Archive for Questioning

The importance of questioning

Spiritual inquiry, by its very nature, implies the absence of authority. We must be willing to doubt every religious figure and text, and we must release preconceived notions and established ideas. To truly inquire, we must be open to anything, recognizing that firm belief only arises when we realize the truth for ourselves. Although people and books can provide guidance and food for thought, it is our own ability to reason that lights our way.

Unfortunately, many of us are afraid to question. We crave security, and challenging our beliefs threatens this security. In same cases, our religion may discourage such challenges (see Can we be open-minded in organized religion?). However, unless we do question, we will never find the security we seek, because if we are not fully prepared to question then we can never fully believe. If we refuse to question something then it is not a belief but a hope – it is something that we are afraid to investigate lest it turns out to be false. When we flee from reality in this way, we are no different from an ostrich burying its head in the sand…wanting to escape from a predator that may or may not be there.

The adage says that ignorance is bliss. However, ignorance is not bliss, and unquestioning faith is not a virtue. We must lift our heads out of the sand and discover for ourselves what is true. Spiritual inquiry will not threaten this truth, because the truth will withstand any test. Spiritual inquiry is only an attack on that which is false. If we claim that we already know the truth, we are fools. Our beliefs will always have error, and inquiry must never stop. Answers will not come from a book or doctrine, at least not without the additional requisite of questioning. Even if we were to have complete faith in another’s words, our understanding would always be imperfect. We need questioning as the litmus to separate true from false. If we seek the Truth, we must question forever.

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Happiness: Spending our time wisely

What are our goals in life? How do we allocate our time? It may seem obvious, but the activities that make up our day have a substantial impact on our level of happiness. Yet despite this, many people waste their days on activities that they do not enjoy, and that are often unnecessary.

Research by Shkade et al (published in Science) surveyed the daily activities of 909 employed women. Many were surprised at the amount of time spent on activities that they didn’t like. Now clearly we must often engage in unpleasant activities whether we like it or not. For example, dentist appointments are a necessary evil (unless you are prepared to accept far more unpleasantness in the long run). However, there many activities that we do have a choice in. Do we work longer hours and get higher pay? Do we spend time with friends or time alone? Do we watch TV or go for a run? These are the activities that define our days, and they have a major impact on our well-being.

The classic example of a misguided goal is the pursuit of wealth. Studies consistently show that wealth has only a small impact on happiness, and yet people pursue it with a fervour. On the other hand, engaging in volunteer work, spending time with family and friends, or taking the time to exercise, can often be highly correlated with happiness. Perhaps this would be a better use of our time?

Different activities will be suited to different people – it is up to us to find what suits us best. However, a restructuring of our day and shifting of priorities can bring much more enjoyment into our lives. We should resolve to reflect on what activities do make us happy, and we should then make an effort to increase them. As part of this, we may need to question our long-term goals – such as the pursuit of wealth – and ask how well these goals serve us. This may seem like basic advice that should be given to a child, but it is advice that almost everyone ignores. We often wish for more time or energy – perhaps we can make better use of what we have.

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