How to Change Your Life with One Question
Would you believe it if I told you that one simple question changed my life, instantly?
It popped into my mind while I was in the shower the other day.
I was in the midst of a frantic task, rubbing a salt scrub into my hands in a futile attempt to polish any sign of age away, when I became aware of all of the subconscious voices that were quietly yelling at me from inside my mind, spurring me on.
First, I heard self-criticism belittling the appearance of the skin on the back of my hands.
Images of all the older hands I had ever taken note of flashed before my mind’s eye —the veins, the folds, the form of bones visible under thin skin—and they felt like a warning, as well as a standard of what “old” looks like for me to measure my own appearance against, to see how far I’d progressed into my inevitable demise.
Despite years of inner work, long ingrained cultural messages still echoed in my mind, reinforcing the meaning and impact of these images. “Youth is beauty,” I remembered. “Your worthiness is diminishing,” the voices said. “Soon you will be nothing,” they whispered.
I heard my mother’s silent “I told you so”, as her advice about sun exposure and the importance of skin-care flitted across my memory.
As a teenager, I had first snootily dismissed her recommendations, and then later adamantly rebelled against her caution when my cousins started advocating the use of tanning beds.
Regret and a desperate frustration tightened around my heart as I tried to scrub the evidence of my past forays off of my skin.
And then, miraculously, the question came to me: “What if I did this lovingly?”
Suddenly, everything shifted.
My shoulders relaxed as my scrubbing slowed to an inquisitive caress.
The action moved from the outside of my hands to the inside as my focus shifted from appearance to feel.
I now found myself exploring the hills and valleys of my hands, looking for tension points that needed soothing.
A few minutes later my shower was over and it was time to squeegee the water off the tiles and glass. I began by rushing through it, my mind out of my body in an imagined future, already out of the shower, contemplating what I would do next after I got out of the shower, and then the thought came to me again:
“What if I did this lovingly?”
BAM! My awareness was back in my body, it was like I had awoken from being possessed.
Now the act of squeegeeing felt like less of a chore and more of a game.
I started having fun with the patterns of the water drops, and an immense tactile satisfaction arose from the feel of the squeegee in my hand as I wiped the walls around me.
As I got out of the shower my mind wandered again, this time to the past.
I thought about an interaction I had had with my husband, Adam, an hour earlier, in which I wasn’t the nicest person.
He hadn’t been feeling well and needed me to step in and put the kids to bed, and instead of being supportive, I responded with frustration and self-pity.
I was overwhelmed.
He had gone out with a friend that afternoon while I was left to go grocery shopping alone with the kids, a high-intensity sport that requires me to simultaneously try to prevent them from breaking anything, touching everything, and running everywhere, while still collecting all the items on the list as calmly as possible.
I was looking forward to a break, and stress took over my system at the thought that my break would have to wait.
See, “me time” has become my most precious resource since having kids.
I’ll admit that I’ve come to protect it ferociously, and with good reason.
Not too long ago, when the kids were a bit younger and nobody was sleeping through the night yet, my nervous system was on constant high-alert. I spent those years exhaustedly catering to incessant needs while trying to keep their little impulsive bodies safe from their own whims, and the residue is still palpable inside me.
This on top of the fact that I was starting my period and believed my body needed to rest, and all I could think of was that my own needs weren’t going to be met, again.
As if that wasn’t enough, my mind then flashed forward to an imagined future in which Adam gets sick or dies and I’m left to care for the kids alone.
I felt the stress build up in my body as I dried myself off and ruminated on all of this, and then the question interrupted my thoughts again:
“What if I did this lovingly?”
In an instant the truth revealed itself to me.
Related: Awakening to Reality
This stressed, ferociously protective response was all just a reaction to my thoughts, and was entirely based on conditioning from the past.
Had I taken a moment to pause, I would’ve realized that everything was actually fine, and I would’ve been able to respond to Adam with kindness instead of overwhelm.
The truth is, I enjoy putting the kids to bed, and it was still early enough that I had time to do all the things that I wanted to do, including the wonderful shower I had just taken.
Adam wasn’t dying, he just had a cold and needed a little extra rest.
But even if the worst imaginable thing were to happen, we would navigate the circumstances when they came our way, and I would still want to meet each moment lovingly. I would still want to show up for Adam and the kids, lovingly.
So when the question popped into my head again this time, something profound shifted in me.
Where I would’ve been self-righteous in the past, feeling sorry for myself because I had to do so much for everyone else, I now realized that I owed Adam a major apology.
And another thing shifted inside me here, too.
In the past, when I realized that I made a mistake, my midline would tighten and I’d feel horrible about myself for days. In other words, I would be anything but loving toward myself.
But with the question, “What if I did this lovingly?”, even my response to myself changed.
I saw the thoughts that had made me react the way I did, I felt the stress and internal anguish that they had caused inside me, and instead of self-loathing, I was left only with compassion.
As Byron Katie points out, given what I was thinking and believing at the time, the way I acted made sense.
Now that I see the truth, I have the opportunity to change.
From here on out, I’m going to try to do everything lovingly as I can and see where it takes me.
What about you? How would your life change if you did things lovingly?
There’s only one way to find out.