Real Questions: Summary of a Class Presentation

Our class yesterday was on “real questions,” an important topic in the Course. The term only occurs six times, but the concept is found throughout. Real questions can be very potent instruments of change, simply because they can direct the mind to that which is obvious but has been denied. They are particularly good at exposing beliefs that are firmly held yet flimsy.

My hope from the class yesterday is that we can use the information to start building a practice of asking ourselves real questions. In that spirit, I’d like to do what I did toward the end of the class and take a look at what various examples from the Course can tell us about what defines a real question.

“Where can I go for protection?” The purpose of this is to not assume what we have hitherto taken for granted, that our body and ego can protect us. The question therefore implicitly asks if they do provide adequate protection, and sends our mind in the direction of looking for protection worthy of the name.

“What is it for?” The examples given show us asking this about activities like alchemy, the inventing of perpetual motion machines, carrying pi to infinity, and cryonics. Of all these activities, along with everything else we do, we are supposed to ask “what purpose is this really serving?” This has power to show us that the activity is in fact serving no good purpose, and is thus not worth the time and effort.

“What do I treasure and how much do I treasure it?” These questions are meant to be asked in all our actions and to thus become “the true criteria for behavior.” I take these questions to mean the following: How can I use my next action to find what I truly treasure? and How far am I willing to go to find what I truly treasure? In a way, then, these questions are very much like “What is it for?”

“How could this be?” The “real Christian” is supposed to ask this of the idea that God would have His Son crucified for our salvation. Particularly this means “Why would God act in a punitive way when God tells us to be forgiving?” The question, in this case, then, is meant to lay bare the illogic at the heart of this traditional doctrine.

“What if I looked within and saw no sin?” This is openly questioning the ego’s insistence that we better not look inside at our core, because there we would gaze with horror on the confirmation of every bad name we’ve ever called ourselves, plus many we’ve never had the guts to. This question says, “Really? OK, well, what if that didn’t happen? What if I saw nothing of the kind? Why couldn’t that happen?” It raises the possibility, in other words, that there may be no truth to this claim on the ego’s part.

“Is it really sane to perceive what was as now?” In this case, we are looking on a brother based on what happened to us in our  own past. This question basically calls to mind the fact that that is what senile people do—they see the past as now. It exposes the insanity of our position.

“Would you be hostage to the ego or host to God?” We are supposed to ask this “every time you make a decision.” What it does is make clear the alternatives we have to choose between and then ask “Which one do you really want?” So it’s another form of pointing our minds in the direction of what really serves our interests.

“Is this what I would have, in place of Heaven and the peace of God?” We are supposed to ask this about the earthly things we “cherish still.” This is exactly like the previous question: It clarifies the alternatives and then says “What do you really want?”

Something Mary Anne shared at the end brought to mind two more (though I’m sure there are scores, if not hundreds, more in the Course):

“What can I lose by asking?” This is meant to burst the bubble of our resistance to asking the Holy Spirit what to do. It actually is the conclusion of a series of statements whose purpose is to gradually reason us to a place in which this question is answered easily and automatically. The gist of the question is, “Is asking the Holy Spirit for guidance really against my best interests?”

“Consider this; which [God’s Voice or my ego] is more likely to be right?” Or its alternate version: “ask yourself whether your judgment or the Word of God is more likely to be true.” This is another question that allows us  to see which alternative is best—in this case, which is truly in line with reason.

As I look at these questions, all of them direct our minds to take a very close and conscious look at what is truly in line with our best interests and/or with reason.

  • “How could this be?” asks if vicarious Atonement is truly in line with reason.
  • “What is it for?” asks if this activity truly serves a good purpose, a purpose that serves our interests.
  • “Is it really sane to perceive what was as now?” asks if the way we are perceiving really makes sense (is in line with reason).
  • “What do I treasure?” asks what action in this moment will genuinely help me find what I really treasure.
  • “Would I be hostage to the ego or host to God?” clarifies the alternatives, so that I can ask which alternative really serves my interests.
  • “Which is more likely to be right—God or me?” helps me get a sense of which option really makes sense.
  • “What can I lose by asking?” helps me realize that asking for guidance doesn’t really cost me anything (is not against my interests).

So this is the basic intent of a real question: it points our minds in the direction of what is truly in line with reason and/or our best interests. But this basic thrust takes different directions.

It can call into question something believed or offered by the ego. It can expose the ego’s “misassociations,” as Jesus put it. This is probably the primary direction.

Or it can send us  in the direction of something of God, showing us that a particular behavior, choice, or belief really is in line with reason and/or our best interests, or at least not against our interests.

It can do both of the above at once, simultaneously showing that the ego’s alternative is irrational or unhappy and that God’s alternative makes sense and serves our interests.

Or it can actually reach out to new information; it can send our mind on a search for what really is in line with our interests and/or with reason. When we ask, for instance, “Where can I go for protection?” our mind is sent out toward finding something that truly satisfies our need to stay safe.

OK, what I am hoping you will help me with below is two things: First, examples of real questions that you came up with to help you in your own situations, ideally along with reports of whether they helped. Second, more examples of real questions from the Course. Please join me in coming up with these examples so that we can get a better feel for what real questions are about.

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
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