Are You Sure?
There is a question I have learned to carry around with me and it is: are you sure? These days, we've all been asking the question when it comes to politics. But the question is incredibly useful for everyday human interactions. The question places us on the path to kindness, taking us to what Rumi names, "a mighty kindness." It's a good question to ponder over a good cup of tea.
I think it's fitting that the following poem is contained in a book titled, 10 Poems to Change Your Life.
Be helpless, dumbfounded,
unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come
from grace to gather us up.
We are too dull-eyed to see the beauty.
If we say Yes we can, we'll be lying.
If we say No, we don't see it,
that No will behead us
and shut tight our window into spirit.
So let us rather not be sure of anything,
beside ourselves, and only that, so
miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero-circle, mute,
we will be saying finally,
with tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we've totally surrendered to that beauty,
we'll become a mighty kindness.
In the following quotation, Thich Nhat Hanh wants us to write a phrase down on a card, which I think could just be shortened to, are you sure?
"All of us are only human, and we have wrong perceptions every day. Our spouse or partner is also subject to wrong perceptions, so we must help each other to see more clearly and more deeply. We should not trust our perceptions too much – that is something the Buddha taught. "Are you sure of your perceptions?" he asked us. I urge you to write this phrase down on a card and put it up on the wall of your room: "Are you sure of your perceptions?"
There is a river of perceptions in you. You should sit down on the bank of this river and contemplate your perceptions. Most of our perceptions, the Buddha said, are false. Are you sure of your perceptions? This question is addressed to you. It is a bell of mindfulness."
– Thich Nhat Hanh
If you google the phrase, Are You Sure, you are are likely to come to this article at The Buddhist Door by Sister Ocean. In it she says,
"It takes time and effort to look deeply and to reconsider our views, but the suffering caused by falsehoods, when spoken to others or believed by ourselves, is actually far more taxing once we learn how to notice the subtleties. The Second Training is more than a simple guidepost. It points to the very nature of awakening itself, an embodiment of the insight of impermanence and interdependence. It’s a tall order, but we only have to start where we are. The perfection of truthfulness lies not in finding the one truth, but in being open to the many truths that present themselves as we journey through life. And it’s simple as asking, “Are you sure?”"
When we sit with the question "are you sure?" we are embracing uncertainty, we are opening up to compassion, and deepening the possibilities. In another article called "Dealing with Uncertainty" Tara Weil says:
"When events involving others happen outside of our control, we have a natural inclination to make sense of the event by trying to identify the motivations or intentions behind others’ actions. If the event had a negative impact on us, we are more likely to attribute it to the negative intentions of another. This is a great time to ask, “Are you sure?” Tolerating the uncertainty and vulnerability of the impact of another’s actions on us can be very challenging. When we assume we know the intentions of another, we are often wrong. Realizing that we just don’t know can be a welcome relief."
For those of you who have read my novel, Rumi and the Red Handbag, you know that another of the questions I carry with me, is: what are you going through?
It might not even be a question you can voice, but you can still bring your compassionate attention and imagination to work on it. This is heart work, a chance to ask how open, really, is your heart?
The one thing I often get stuck with regarding these two questions is that you can't turn them around. You can't sit there wishing, man, I wish someone would employ these techniques when interacting with me. It's not useful to wish that others would wonder what you yourself are going through. You have to just sit with those questions and your compassion and with your heart as open as possible. You have to sit with uncertainty, which is a difficult thing to do. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Are you sure of your perceptions? This question is addressed to you."