Tracking Wonder: The Art of Playful Questions

Tracking Wonder

Here you are

on the first day of spring
ready to track wonder.

You stand at the door
of the house
of your world

holding your field guides
a compass a map
and instruments to make marks

across a page
across a canvas or lens
cross your heart

and hope to live
before you die.

Outside you see
the full moon blooming
above the singing mountains
and throbbing sage

Inside you imagine
the full moon blooming
above the singing mountains
and throbbing sage

What’s the difference
between that and this
outside and in?

Where’s the wonder?

For now, let go of everything
you’re holding onto
and step one foot across
the threshold
and lift both arms to the side
one foot out, one foot in
one hand out, one hand in
one ear out, one in
one eye out, one in

What’s the difference
between this and that
inside and out?
Where’s the wonder?

At your feet you’re startled
to find a lizard carcass stretched
across the threshold
ten blue moons lined up
on its back no breath

Is it dead
or is it alive now
in the planet of this poem

What’s the difference
between that and this?
Where’s the wonder?

I don’t know, the student says.

Well, the teacher says,
that’s a good place to begin.

* * *

And so that’s how we kick off the Tracking Wonder retreat. Here in Taos are writers, artists, photographers, a scientist, an executive coach, a geologist – all open to discovering how and why to cultivate more wonder. And what about you?

We start with questions. And we start with questions about questions: How can we ask questions in such a way that not even the questions themselves imagined being asked?

Some of you know that each morning I ask of myself and of others on Facebook and Twitter the same question: What question are you living today? That question reframes the day for me. It reframes my actions. It puts me in the inquisitive instead of the imperative or declarative (pardon my talking about the syntax of being!). But, really, isn’t it more exciting and liberating to live the day as a question instead of as a declaration or command?

Living in questions unnerves some of us. We grow impatient. Restless. We balk in fear of what the real answer might be.

But maybe living in questions, even painful ones, with some delight and play, can help us stay in the uncertainty long enough for the question to bore a rich answer.

I hear a lot of people talk about asking “the right questions,” but I’ve heard fewer people talk about asking questions in startlingly new ways.

And who asks questions in startlingly new ways?


Pablo Neruda – in his last years – wrote a Book of Questions. Billy Collins’ poem “Questions About Angels” also is a good starting place.

Here are some samples from Neruda:

Which yellow bird
lays lemons in its nest?

Why does the grove undress itself
for the snow?

Why don’t they teach helicopters
to suck honey from the sunlight?

Now I can’t replicate at the Hut the embodied experience I took this tracking troupe through, but I’ll pose this for you today:

First, be open.

Be open to a question you’re living in today.

Or if you’re a fiction writer, be open to a question a character’s living in.

If you’re an artist or designer, be open to a question you might paint or create into.

Second, Neruda the Question. Mix it up. Bend the question. Free associate with the question. Ask the opposite question. Turn the question into an animal. Ask the question as if you were five years old. Give the question wings or wheels. Ground the question in images. (images get you into play and delight)

Now what? Write into the question. Paint into it. Walk into the question and then photograph or sketch the question or answer. The answer might come as an acorn, a squirrel, an old brown shoe. It might come today. Tomorrow. This time next year.

Be patient.

A young poet wrote Rainer Rilke a letter rife with questions: Are my poems any good? How do you dedicate your life to being a poet? How do I know if I should become a writer? How do I balance the need for solitude as a poet with the need for romantic love?

Rilke, in his remarkable patience and compassion, wrote a long letter back. The gem of this one letter is when he advises the young poet not to seek answers too quickly and to “live the questions.”

That’s our real work as creatives – to dwell in a hut of questions.

Drop in the Hut
What questions are you, your business, your team, or your characters living in? In Taos, we’re tracking wonder and using Yoga As Muse. What tools do you use? How do you stay in fertile questions and how do you phrase them in ways that keep the questions alive?

Later today we’ll be focusing on sensuality, serendipity, and surprise. Stay tuned.

See you in the woods,

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  1. Jeffrey, thank you for taking the time to post these things. I know how busy it is to lead a group like this. I am looking forward to attending the Taos group next March. yay sabbatical!

    All best,

  2. The poet Li-Young Lee also uses this questioning technique to jumpstart his luminously beautiful poetry. If you read his poetry, you can see the bones of the questions (and sometimes the questions themselves).

  3. Erin: Yes, Li-Young Lee offers a fine example of this. As does Ted Kooser. Alan Lightman is writing, in essence, a book length poem which he, as a spiritual atheist, describes as a question about faith.

    I like your metaphor: “you can see the bones of the questions.”

    What about you? How do you keep dwelling in fertile questions?