from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

living the question

'Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue... the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.'  

Rainer Maria Rilke (from Letters to a Young Artist - I think!)

On my novel-writing course, I suggest that the journey of the protagonist is underpinned by a particular theme, which can be summarised in a key question.

This in turn is a characteristic of the 'quest', or the life-journey. Of course, a novel shows, 'writ large', the dilemmas of a human life, one way or another; pared-down, clearly, so that the architecture is more visible than it is in our own messy lives, in the detail of which we are so immersed that it's not easy to get an overview (this is partly why people seek out mentors, counsellors, coaches, obviously).

Once I mention 'quest', then there's a theme-within-a-theme for me, as – and this belongs in other posts, and my first non-fiction book, not here – then we're in the territory of the Quest for the Grail (yes, ok, and also eg Star Wars and other such popular takes on the quest theme, but expanding on that or those is not my purpose here). I believe that culturally the Grail myths, coming as they did not long after the revolutionary times at the end of the first millennium AD, are relevant to much of our current worldview, whether or not we're conscious of that. The reason it's relevant here is the fact that Parsifal, in some of the stories the main protagonist, was denied access to the Grail Castle the first time he encountered it, because he neglected to ask the question (he was too young, too innocent, to know that there was a question to be asked).

We could call entry into the Grail Castle the meeting with heart, with soul, with the possibility of a full, whole and integrated life that is about more than simply serving our own needs and the tugs of ego.

The first time I realised the importance of asking the question, and asking the right question, it was a major revelation to me that has gone on to inform my own life.

So I now also ask this question of participants in some of my workshops: 'what is the question your life is asking of you right now?'

The questions will change with time. The question/s valid in the first half of one's life, to do with identity, making a living, establishing a home, a place in the world, core relationships (in other words one's outer life) have less traction, less relevance, at mid-life.

Jungian James Hollis says: 'In the second half of life, whether through volition or necessity, we become obliged to read surfaces in order to go beneath surfaces, which is to say, become psychological beings. A psychological being is one who asks, what is going on here, what causes this, from whence in my history, or the history of the other, does this arise? Not to ask such questions is to be at the mercy of the autonomous, affect-laden ideas that Jung called complexes. These are energy-clusters which have a life of their own and, when unchallenged, put one's life on automatic pilot.'

So mid-life is a time when it's good to revisit, review and renew the questions. Now, our focus is more likely to be inward, or at least more inward: what are my core values? How do I want to live for the rest of my life? What is my soul demanding of me? What really matters? What do I have to give back to the collective? – these are all good juicy questions that invite us to live by putting heart and our knowledge of interconnectedness at the centre of our lives.


I shall be offering a workshop and an online course on LIVING THE QUESTIONS later this year; do visit my two websites: and

© Roselle Angwin 2014


  1. Thanks, Roselle. Such a timely post for me, immersed in the novel (very slow progress, though) and the questions asked by the characters therein as well as the ones they don't ask! The James Hollis quote is particularly relevant; I ask far more questions now than I did as a younger adult, so much so that I often wonder if they sound naive: why didn't I ask them more thoroughly then? I was immersed in Jung & Psychiatric S.W. Perhaps I did but not as deeply as I'd thought; or maybe I simply didn't ask enough of the right questions. (More likely that I asked them but neglected to hear the answers.) And interestingly, reading your vital (familiar from Iona) question: 'what is the question your life is asking of you right now?' –I'm suddenly stumped for an answer – the right answer, that is.
    Does what I write here make any sense at all, I wonder?
    Ah well, back to work. Let's see if I can write/wright (as in wrought or work) myself into a wiser, more compassionate, more enlightened self and help, at the very least, one other on the way.
    With love, Miriam.

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  3. Miriam how could we have asked the questions then that we need to ask now? Our concerns then were different.

    I'd expect that q right now to be one that one holds and polishes, as a precious Iona greenstone, over and over - simply as a question! That's the point, really, isn't it – to ask the question, to be led to LIVE the question - until one knows deep deep deeply what it is... And maybe it's not articulable...?

    - I like your play on words. And it hurts a little that you are hard on yourself - as in working yourself, like a blacksmith! - rather than letting each stitch be gentle, and be enough - I say this as one who also needs to hear this! Hope that's not presumptuous.

    One of my qs this year is: 'How can I trust my life, and life itself, enough as to stop struggling and simply listen?'

    With love to you, fellow-wayfarer. Rx

  4. Oh Roselle, such wise and compassionate words. Thank you. I like your 'precious Iona greenstone image and 'letting each stitch be gentle, and be enough.' It's much kinder than 'working myself' and I do need to ask, continuously – am I as kind to myself as I am to others? Do I still expect too much, too soon, of myself? It is too easy to slip into those old hard habits: whipping myself into action, for instance; forcing a discipline instead of simply writing something each day. What a relief to 'stop struggling and simply listen'.
    Interestingly, I've just read a review (last Sat's Guardian Review, p10) of David Grossman's book – Falling Out of Time. Sounds remarkable, especially the last paragraph – a quote from Grossman's lecture, Freedom to Write. Maybe you've already seen it.
    Also meant to say – delighted about Living The Questions and shall definitely be interested in participating (J also).
    These wise words of yours mean so much to me. The tension's released for the time being.
    With love, M.

  5. As always, Miriam, thank you. We usually say/teach what we ourselves need to learn, don't we, as they say? - Found myself easily falling back into the old driven patterns this year (mental excitement as much as 'ought tos'), but last year taught me something crucial, that I need to listen to.

    I do ask myself these days 'What would I say to my best friend if she was driven as I am?' - Yes, you raise that too.

    A big thank you.

    And with love


  6. Ps Miriam - thanks for the Grossman alert - got Sat's Review but haven't had time to read it! (What does that say in light of all this pushing??) Will look it out. Rx

  7. Interesting one, Roselle and so easy to feel exasperated with friends who do just that because in them, we're seeing the things that exasperate us about ourselves. Or at least I do but I'm more mindful about it than I used to be and beat myself less than I used to (though it's not always obvious, I know!). Fellow-feeling is what one needs to express, perhaps, in a spirit of – 'isn't it hard being like this'. It's easy to sound too forceful when someone close to you falls into the same traps as your own. And then, I find, you've lost them.

    I've done no writing today and though I woke up in the night worrying about it, I realised by day that I simply needed a rest. And I've survived! I've more time than I think; worrying won't help. A lot to do with all you've said, but also a dose of Tai Chi this morning.
    M xx


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