3 Ways to Develop an ‘Ever-Young’ Mind by Asking Ourselves Questions

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986) was an exceptional thinker and mystic. One of the baffling features of his thought and discourse was his insistence on rejecting the traditional role of a spiritual authority and refusing to provide answers to his listeners. Participants in his public talks and dialogues were often surprised when Krishnamurti would pose questions such as ‘What is the meaning of life?’ negate all imaginable answers, and leave the questions hanging and his audience empty-handed. For Krishnamurti, this was his way of awakening the intelligence of his listeners, throwing them back on themselves.

Ordinarily, we ask questions to seek and obtain information. Krishnamurti, however, made use of questions to free his listeners’ minds from the burden of conditioned knowledge. We know of other philosophical traditions that have challenged the conventional uses of questions. Around 2,400 years ago, Socrates walked around the Athenian agora, annoying many overconfident bypassers by questioning them in a way that made their convictions come apart like a house of cards. In the Japanese Rinzai school of Zen, masters introduce riddles (koans) to their students to lead them to a state of not-knowing and, in fortunate cases, spiritual enlightenment.

One of the unique aspects of Krishnamurti’s method is his belief that questions, when used correctly, can engender cognitive renewal. In fact, in his dialogues with the respected physicist David Bohm, Krishnamurti went as far as suggesting that working with questions may result in a transmutation of the brain’s cells. This claim may not be so outrageous if we consider the scientifically established reality of brain plasticity. My own academic study of Krishnamurti’s method has convinced me that this method can open for us a pathway to what I term the ‘ever-young mind.’

Nowadays, there is a growing interest in methods for preventing mental degeneration. Research has shown that mental stimulation, improved diet, physical exercise, emotional balance, and building your social network, are among the factors that keep your brain young. But Krishnamurti approached the challenge of the aging brain from a different angle. In his view, while aging is an inevitable biological process, the only reason our mind gets old is the fact that it is busy collecting answers rather than asking questions. Having accumulated so much knowledge, experience, and memory, our mind has finally become completely trapped, telling the same old stories over and over again, rejecting any further information or insight. Sooner or later, it ceases to be in a constant state of renewed freshness and aliveness.

Through my research, I have managed to isolate three simple approaches from Krishnamurti’s method, which, when applied, become powerful techniques for fostering brain anti-aging:

  1. Holding Questions. Start by formulating your question. It may be a big question (‘What is true love?’) or a personal one (‘Should I stay in my relationship?’). Notice that your mind hurries to seek an answer to it. Instead, delay the mind’s reactive mechanism and listen fully and meditatively to the question, as if your mind were an absolutely quiet pond, and into that water a question is put as a pebble. This breaks the closed circle of your automatic thinking. Krishnamurti suggests moving closer to the question itself and delving into it, with great hesitation and sensitivity. Feel how through your listening, you are moving into the heart of the question. Let the presence of the question open your mind to what you don’t already know. Trusting that the answer is in the question, you may even experience an ‘insight’ or a sudden realization coming from your now-silent mind.   
  2. Living With Questions. Krishnamurti believed that a young mind asks questions not as a limited activity but as a resolute inner position. Make sure that you live with a certain question that you don’t know the answer to but are eager to discover. You can decide at the beginning of every week which question interests you, replace or rephrase your question whenever you feel it is time, or even be with a question for several months. You will find out that Living with a question keeps your mind awake, alive, and dynamic.
  3. Negation. What really matters is not the answer to your question but the way you meet the challenge posed by the question. Use the question to mirror your conditioned responses. When you ask yourself a question, many answers, quotes, experiences, and emotions come from the past. When they do, simply write down all of these ‘answers.’ This empties your mind of all its contents. When your mind is empty as a result of negation, it undergoes a renewal. It feels lighter, more available, is able to listen, and you can actually be present in the here and now.

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