Provision #838: Suspicious Questions

Laser Provision

As you can imagine, there are rules concerning the delivery of bulk emails. LifeTrek Provisions goes out to more than 12,000 people every week, around the globe, and those rules are designed to both insure delivery and to protect people against spam. I had to laugh last week when our bulk mailing program ran a test of the email and dinged it as possible spam because it contained “suspicious questions”. Do you remember what they were? From where I sit, these questions were not only “suspicious”, they were “dangerous”. Read on if you want to learn more.

LifeTrek Provision

I hope you received last week’s Provision: Three Questions. If not, I encourage you to click through and to read it in our online archive. It is a powerful story, originally told by Leo Tolstoy and retold by Thich Nhát Hanh in his delightful book, The Miracle of Mindfulness. Since I didn’t actually write the Provision I don’t mind boasting: it is a beautiful and delightful story that everyone should read.

Before sending out Provisions to more than 12,000 people every week, around the globe, our bulk mailing program always checks the Spam score of the email using a program called Spam Assassin. The lower score the better in terms of delivery. Higher scores are more likely to be blocked by spam filters while lower scores are more likely to get through.

LifeTrek Provisions usually scores quite low, as in less than 1, but last week’s Provision scored a record-high 3. When I looked at the reasons for the high score, I burst out laughing. One of the “problems” with the email was that it contained “suspicious questions”. Do you remember those questions? Do you remember the context for those questions?

I reprinted the story, originally written by Leo Tolstoy, regarding the Emperor’s three questions. He was seeking, in some sense, the secret of life and he was told to talk with a hermit who lived high up in a mountain was said to be an enlightened man. So the Emperor trekked up the mountain and asked the holy man the following questions:

  •   What is the best time to do each thing?
  •   Who are the most important people to work with?
  •   What is the most important thing to do at all times?

Talk about “suspicious questions”! I love it. Those are the very questions that I wrestle with – or as my wife, Megan, likes to say, “rassle” with – each and every week. The essence of LifeTrek Provisions comes down to this: how do we trek through the journey of life so as imbue that trek with a full sense of energy, wonder and life.

There’s a lot more than meets the eye in that statement. First, it acknowledges that we are all on a journey. And journeys, as well all know, have a beginning and have an end. On this journey, however, on the trek of life itself, there’s no way for us to remember the beginning – our brains are not developed that way – and we usually don’t think much about the end. We know it’s out there, that everyone dies, but contemplating death sounds morbid and we don’t live as if our own life, in particular, will come to an end.

But life becomes much more interesting and precious when we bracket it consciously between birth and death. That’s when we start appreciating dynamically and exploring curiously the gift of life itself. That’s when we get to think new thoughts, dream new dreams, and meet new people. How wonderful! Especially since those three things are true regardless of economic status. Everyone has thoughts, dreams, and loved ones in their lives. Do we treasure and explore those things or do we not? If the answer is “No” then we are just going through the motions. We are traversing through the trek of life without much meaning, purpose, zest, or connection. And that’s a sad thing; which leads me to the second reason I write and send out these Provisions every week.

Notice how Tolstoy’s questions, as well as my summary restatement, imply that we have some control here, that there are things we can do to fill life with more meaning, purpose, zest, and connection. And that’s my deepest hope in writing and sending out these Provisions every week. I hope they inspire, guide, and stimulate you to live a more meaningful, purposeful, zestful, and connected life. I know, first hand, how much those dimensions mean as we traverse our way through the trek of life. I have lost those things, more than once and for extended periods of time, through my battle with this terrible brain disease that I am suffering with and from which I am recovering slowly. It’s not like me to be sick, let alone so terribly sick, and it isn’t fun to be this way at all. My condition is certainly a disease.

Think, if you will, about the root meaning of the word “disease”. “Disease” is, in fact, a “dis”-“ease” or, to put it quite literally, a lack of ease. The dictionary defines “disease” as “a disordered or incorrectly functioning part of the body, an abnormal condition, a harmful state, or a decomposition of a material under special circumstances”.

Those definitions work for me. I have had all those things going on and and there may be no worse part of your body to be diseased than your brain. For your brain to be disordered, abnormal, harmed, and decomposed is a tough way to be. I don’t recommend this and, fortunately, probably none of you will ever go through this. It’s extremely rare and it is not contagious from one person to the next. In other words, I’m as safe to be around as I ever was before (however that might have been). Now, however, I’m different.

And some people tell me that the difference has made me better: I am, apparently, less driven, doctrinaire, and distracted. And that is the third, and final, point of this Provision. To imbue the trek of life with life – to imbue it with meaning, purpose, zest, and connection – takes intentionality, effort, openness, and, to some extent, pure, dumb luck. I am real, real lucky to be alive. A lot of people have worked very hard to make it so, but the stars had to align, one might say, to make it happen. There’s no way to describe all the wonderful “coincidences” that have gotten me to where I am today, but they have happened and I am here and you are reading my reflections on what it means to be here.

