What is working? What isn’t working? What if?
A delightful painting instructor uses these three questions as part of his artistic process. When he is making a sketch for a new painting, he looks at his first attempt and keeps those things that are working, changes those that aren’t, and asks “What if I did this instead?” He repeats the process again and again until the painting is finally finished.
There are some interesting qualities to these three questions. First, they work at all scales. You can ask them about a small sketch, and you can ask them about society as a whole. They work equally well at both the atomic and the cosmic scale.
It is more effective, however, to focus on those areas you can actually change. A sketch you can change. A national issue, not so much. You can avoid a lot of emotional upset and stress by not fretting about those things over which you have absolutely no control.
Another quality of these three questions is that they can be applied to any area of our lives, from the most mundane to the highest spiritual realms. Here are a few thoughts on how we can do that.
Physical: Start with our environment. Due to habit, inertia, or lack of awareness, we often live with things that are less than ideal, even problematic. Take five minutes to do this exercise. Look at the room you are in as you read this, and ask these three questions: What’s working?, what isn’t?, and what if? Maybe you need to throw a few things into the trashcan, or move a piece of furniture, or remove something that doesn’t belong in the room. If it is quick, do it now. Then make a “to do” list for bigger things that can be improved. Later on, take some time to apply the same process not only to other rooms in your house, but also to your diet, exercise, sleep, and other aspects of life on the physical plane.
Mental/Emotional: We can get into habitual patterns of thinking and reacting that pull us down. Our mental/emotional environment can be approached in the same way as our physical space. Think about your patterns especially in those areas that are painful or difficult, and ask yourself the three questions. Some habits and attitudes should be thrown into the trashcan, others removed from your present mental space and put on a shelf to work on later. Remember, you want to work on things you can change, rather than on how others need to transform themselves.
Spiritual. Look at those things you can improve, such as meditation habits, use of techniques, attitudes, and devotion. Realize, however, that spiritual progress occurs on many levels and in its own timing.
You might end up with quite a few things you want to change, but don’t try to act on them all at once or you will diminish your enthusiasm. The canvas of your life is a big project. One thing that I’ve learned with painting is to take on only one small area at a time. I can’t change everything at once even on a small canvas.
It is also very important to keep things in perspective and celebrate all the things that are working. Change is all part of the process. Enjoy it!
Paramhansa Yogananda has written, “Self-analysis is the greatest method of progress. Without it man becomes a living machine.”
Every tomorrow is determined by every today. Did you ever count your faculties or measure their strength?” Swami Kriyananda suggests, “Every night before sleep, review the day to see how you did on the battlefield of life.”
Try doing this with the three questions, “What worked? What didn’t? What if?” Step-by-step you will improve until your canvas is finished and you can put it in a frame and give it to God.
With love and joy,
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