When you read this question, what are the first words you think of to complete it? Pause and reflect on the times you start a question with these words. When does this question usually come to mind?
Do you think of things that could go wrong? As in, what if I miss my connecting flight? What if it rains during the outdoor reception? What if my alarm clock malfunctions? These “what if” questions can trigger anxiety, but can also motivate us to come up with back up plans.
Do you think of alternatives to decisions you made? What if I had gone to a different school? What if I had taken a different job? Married a different person? What if I had said yes? What if I had said no? Sometimes these “what if” questions are paired with “if only” regrets.
Perhaps you think of things you fear. What if something happens to one of my kids? What if I get sick? What if I lose my job? What if there is a nuclear attack? These are the “what if” questions that keep us awake at night, agonizing about things we have little control over, rehearsing tragedies that may never occur. (I quoted Montaigne in an earlier post. “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”)
Or maybe when you hear “what if,” you think of wondrous possibilities, personal or global. What if I’m pregnant (assuming that would be happy news)? What if I wrote a book? Took that new job? What if Republicans and Democrats really could work together? What if we could find a cure for (fill in the blank)? What if I lived every day joyfully in the present moment, filled with gratitude, and blessed beyond belief?
This last type of “what if” catches the springtime of our imagination. We look with hope and fresh eyes and new ideas. We experience an opening, an expansion, a brightening. But then sometimes we contract with a cautionary “yes, but.” I wonder why we do that. “What if” we didn’t? What if we stayed open to inspiration? What if we quietly listened with a receptive spirit for answers?
(My friend has written two lovely posts recently on her blog From Mountain Tops about this question, which prompted my own musings here.)
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