—an excerpt from A Minute for Me.
My son Jon brought home a masterpiece from preschool when he was four. I had no idea what it was, but he was very proud of it. Made from the cardboard remains of paper towel rolls and empty tissue boxes, the sculpture looked like an odd monument to recycling, held together by what had to be a whole roll of masking tape. It was a boat, he proclaimed. “See the propellers, Mommy?”
When we returned home, Jon decided the project wasn’t done yet. I gave him more cardboard building material and another roll of masking tape, and he continued his work. “What are you building now?” I asked.
I gathered from his disgusted look that this question was a mistake. He rolled his eyes, clicked his tongue, and replied in an exasperated tone, “Mom!”
Watching him work, I realized that he wasn’t striving to make anything in particular; he was just playing with form. He conveniently named the form as it morphed from one thing to the next. First it was a boat, then a pirate ship, then a skyscraper, and finally just a plaything that didn’t need a name.
How often do I ruin the artful play of life when I prematurely ask myself the question, “What is this?” in relation to something I’m trying to figure out. The question takes the attention away from the process of creation and into the realm of labels and categories.
Like most people, when life dishes out a puzzle and I’m confused, I want to make sense of the situation, to put it into some sort of framework I can understand. Life, though, has a different agenda, letting the puzzle come together according to its own timetable.
We’re all playing with life the way Jon was playing with his cardboard art, one piece at a time. The difference, though, is that Jon is quite content not knowing what’s being created. What would life be like if you and I lived with that much trust?
What do you think you should know, but don’t? You’ve tried to figure out the answer, asked others how to solve the issue, took courses, and searched the web for how to put it all together. All to no avail. No rhyme or reason comes out of the pieces you’ve assembled from life.
Today, take a minute and see what it feels like to accept that the answer is not necessary for you to be happy now. Live, as Rilke suggests, the questions.
Can you force a flower to bloom before it’s time? A flower blooms when the conditions are ripe, and not a moment before. Can you still enjoy the flower whether it has bloomed or not? What if we’re like that? What if the answer we so desperately want comes when it comes, and not a moment before? How would you be in this moment without an answer to the question “what is this”?
Megan McDonough, CEO of Wholebeing Institute, is part of the core faculty along with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar of the Certificate in Positive Psychology course, a year-long study of the science of happiness.