But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don’t know anymore…
Lyrics from “Some Nights” by Fun
Life is full of unanswered questions. “What if I had done things differently? What if I had just skipped work that day? What if I had never sent that letter? What if I got just one more chance?” Such questions often haunt us. We can’t seem to comprehend why things unfold the way they do. Who can understand a man’s deepest regret? Who can explain to a mother why she lost her son in war? Will she even understand what the fight was for? What do you tell a child whose parents go out for dinner one night and never come back? What do you tell a young girl who is in love but is arranged to marry someone else? People go on with their lives, because they have no choice. But deep within, many of us are haunted by a longing to know “why” and “what if” we had done things differently.
The problem is that we start feeling like the Lord owes us a response. The truth is that life owes us nothing. Our misfortunes are the direct results of our own past karma. Many of us have a misconception that we are owed a certain degree of happiness, comfort, care, respect, love and understanding. But in reality, whatever we get is what is in store for us. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Unanswered questions may simply be a part of our destiny – and living through our doubts is the breaking of the shell that encloses our understanding. In all his wisdom, the Lord gives us only what we can handle – and maybe at this point in our lives, we are not yet ready to comprehend the answers. We are not ready for the truth. Until then, we need to simply be patient with life’s unresolved questions and trust that we will receive the answers when the Lord sees fit. The poet and novelist, Rainer Maria Rilke beautifully explains:
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
Letters to a Young Poet
It has been said that if we want to fill a cup, we need first to empty it. There comes a point when our cup is empty and we truly feel like we just do not know anything anymore. A humorous story is told of a monk who went to visit a village. The monk sat on the podium and before beginning his sermon, he asked those who had gathered around him if they knew what he would discuss. They all answered “yes”. So he told them that if they already knew the topic of his discussion then he would not waste their time and left. The next day, the group gathered again to see the monk. The monk again asked them if they knew what he would discuss. This time, they all replied “no”. So the monk said, “then why should I waste my time here?” And he left again. The third day, the monk returned and again he asked those gathered if they knew the topic of his discussion. This time, the attendees cleverly planned in advance that half would nod yes and the other half would answer no. Upon seeing this, the monk said, “Then those of you who know my message, please explain it to those of you who don’t!” And the monk left. Finally, the fourth day, the monk returned and the attendees just sat there in complete and utter silence. “Finally,” the monk said, “you are ready to listen.”
The truth is that as long as our minds are clouded by our own perceptions, conceptions and notions of the truth, we simply are not able to grasp the answers. There is no space in the storehouse of our thoughts for any new interpretation of the events that have transpired in our lives. But once we are able to still the mind a little, to let go – only then can we glean some understanding. Like the monk’s followers in the story, or the writer of the song “Some Nights”, perhaps it is possible to reach a point where we just do not know anything anymore. “What do I stand for? What do I stand for? Most nights, I don’t know anymore…” It is only when we realize that we don’t know, when we surrender ourselves that we can clear some room for the truth – for the answers within. Might we then, finally, be ready to listen? Perhaps then we will realize that the answers are irrelevant. What matters is the silence and stillness within us – the answer to every question.
The real questions are very difficult to answer, because there’s no answer to them. Why God is there, why we are here, why he has made all the trees green – what answer will you give? Why vegetables have so many colours, why flowers give off fragrance – what answer will you give? There’s no answer, and these are real questions. All other questions, about which we have written so many books, are superfluous. There’s no answer to a real question. It’s not that they are answered – they don’t exist. These questions have to be dissolved, so we go to that level within ourselves. Then these questions don’t bother us, they don’t exist anymore.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I