I recently had an opportunity to speak to some Garrison Institute supporters and friends. I mentioned that one of the things that unites the Garrison community is that we are all seekers. This is our basic orientation; we want to discover, explore, and search, and the Institute is a wonderful vehicle for our seeking.
And in seeking, many of us desire answers. This is certainly how I often frame the quest—I want to know. Occasionally, however, I come across someone who does not provide better answers but asks better questions—and these better questions generate entirely new perspectives and insights. An unanticipated and well-expressed question is like lightning at night; it can be quite disorienting in its immediacy and power.
Arthur Miller, in describing the role of the writer, understood the power of questions: “The job is to ask questions—it always was—and to ask them as inexorably as I can. And to face the absence of precise answers with a certain humility.”
And isn’t this a good definition of the seeker’s quest? To ask, inexorably, and to face the absence of precise answers with humility.
There is much symmetry to the work of the artist and spiritual seeker. One of my former professors used to say, “There is no immaculate perception,” and this is the perspective that many artists take. They know it is our fate to struggle to see as best we can and that our perceptions are almost always clouded. Our limited vision rarely leads to complete answers, which is one reason why a grounding in humility is so important to both the artist and spiritual seeker. Mystical traditions acknowledge that “unknowing” is more significant than a facile “knowing.”
Perhaps this state of unknowing is, ironically, the greatest source of understanding. Because there is a significant difference between having an answer and possessing an understanding—and the purpose of a great question is to lead to understanding—and not, merely, to an answer.
Chris Marblo is the Executive Director of the Garrison Institute.
Photo courtesy of Marina del Castell