That’s how intentionality, effort, and openness work. We set our mind to the task, work hard, and open ourselves to the realm of possibility. Then we sit back and hope for the best. In other words, we create the conditions for success but no one can ever guarantee success. That’s a hard truth for many people to live with or even to realize. I know I did not realize it fully before all this happened. I thought I had things under control and that I could more-or-less orchestrate the future. I don’t think that any longer.

On Friday night my wife, Megan, and I went to see a showing of Frank Capra’s famous movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, in an auditorium at the College of William & Mary. It was great to see it on the big screen. First produced in 1946, the movie is based on the short story “The Greatest Gift” which Philip Van Doren Stern wrote in 1939 and published privately in 1945. Produced and directed by Frank Capra, the movie version has become a Christmas classic. It drives home, loudly and clearly, the third point of this Provision: namely, that intentionality, effort, openness, and luck have to all conspire in order to get us through the trek of life with a positive sense of meaning, purpose, zest, and connection.

I am thankful that those four elements have conspired in my case to keep me alive and to keep me engaged with those deep questions. In some respects, the Emperor’s three questions were the same questions that George Bailey was wrestling with and that almost led him to commit suicide at the start of the movie. That’s how discouraged he had become with the way things were going. Fortunately, his guardian angel, Clarence, found a way to turn things around by helping George to focus on the one thing that matters most: love.

That’s what got George Bailey out of his funk, to change his mind, and to keep from committing suicide. Instead of trying to talk George out of his problems, Clarence appealed to George’s good-hearted nature by creating a crisis that required George to think of and to help others instead of focusing on his own problems and descending into the depths of self-pity. This shift enabled George to see all the ways in which his life was really quite wonderful. Hence the name of the movie.

If you have never seen the movie, I encourage you to do so. It will raise those same suspicious questions in your own heart and it will challenge you to find a way out:

  •  What is the best time to do each thing?
  •  Who are the most important people to work with?
  •  What is the most important thing to do at all times?

The best time is now. The most important people to work with are those around you. And the most important thing to do is to love. Those answers may sound simple, and perhaps even obvious, but they are really quite complex and profound. I encourage you to take them to heart. “Suspicious questions”? You bet! They are suspicious enough to not only flag a spam filter but to change the world. So why not start today!

Coaching Inquiries: When was the last time that you consciously oriented your priorities around love? How different would your life look if you did? Who could assist you with the task and accompany you on the journey? What’s keeping you from starting right now?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


I appreciate your weekly Provisions and sharing your journey of life as it is. There is always curiosity and learning, hope and optimism, appreciation and gratitude. It sends me on my way each Sunday and no doubt has brought me to where I am now in my journey. I’m also glad you picked up the children’s book version of The Three Questions. I bought it for my daughter’s birthday six years ago when she was 11. I wrote in the book to her that she already knows the answers to these questions. It’s funny how we sometimes forget the answers as we get older and need to re-connect and re-mind ourselves. Thanks again and keep sharing your story. It shows us the suffering we create when we want to be somewhere other than where we are. It helps us know that now is all there is and is all that matters and it’s all good. Warm regards.


Thanks for reminding us of this wonderful, classic story and its lessons. Best wishes for your continued healing.


The $10,000 questions! Your last Provision, The Three Questions, reminds me of something I learned from Bill Keane: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” Thank you for giving us perspective to that famous line!


First, the most important thing to do now is to wish you a Happy Birthday! I won’t get this chance for a whole year and I want you to know I am so happy you are here sharing this with us and that you have been given the gift of another birthday to share with your family and friends. I’ve never met you but you coached me to listen for the conversations that make my heart sing and this is one of them. Mindfulness has transformed my life and it was during the most challenging emotional and physical times that I learned to accept and appreciate life as it is by being present for the whole catastrophe, as Jon Kabat-Zinn tells us to do. The transformation happens when you are serving those closest to you with a loving mindful presence. Thank you for sharing this story. There is a children’s book by the same name by Jon Muth that is a beautiful adaptation: The Three Questions.


Happy Birthday! Hope you have a great day!


Thought you would enjoy this amazing Morgan Freeman painting. Here’s the URL:http://www.buzzfeed.com/kimberleydadds/amazingly-this-image-of-morgan-freeman-isnt-a-photograph.


Happy Birthday Bob! Thanks for keeping me on you mailing list of inspirational Provisions


May blessings abound for you this day as we thank God for giving you life once and then once more. It’s great that we will be able to see you in 2 months! We are your partners on the trek of life.


I’m trying to quit smoking and I’m on the 3rd chapter of the poem, by Portia Nelson called 5 short chapters. 3 questions…5 short chapters…they all help.


From all the way from the other side of the world, I’m wishing you a wonderful day.


I am SO glad you stayed alive so that we could be having these conversations. I’m looking forward to where God might have them go. Over the past few years I have learned to be comfortable in the unknown ahead. Living a “with-God life” is so exciting that I’m OK with the unknowing part 🙂


Your last Provision, The Three Questions, brought me back to reality and was wonderfully written. Thanks. 


May you be filled with goodness, peace, joy, and health.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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