The Nature of the Game
“WHO are you?” Her eyes twinkled as she asked the question.
We sat facing each other in backjacks on the floor, sharing space with about 50 other pairs of workshoppers who were engaged in the same process.
“I am David.” An automatic response, the first thing that popped into my head.
“Thank you,” she said, and she said it with sincerity. A brief pause, and then: “Who are YOU?”
“I am a man.”
“Mmmm, thank you.” A smile, a nod, another pause, and then again: “Who ARE you?”
A Deep Dive
She asked the same question over and over, each time using variations of tone, inflection and volume. Sometimes she would sit back in her backjack as she asked the question; sometimes she would lean forward and look at me intently, as if she were seeking some deeper truth within me. Sometimes she would ask the question out loud; sometimes she would just look me in the eye and mouth the words without making any perceptible sound. And each variation of the question led me to a different answer, which she seemed delighted and excited to hear.
At the start of the process, I gave pretty typical responses. Father. Son. Brother. Lover. Fighter pilot. Software engineer. Poet. Musician. Life coach. Swimmer. Yogi. Meditator. Sometimes I repeated things I had said before; sometimes I added adjectives or other descriptive language.
Each response I gave seemed truthful enough as I uttered it. But then, a moment later as I found a new answer, I noticed something shifting in me, as if I was recognizing that my previous response wasn’t really true at all.
“Who are you?” She whispered this one gently, and flashed a knowing smile at me. She seemed like an angel who knew something that I was supposed to know but couldn’t seem to find.
No response. Silence. The word “Nothing” came to my mind, but I’m not sure I actually said it out loud.
“Thank you,” she said—as she did after every answer I gave—and she said it with such love in her voice that my eyes started leaking.
“Tell me who you ARE,” she said.
“Everything”, I said, and even though I didn’t understand where that came from, it felt totally true to me.
You might imagine it to be irritating—being asked the same question over and over again, like that annoying kid who keeps asking “Why?”, no matter what you say. But I didn’t find it irritating at all; on the contrary, it turned out to be quite illuminating.
The process went on for maybe 10 minutes, but it felt like an exciting lifetime. And in that brief eternity, I discovered things about myself that I had not known before. Well, that’s not totally true. I think it’s more accurate to say that I remembered things about myself that I had long forgotten.
Loving the Game
I have come to love this game a great deal. I’ve played it many times since that first experience, and I’ve shared it with many different people. And even though I have an idea of what is going to happen, I am always amazed at the things that come out of my mouth. I always remember something new, something that has been waiting, like a jewel in the dirt, to be revealed within me.
I have even played the game by myself. Sometimes I’ll sit in front of a full length mirror, and I’ll imagine my reflection as the interviewer, and myself as the responder. My reflection asks “Who are you?”, and I respond with whatever feels true in the moment. Then my reflection says, “Thank you”, and repeats the question. In this way, the introspective process is its own kind of deep and illuminating meditation.
The Secret to Success
The secret to playing this game is for the interviewer—the one asking the repeated question—to come from a place of authentic curiosity, with an attitude that whatever answer might come forth, it is the most important answer to any question ever asked; and then, when the answer does arrive, to be delightfully and gratefully surprised by it. By unconditionally accepting each answer as it arrives, the interviewer makes it possible for the responder to examine every aspect of his or her life and reveal things about him or herself that might otherwise be too scary to reveal.
What the Game has Taught Me
The more I play the repeated question game, the more I understand that I am not what I think I am—no matter how “certain” I might be about what I think! In particular:
- I am not my name.
- I am not my job description or my resumé.
- I am not any of the roles I play in life.
- I am not my body.
- I am not my thoughts.
- I am not my words.
- I am not my actions.
- I am not my feelings.
- I am not my beliefs.
- I am not the story that I tell myself or the world.
No, in truth, I am not any of these things.
Well, then, if that is so, then who or what am I, really? The short answer is:
I am the one creating, observing or experiencing all those things!
Limits of Language
The problem, you see, is one of language. The moment I use words to describe who or what I am, I immediately put a label upon myself. In effect, I put myself into a box; I limit myself. And what I have learned is that there are no limits. Not really. In fact, as I see things now, it seems that all limits are just perceptual restrictions of the mind.
When I allow myself to step outside of my imagined limitations, I see and feel something that I am not able to describe with words. It is magnificent, beautiful, boundless—and so much more. It is Truth; it is Love—and so much more. But it begins to express and describe the essence of what I really am.
Try it Yourself!
If you are interested in finding out who you really are, set aside some time to try this repeated question game for yourself. All you need is a willing partner, a couple of sturdy chairs, and a quiet space where you can watch a small miracle unfold! Here are a few guidelines that will help you create a mutually powerful experience:
- Choose a space that is quiet and free from distractions.
- Set aside sufficient time for both participants to experience both sides of the question/answer scenario. 30 minutes is minimum, but you may find that having some extra time to discuss your experience will be very helpful.
- Position two identical chairs of equal height (or backjacks, if you prefer) so they are facing each other squarely. When you are sitting on the chair, you should be close enough to your partner so that you can see his/her eyes clearly, but not close enough to physically touch.
- Remove any hats or sunglasses so that you can see each other’s eyes clearly.
- Make a commitment to be fully present for each other throughout the exercise.
- Choose an agreeable open-ended question that will evoke potentially many short-answer responses. Some good examples are:
- Who are you?
- What is your purpose?
- Why are you here?
Rules for Interviewer
- Ask the question as clearly as you can, using the exact words you have agreed upon.
- Wait for your partner to respond. Give him/her time to consider the question as if this was the first time it had evern been asked. Anticipate the response with mild excitement.
- No matter what response you get from your partner, express as much (authentic) delight as you can about this response, and then say, simply, “Thank you.”
- Wait a moment or two, and then ask the question again.
- Each time you ask the question try to vary your intonation, volume and emphasis a little bit so as to encourage the responder to answer from a slightly different perspective.
- Continue in this way until the agreed-upon time has elapsed (usually about 10 minutes).
- Avoid making any comments about responses you hear, even if the responder is merely repeating something from before. While it may seem repetitious to you, remember that your partner may be experiencing it quite differently.
Rules for Responder
- Each time you give an answer, simply say what seems to be true and authentic for you in the current moment.
- As you give your answer, notice how you feel about it.
- Don’t censor or limit yourself in any way.
- Don’t worry about whether you are repeating a response you have said before; instead, notice how this response feels as you say it.
- Try to keep your answers as short as possible.
- Avoid involved or complex stories as much as possible.
- After you and your partner have both served as interviewer and responder, take about 5 minutes in silence to write in your journal about your own individual experience. Try to capture as much as you can, including the thoughts and judgments you were having as the game progressed, and what you were feeling throughout.
- After your journaling time is complete, spend some time sharing with each other what you learned about yourselves. Notice whether you had similar or different experiences.
- Share some gratitude (and hugs!) with your partner for the time you have spent together.
The Repeated Question Game is a wonderful process for helping you to learn (or remember) more about who you really are. Use this game over and over again to peel your own inner onion and to get down to the truth. Please share this game with all your friends!