On Centering Questions
Some of the Buddhist podcast episodes and articles I’ve skimmed provide a way to focus on your core self by posing yourself a question. it may be used during meditation, or just a thought you go back to throughout your day.
I found them handy to have these questions around to break the cycle of self-indulgent thoughts that are not productive, or just to snap my attention to center myself from the busy events of the day.
Here are 3 that I found useful:
- Asking yourself why when you do something is central to the importance Buddhism places on intent.
- Why did I buy a gift for my friend? Is it because I want a favor from them after, or is it because they looked like they could use an unexpected gift to cheer them up? Same action, different intentions. Intentions matter.
- Then Buddhism encourages you to ask “Why?” again, to help explore your intent further, and not necessarily be satisfied with the first answer you give yourself. It reminds me of the “ask why 5 times” philosophy of the Toyota method. It’s probably not a coincidence for a management philosophy developed in Japan to mirror a key Buddhist philosophy.
- Why not be happy?
- Asking yourself “Why not be happy?” throughout the week can go further than the simple “why” to focus on appreciation.
- The question when feeling down can be a little “pick me up” for your self.
- The question when already feeling happy can be a chance to savor the moment, and focus on what it feels like to be happy, what physical sensations exist, how our posture is when we are happy, what effect feeling happy has on us.
- What is here?
- Asking the question “What is here?” can help you get to the core of what’s happening right now, right here, to help us live in the present.
- For example, you can be frustrated stuck in traffic. What is really here, and the only thing here is you, and your heart is beating hard, you might realize you are gripping the steering wheel tight and the shoulder is hunched up. The question does not pressure you to stop being frustrated. It just acknowledges the physical state, and shed the narrative that we tell ourselves which usually makes the situation worse (e.g., “Oh, now I am going to be late, then my boss will be very upset, and….”), otherwise known as shooting ourselves “second arrows“
- During meditation, just noting a sensation or a thought by acknowledging it by saying to yourself “here” (short for “what is here?”) when there is any sensation or a thought, to help you avoid excess narration, as above, and at the same time, to become more aware of your body.
Photo: Lanterns decorating a Buddhist temple in Seoul