Whether we are aware of it or not, we ask ourselves questions all day, every day. “Can I sleep another 15 minutes?”; “What do I want for breakfast?”; “Can I make the 8.15 train if I leave now?”; “I wonder if he/she will go out with me?”; “Should I have worn a different outfit?”
The busier our lives get, the more short-term our questions become. In fact, a lot of the questions we ask ourselves are designed to get us through the next hour or so. They don’t require much in the way of time or a considered response; they don’t tax us too much but rather just keep us ticking over. There’s nothing wrong with that by the way; we all have to live.
But the world is an increasingly complex place and we are all personally, and as citizens of the planet, under increasing pressure to make sense of an awful lot all at once.
Unlike so many ‘oracle’ cards which offer easy answers and benign reassurance, the IAQ deck is firmly grounded in the notion that we already know the answers. Accessing them requires only that we ask the right questions. That kind of deeper enquiry is a habit that many of us – overfed on the bounty of the ‘information age’ – have largely lost.
To ask a question is to begin a personal quest. Questions have a way of creating momentum, of moving us forward. Questions define and refine our thinking and our philosophy of life; they are the basis of our search for the truth of things. Questions are a manifestation of curiosity and curiosity builds awareness, appreciation, and understanding. They make the mind active rather than passive, make us attentive to new ideas opens up new worlds and possibilities.
The art of asking a good question goes right back to Socrates who believed that there were six types of useful questions. These were for: conceptual clarification, to probe assumptions, to probe rationales, reasons and evidence, to question viewpoint and perspectives, to probe implications and consequences, and to question the questions themselves.
If it all seems a long way from ‘what should I have for breakfast?’ don’t despair.
The IAQ decks prompt the user with the kind of questions each of us needs to ask when we find ourselves on the threshold of a new challenge, however big or small. It could be a personal challenge, it could be the anxiety of confronting culture change or new technology or a life philosophy that is different from the one we currently have.
They exist to promote reflection and critical thinking and to give us an opportunity to consider our opinions and beliefs, feelings and assumptions more deeply. And yet asking a different question of something can help you break out of difficult conceptual frameworks both personally and collectively.
For example, almost everything we are exposed to has some sort of cynical sell behind it.
A concept like family, for example, is used by every group trying to get some leverage. Protecting the family (personal or collective) is used as call to arms for environmental action. But it is also used as a reason for war, a reason for staying in a damaging relationship, a reason for covering up illegal, unethical corporate behaviour, and an excuse for the hard sell of billions of dollars worth of useless, even harmful antibacterial hand washes for your kitchen and bathroom.
Asking the right questions breaks through the cynicism of these frameworks and helps you get closer to what is really going on. It provides the tools for us to think about our issues and challenges, both personal and collective, in less habitual ways.
HOW DO I USE THE CARDS?
The IAQ project is comprised of two virtual deck of cards which prompt the user with the kind of questions each of us needs to ask when we find ourselves on the threshold of a new challenge, however big or small. It could be a personal challenge, it could be the anxiety of confronting culture change or new technology or a life philosophy that is different from the one we currently have.
There are no right answers, indeed the answers may not be immediately apparent or easy to grasp.
If that’s the case, wait; they will come. On the other hand, some answers simply hit you like a lightning bolt. Either way, by asking a question you open a door to new depths of understanding.
The cards can be used as a mediation, for instance by picking a single card and letting that be your question for the day. If you are addressing a specific problem I recommend picking three cards.
WHY THREE DECKS?
We all inhabit several different worlds at once and we engage with each of those worlds differently. Broadly these worlds can be described as:
My world. The close world of family friends. This is the ‘me’ stuff that most of us are wrapped up in on a day to day basis and over which we feel we have some control. So it’s the food on the table, the clothes we wear, our homes and offices, spirituality, health, work/life balance and close relationships.
Our world. Community, impersonal everyday contacts, a whole range of things within our reach, and within our power to change if we if we care to reach out for them. This is the world of protest/direct action, community initiatives, consumption, educations, wildlife/biodiversity, urban/town planning, social sciences/ecopsychology, local knowledge/indigenous beliefs, transport and sustainable living.
The world. Other countries, government, big institutions and things played out on an international scale that we often feel powerless to influence. This is the world of corporate shenanigans, environmental disasters, toxins and pollutants that we can’t see, poverty, social injustice, economic crisis, energy crisis, GM agriculture and climate change. The world we see in newspapers, big investigations and exposés.
Each of these worlds is connected to the others – even if sometimes the connection seems very distant. The closer a particular world is to us the more we engage with it. Because the further away from us a world is the less personal it seems; the closer a more distant world can be brought to us, the more we will engage with them. Too often is takes an oil spill or a nuclear explosion on our doorstep to do this.
Different worlds require slightly different approaches to get under their skin. The IAQ decks are designed to help us get out of a contemplative rut when it comes to our own well being, our most personal world and the wider more impersonal world ‘out there’. If it’s the intermediate ‘Our world’ issue that is on your mind remember that this aspect of our lives represents a unique intersection of the other two and can be approached in both a personal and impersonal way.
Of course it can sometimes be fun to mix the decks up using the CultureShift deck for personal enquiries and InnerQuest or WelBeing decks for more outward focused ones and see what comes up. I’d be interested in feedback on this method.
THE QUESTION (OR QUESTIONS) DON’T MAKE SENSE
There can be lots of reasons for that and sometimes working with the ‘not working’ aspect of the cards can be fruitful. Consider these options:
>> What state were you in when you asked the question? Were you busy or distracted? If you believe as within so without then these things will be influential to the questions you are given.
>> Are you being too literal? And if so what’s that about? It’s all too human to narrow our perception as a defence against something we don’t want to know or see. Try sitting with the question for a while even if it doesn’t make sense and see what comes up.
>> If you have picked more than one card it can be useful to look at the relationships between the questions as opposed to just the individual questions, as you would in tarot. Even if the individual questions don’t make sense, looking at it as part of a suite of questions and asking where is this leading me may provide useful insight.
>> Have you picked to many cards? It can be harder to see make association between more than a few cards.
And finally maybe it’s not working because it’s just not working. We all have off days, and the refusal to give up the good stuff is a phenomenon you will experience from time to time with any type of ‘oracle’ cards – they are just cards after all! Go for a walk, have a drink, have a bath, get a good night’s sleep, read a book and try again tomorrow.
IS THERE OTHER SUPPORTIVE MATERIAL ON THE SITE?
Yes. The cards are meant to give quick prompts to specific questions. If you want to explore your own overarching thought processes in more depth take a look at the Your Philosophy of Life page for some more in-depth questions about life, the universe and everything.
WHO CREATED THE PROJECT?
I am Pat Thomas, a journalist, author and award-winning environmental campaigner. I was born in California and transplanted longer ago than I care to remember in London. I am also a qualified – though no longer practicing – psychotherapist. I have a personal interest in and get real satisfaction from looking beneath the surface of things and people and situations. It drives some people crazy, but I still consider it one of my better qualities.
Every day I see good, intelligent, sensitive people trying to make sense of an increasingly complex and challenging world and try, sometimes against amazing odds, to find a positive path through it all and in their own way make the world a little better. When we are under pressure we often react unconsciously rather than respond consciously to events in our lives.
Under pressure our curiosity gives way to utility and expediency. I see the IAQs project as my contribution to helping keep consciousness and curiosity alive. It’s a simple way of metaphorically counting to 10, taking a deep breath, opening your heart and mind, providing a fresh perspective and fresh ideas hopefully keeping that momentum in our collective human adventure going.