THE POWER OF SIMPLE QUESTIONS
By Carolyn Hobbs, LMFT
Author of FREE YOURSELF: 10 Life-Changing Powers of your Wise Heart
I spent last week sick with a chest cold, exhausted from promoting my new book, Free Yourself, on radio shows, social media, and an East Coast tour this fall. But as I lay sick on my deck, soaking up rays, I noticed a pressure on my heart. Along with deep exhaustion from a busy year of editing, proofreading and promoting, I felt disappointed and discouraged that a few close friends were too busy to help me.
My story felt totally justified—until I remembered the Power of Simple Questions. In any relationship, it’s so easy to point the finger at loved ones, easy to blame those closest to us and assume that what they said or did or didn’t do caused our hurt feelings. But the instant we engage our Curious Heart and ask a simple question such as “What story is ego telling me now,” we snap out of ego’s trance into the truth of who we are: conscious, loving awareness. After all, ego will hold us hostage to its stories and infinite thoughts forever, perpetuating our suffering, if we let it.
For myself, the instant I remembered to stop pointing the finger at my busy loved ones and pause instead to take two deep breaths and ask my curious heart, “Which part of me feels disappointed and discouraged,” my heart reminded me that these two feels trigger my young child wound from growing up with a depressed mother. Within 24 hours of offering young Carolyn loving reassurance, I healed.
The moment we ask, “Which part of me—my noisy ego or wounded child—feels hurt and needs to defend itself?” the mental story of feeling lost, lonely, scared or angry is replaced by loving reassurance from our wise heart.
Resisting what is true or reacting is not our problem. Failing to see it clearly is.
We owe it to ourselves, and loved ones, to get to know the workings of our inner self. By whispering to ourselves each morning for a whole week, “I’m willing to recognize ego’s voice,” our curious heart helps us hear the loud and demanding, or soft and seductive tones our ego uses to convince us to buys its fears and judgments.
But when we ask a question, ego’s constant chatter takes a break. Rather than staying lost in ego’s stories of guilt, anxiety, jealousy or anger, our focus shifts into a deeper sense of self: our wise heart. Curiosity helps us notice which reactions are just passing through, like radio waves, and which we want to pay attention to.
Curiosity brings awareness. Awareness brings conscious choice and freedom.
For example, Bill suffered from panic attacks. A healthy thirty-year-old who loves downhill skiing, he never let friends ride in his car to the ski resort for fear he might have a panic attack and have to pull off the freeway until the panic attack subsided. Anti-anxiety drugs failed him. So he tried body-centered therapy.
“I don’t believe in therapy,” Bill said, “but a friend recommended this.”
“I hear your resistance,” I responded, “but are you willing to try an experiment?”
He nodded. We spent a half hour teaching him how to recognize his voice of ego and young self from his wise heart. Then I asked Bill to lie down on a futon and place both hands over his heart. “Now take five deep belly breaths” and repeat inside your self, ‘I stay calm and relaxed in all situations.’
After this phrase relaxed his body, I asked Bill to describe his latest panic attack. “I was driving to Denver early on Christmas Eve morning, excited to see my family and see my nephew’s faces when they opened my gifts,” he reported. “Just before I panicked and pulled off the road, I felt scared, out of control, unsafe.”
“Good remembering,” I said. “Now call in curiosity by asking your wise heart, ‘Which part of me felt scared, unsafe and out of control? My ego or young self?”
Immediately, Bill responded, “My young boy! I never felt safe with Dad driving the car because he’d drive drunk and swerve and play chicken with oncoming cars.”
Tears trickled down his cheeks as he recalled his terror at riding with his dad.
“As a boy, nobody reassured you or helped you feel safe,” I injected. “So ask your wise heart what words of loving reassurance you might offer your scared boy now.”
Bill paused, as if listening closely to his heart. “It’s Okay, buddy. I’m here. I love you and I’ll keep you safe. I’ll never make you ride with an unsafe driver again.”
The next week, Bill arrived grinning. “It worked,” he exclaimed. “I started to panic, pulled off the highway, put my hands over my heart and reassured young Bill. After repeating ‘I’ll keep you safe and I love you,’ he calmed down and I drove on.”
Our ego and young self react instantly, without thinking about it. We can’t stop it. But we can consciously choose, in this moment, to respond differently.
Like a TV remote, curiosity switches channels inside, from unconscious reactions to conscious awareness. It opens all the shutters and doors to notice ego’s voice, which pressures us constantly to stay on top of things, stay in control and have all the answers. Curiosity hands us our own personal “stop” and “pause” buttons with full permission to use anytime, anywhere, whenever any thought, misperception or story distracts us from the present. The moment we remember to ask, “How am I reacting to an unwanted situation” and “How is my reaction creating suffering,” we free ourselves to ask the empowering question, “How do I want to respond now?”
Every situation, pain, symptom and conflict holds a pearl of wisdom inside. If only we pause and respond with curiosity, it teaches us something below the surface that we’ve been waiting to learn our whole lives. Our job is to find the courage to use our discomfort, pain, despair and hopelessness to wake up right now out of ego’s trance and see our humanness, and our loved ones, more clearly.
When we meet each life event—the good and the bad—with curiosity, it can feel at first as if we are pulling the rug out from under us, a rug that we believed was keeping us safe our whole lives. In chapter two of my new book, Free Yourself, I dive into more detail about using the Power of Simple Questions to unleash our birthrights: inner peace, joy and freedom.
But for now, ask yourself, “Which part of me feels scared, anxious, rejected or lonely?” Watch the mere question transport you into your curious heart, whose deep inherent wisdom changes how you see yourself, and life itself, forever.
Carolyn Hobbs, Licensed Marriage & Family Body-Centered Therapist
Author of Free Yourself: 10 Life-Changing Powers of your Wise Heart (Wisdom, 2014) and JOY, No Matter What (Conari). Order FREE YOURSELF & receive free gifts at www.JoyandFreedomNow.com ;
For life-transformation coaching, check out www.carolyn-hobbs.com or call 970/259-3537.