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Friday, March 16, 2001


Exploring the advantages of a questioning mind


We live in a universe of mystery. When a question arises,

Heart bids mind Wonder: Mind bids heart Ponder. -- from "Two Deep Clear Eyes" Walter de la Mare (1873-1956)

The wondering mind and the pondering heart harmonize to activate the spirit of what, when, where, who, why or how to evoke answers to the question.

In this essay, I will discuss several questions and attempt to explore them from the outside and inside in an imaginative way.

First, from "Children's Letters to God" (1975), edited by E. Marshall and S. Hample, is a question that an American child is "chewing" over like a lump, wondering and pondering:

Dear God, What are colds for? -- Rodd W.

Perhaps this child knows the American proverb: "When the day lengthens, the cold strengthens."

Though faintly feeling that any cold is of no use at all, the child, who is apparently feverish with a cold, is eager to elicit good information from the Almighty.

The second question is from a book titled "Shiawase ga Waku Hon (The Picture Book of Happiness)" (1998) by Shimamoto Kazunori (1935-). On the first page, the following poem appears with paintings of eight faces that reflect eight respective states of mind, namely:

Affliction, Sadness, Suffering, Anger, Fear, Pleasure, Laughter, Joy Which face Is the real Me, I wonder? -- Translated by Juliet Carpenter

This kind of question can arise within anyone. The human face is so expressive that it changes delicately according to a person's physical or mental state. Thus, the question over the "real me." Perhaps we can say that each of the many faces we wear photograph "the real me."

Poet Yoshino Hiroshi (1926-) provides an example of the questioning nature of creatures other than humans in his poem "Shojikina Gimon (An Honest Question)":

I talked to a little bird; The bird tilted its head wonderingly. As it couldn't understand me, The bird tilted its head honestly. That is a natural inclination of the head, A shape of modest, beautiful question mark. -- Translated by T. Horiuchi

Moved by the question mark that the little bird makes, the poet's soul speaks:

When some obscure meaning Sounds about my ears Like the breeze, I do want To tilt my head frankly Like such a little bird -- Translated by T. Horiuchi

Likewise, American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963) depicts the view of his little horse posing a question to him in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening":

My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the Year. He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake

The questions the bird and horse pose represent one aspect of their great sensitivity and startle humans into perception.

At times a serious question can lead to tragedy, as when Hamlet agonized over the grave question of "to be, or not to be."

On the other hand, the question "What is life?" can haunt the youthful mind, knocking at the door to a new or beautiful world. From the question "How can I make a cozy home?" wisdom may emerge to satisfy the mental or emotional appetite. Thus, the English author Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) states in "The Elephant's Child" in "Just So Stories" (1902):

I keep six honest serving men (They taught me all I know); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who.

One can conclude that a question often refreshes one's inner air. In a metaphoric sense, the one who looks into a dark sky through the window of an alert and questioning mind may discover a new star to slake an inner thirst, a new fire to invigorate the creative imagination.

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