by Asking Powerful Questions. How you define the problem and the question you pose is often more enlightening than the answer. The answer often comes easily if you are asking the right question.

Some characteristics of powerful questions:

  • thought-provoking, invites reflection to find deeper meaning
  • expands possibilities or focuses attention
  • brings underlying assumptions to light
  • stimulates curiosity and creativity

If you are in a struggle to find the right answer, step back and see if you are asking the right question.

Questions That Have No Right to Go Away

In his poem “Sometimes,” David Whyte brings us to another set of questions in life.

In an article for Oprah, he tells us about 10 Questions That Have No Right to Go Away.

Questions that have no right to go away are those that have to do with the person we are about to become; they are conversations that will happen with or without our conscious participation. They almost always have something to do with how we might be more generous, more courageous, more present, more dedicated, and they also have something to do with timing: when we might step through the doorway into something bigger, better—both beyond ourselves and yet more of ourselves at the same time.
~ David Whyte ~


I was most struck by David Whyte’s second question of the 10 Questions That Have No Right to Go Away.

What can I be wholehearted about?

His answer came from a wise friend and Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, who came to visit him one day while he was feeling burned out by his job.

“The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest…. The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness. You’re so exhausted because you can’t be wholehearted at what you’re doing… because your real conversation with life is through poetry.”

Thus inspired, David Whyte began the long road to a career change that allowed him share his whole heart with the world through poetry.

What can I be wholehearted about? Today, it is writing this blog and telling stories. (For me, it is a daily question that has no right to go away.) Read David Whyte’s 10 Questions That Have No Right to Go Away.

What can you be wholehearted about?

What are your questions?