# of agents queried: 2
writing progress made: finished writing a short story I started a long time ago
My job tutoring Ukrainians is interesting to say the least. I literally get paid to have conversations. I ask my tutees about anything and everything, just to keep them talking. I ask about their families, what they ate for breakfast, their fears, their dreams, what they were like as teenagers, their favorite restaurants. It’s good practice for them to answer these questions, and it’s good practice for me to ask them.
When I was younger, I thought the best way to fill a silence in a conversation was to tell a story. A story about myself, usually. I expected that other people would reciprocate by telling me stories about themselves, and that’s how we would get to know each other. But not everyone is a storyteller. I found that I was talking about myself all the time and learning little about other people. I began to worry – was I not curious about other people? What a horribly vain thing to be!
But I did want to know about other people. I had been expecting them to offer up information unprompted. And so as I got older, I learned to ask more questions. People aren’t just going to spill their guts to me for no reason.
I have to work for it.
* * *
“Eva, what role does spirituality play in your life? Do you feel like you’re on a spiritual search?” Nikki asked me this morning as I was eating breakfast. She really likes to start the mornings off right.
I pondered the answer to this question while I ate my yogurt. This was Nikki, mind you, who wakes up at five-thirty every morning to meditate for an hour or so. This is Nikki, who reads Buddhist texts and goes to meditation retreats and talks on the phone with her Shambhala instructor. I felt lame and lazy in comparison. If Nikki is on a grand search for spirituality, I’m probably asleep in bed, dreaming about goats, expecting spirituality to come wake me up and make me French toast.
What I finally told her was that I definitely think about spiritual questions – why are we here, how should I live my life, is there a purpose, what should my purpose be. I think about these questions from time to time when I’m taking a quiet walk, or when I’m reading a book about philosophy. And sometimes I feel a general, overall sense of wonder or mystery about the world and my connection to it.
But I don’t think about these things every day, and I don’t have any sort of spiritual routine the way that Nikki does. I’m interested in these questions, but I’m not overly bothered that I don’t know the answers.
And then my old fear came back. Am I not curious enough? Don’t I want to understand the world and my place in it? Yes, yes, I do! But I don’t act like it. I go around telling my own stories without really trying to get to know the universe around me.
It’s not like the universe is going to spill its guts to me unprompted. Maybe I need to start asking more questions.
The other night I was on the phone with Paul, telling him about my Ukrainian tutee, Sergey. “His life is so different from mine,” I said, “that sometimes I don’t know what to ask him about.”
For example, I told Paul, the other day Sergey told me that he left something at work, so he sent his driver back to get it. I was surprised – I hadn’t realized that he had a driver. Then again, never having had one myself, or known anyone who’s had one, I never thought to ask Sergey about his help.
Sometimes I try to ask him about his work – he’s the CEO of a large Russian beverage company – but I often end up feeling silly. I know so little about business. I’m very curious about what he does and where he is in the process of introducing his brand of vodka to the U.S. market, but I haven’t been able to figure out much about it because I don’t know the right questions to ask.
Sergey makes me work for information.
* * *
As I was scraping the last of my yogurt out of the bowl at breakfast, I thought that maybe the trouble is that I find the world so mysterious that I don’t know the right questions to ask.
“I don’t know, Nikki,” I said. “I think that a serious and structured spiritual search often has an impetus, and maybe that’s why I haven’t yet felt the need to start a spiritual routine.” At this point, I told her, I’ve been content with my random musings and the occasional brush with the mysteries of the universe. I haven’t had a life-changing experience that smacks me in the face with with my own mortality and leaves a sting that can’t be ignored.
Nikki nodded. She didn’t become serious about meditating until she became a hospice nurse. “It wasn’t like I could ponder the meaning of life and then go back to my normal routine anymore,” she said. “Death was my normal routine. I see it every day. And it’s so mysterious and huge, and it’s going to happen to all of us. And I was like, whoa. I need to figure out what I think about all this.”
I’ve tried to get into the habit of meditating on several occasions. One was after reading Eat, Pray, Love. Another was after being given a satchel of sacred ash from India by this old woman at an ashram. She told me to meditate with a bit of it on my forehead for an hour every day and “amazing things” would happen. So I tried. I really did. But what always happens is that I meditate for a few days in a row, and then I think, why am I doing this? What’s the point? And I stop. I’ve never had a good impetus that makes me want to stick with the routine.
But when Nikki brought up the spiritual search today, I thought, why haven’t I tried harder to have a spiritual side to my life?
“Maybe I will try meditation again,” I told her, moving on to my spoonful of nut butter, which has become a staple part of my breakfast. “Maybe I’ll come meditate with you in the mornings, if you don’t mind.”
Nikki said she wouldn’t mind at all. She would love it.
“I bet it’d be a good thing for me to do,” I said.
“Why do you think that?”
“I figure it’s probably a good thing to notice what’s going on in my mind and body. Maybe I’ll become aware of something I don’t usually notice. Besides, I’m interested in meditation. You do it all the time, and you seem to like it. I just want to see what happens.”
“I think curiosity is the best way to approach it,” Nikki said.
My chest flooded with relief. I am curious after all.
* * *
Later, as I began to write this, I had a realization. Meditation is Nikki’s way of searching. But writing is mine. I said I don’t have a spiritual routine, but I do. Every day (well, now every other day) I’m sitting down and writing about my life and pondering things I haven’t always had the time to think about.
I’m still going to try meditation, because I am curious about it. But it’s nice to know that I had a spiritual side all along.
Today, when I was tutoring Sergey, I was about to go into my usual barrage of questions when he said, “I want to tell you about something that happened to me yesterday.”
“Oh, yes, please do!” I said. I was beside myself with joy. This was the first time Sergey was offering up information about himself without me having to ask him anything first.
Maybe asking questions is like chipping away at a wall. At first nothing happens, and all you get are little chinks and pieces of rubble. But finally, when you’ve asked enough, the wall comes crumbling down, and you can finally see what’s on the other side.