©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
Arms on the table, head in his hands, he sat alone. The other participants had already left the lecture hall. It was the noon break and I was hungry. Ravenous, actually. Something about the way his body language shouted pain, however, held me back from making my way to the dining room.
Walking over to his table, I perched on the edge. “Is there anything you need from me?” I asked quietly.
His head shot up. Eyes blazing, fists half clenched, face red, hair standing on end, and voice rasping, he almost spat out the words. “You said brain-function information could help answer questions and all your class has done so far is to create more of them!”
“What's the question?” I asked, trying to keep my face neutral and a chuckle repressed. He looked so much like an angry little boy dressed up in adult clothing.
“Question?” he thundered. “You mean questions! Why did I always feel different growing up? Why was I pushed into the family business? What has zapped my energy? Why are all my relationships short-term? Why am I so miserable? How come I'm even here? He closed his eyes and his head fell back into his hands.
“When I was a little girl, in the late 1800's,” I began, trying to lighten the situation with just a tad of humor, “one of our . . .” but he cut me off.
“I'm not the least bit interested in when you were a little girl!” His frustration bit into the air. “I'm interested in answers to my questions!” At least he feels safe enough here to reveal how he's really feeling, I thought to myself.
I remained silent long enough for him to once again raise his head. We stared at each other for a while. “Right,” he said finally. “It's your turn. So speak.” This time I did chuckle.
“First of all, the brain cannot really answer 'why' questions. It can only provide it's opinion and no doubt your brain has some opinions about the 'why' questions you have." He remained silent but nodded his head almost imperceptably. I continued. "One of our neighbors was always saying there's more than one way to skin a cat. In fact, I heard that phrase so often it must have burned itself into my long-term memory. Decades later, I heard myself throw out that same line during a stimulating but rather tense discussion with a group of colleagues. Without so much as a pause, one of the brain researchers retorted, 'if you have a cat to be skinned.' At the time I was startled at that unexpected response. It was only in retrospect that I understood its value.” The man's eyebrows rose slightly. I continued.
“Brain-function information, along with serious family-of-origin work, can help you discover answers to your questions, questions you may have had for decades. But you need to ask the right questions. In the case of the proverbial cat, the appropriate question may not be how do I skin a cat, or even which method do I use, but is this a cat and, if so, does it need to be skinned?”
“So you have the nerve to sit there and tell me I'm asking the wrong questions?” His voice demanded but one of his eyes contained the glimmer of a twinkle.
“Not wrong questions,” I replied, “but questions that might be more manageable if they were rephrased.”
“Such as,” he demanded. This time the twinkle was more pronounced.
“These are some of the questions I've asked myself over the years and brain-function information definitely helped me to answer them:
- Who am I?
- Who was I intended to be?
- Am I living congruent with who I am innately?
- What factors pushed me to adapt?
- Am I exhausted because I'm expending my energy inefficiently?”
He unwound his lankiness from the chair and ran his fingers through his hair. There was actually a hint of a smile on his face. “Let's get lunch,” he said, grabbing pencil and paper, “and start jotting down some rephrased questions.”
"Deal," I replied, "as long as you remember that your quest involves a process more than a defined destination." Already moving toward the door, his laughter echoed around the lecture hall.
All progress begins with a new question. Sometimes we delay our journey because we're asking unhelpful questions, or we waste time and energy on questions that don't really matter all that much. As Ellen Goudge put it, To seek empowering answers you must know which questions to ask.
Ah, yes. “Is this a cat and, if so, does it need to be skinned?”