One of the more intriguing bits in Nilofer Merchant’s book about the care and feeding of wild ideas that can dent the world, THE POWER OF ONLYNESS, is the one about taking a closer and more considered look at “the question that you can’t answer but can’t stop thinking about.

That annoying question is like a bedraggled, adorable con-artist mutt that follows you around and accepts occasional handouts from you but warily stays out of reach.  It hangs around.

“Triana streets: dog” by Eduardo A. Ponce via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The mutt-question is polite and tries not to get under your feet as you make your stalwart way to your (Everybody-Else-says) “sensible” (and very boring) destination, doing all of your “important” things that whittle down your ever-growing prescribed to-do list.

It is also distracting as all get-out.

“The Uncertain Journey” by lian xiaoxiao via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Merchant says that question may actually be “the first clue for discovering what really matters to you.”  That’s why it won’t go away.

As internationally acclaimed numerologist and life advisor Christine DeLorey points out in her book, LIFE CYCLES:  Your Emotional Journey to Freedom and Happiness, “Perhaps what you believe is a distraction is actually a reflection of something that is crying out for your attention.”

It occurs to me that this annoying question might also be an important pointer and guidepost for “putting soul into your game” a là contrarian thought-leader Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

“Dawn Outrigger” by Robert Gourley via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  a tendency to follow the unanswerable questions that you can’t stop thinking about.  [Scratching the questions that itch can open a treasure box of curiosities that beg to be examined and explored.  The most intriguing ones keep you searching for what ELSE is in there.]


Once you notice the mutt-question, Merchant points to a tried and true methodology for stalking that untamed wild question and luring it to you.  It’s pretty simple:

  • Give yourself permission to pursue the question you have even if others might view this as a bit nuts.
  • Do the necessary work involved in looking more deeply at the problem even if you don’t know exactly how the effort you are putting into it will turn out, and even your very small actions will generate changes both in you and in what you want to achieve.

(After all, it’s only through the actions you take that change can happen.  As your own perspectives and skills expand and morph as a result of your own actions, the wild question will become clearer to you and you will be able to see more ways to move forward with playing with it.)

  • Go slow. Be thorough.  Think “unfolding.” 

(Imagine that the question is some badly wrapped gift box covered in old newspaper comics that you are opening with the tremendous respect and care you would give to a gift from a beloved friend that’s been covered in rich brocades and gold and tasty bits of ornamentation.)

Merchant says that it’s in the PROCESS of doing that work that you prepare yourself to figure out how to use that question to make your dent in the world.

Each little act lures the wild question out into the open more and more.  Each of your targeted actions draws the question closer to you.

Every little act helps you develop more and better skills that allow you to tame the little wild question.


“Hawaiian bird – Pacific Golden Plover” via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Ya know… this thing is reminding me of a friend of mine who spent a whole season offering food to a wild kolea, plover — one of the many birds who make the migratory trip to Maui from Alaska in September or early October and stay until April or May of each year.  They come for the sun and the grinds.

“Pacific Golden Plover by Thomas via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Michael liked the sea birds that hung around his place.  He was always feeding them.  One day he decided to befriend one who seemed particularly friendly.  He called the little guy “Worm.”

“Pacific Golden Plover or Kolea (Pluvialis fulva) by Dan Dzurisin via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Michael sat in his chair under one of the false kamani nut trees that grew in the yard on the spit of land between two ancient Hawaiian fishponds where he had his home.  He would place one of his hands just so on the old rickety table before him and hold himself very still, sometimes chirping some plover noise that attracted one particular bird’s attention.

Michael would do this thing every day and the bird kept getting closer and closer.  One day it plopped down onto the table.  Eventually it climbed onto his hand and started eating.

Worm came back year after year for many years and the two of them had very good visits.  It was a wonderment, that.

“Coming In for a landing” by Alexandre Duret-Lutz via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]


Once the wild question is standing right next to you and stays still, maybe you’ll be able to work with it to unfold the treasures it holds for you and for the world. Maybe by then you’ll be ready to figure out how you and your little idea can go make some dents in the world.

Be aware that devoting your full attention to the wild question and to noticing how its presence in your space and your time affects the world you live in can help you figure out what you can do to help the idea stand in your world better and make that idea more real.

One important bit of advice from Merchant: “Stop looking for success.  Instead, look more deeply at the problem.”

Your deep-looking will lead to other questions, other puzzlements, and more dent-making skills as well.

“The Uncertain Journey [2] by lian xiaoxiao via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
And maybe one day you and your idea will be ready and able to make a most wondrous dent!


I fell in love with this thought I found in one of the stories in urban fantasy writer Charles de Lint’s DREAMS UNDERFOOT collection:  “It’s the questions we ask, the journey we take to get where we’re going that’s more important than the actual answer.”

“The last journey” by Gabriel Caparó via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
That one’s a good thing to ponder, I say.

Here’s a poem:


Well, here I am again.

I am neither small enough to fit in the everyday,

Nor am I big enough to fill the sky and play.

Why am I here then?

What is this for?

Who and how and where?

Questions, only questions.

Maybe I am just a riddle nobody wants to solve –

Least of all me –

Or maybe I’m just a little lump trying to act tall.

Maybe it doesn’t matter at all, at all.

Maybe I’m just nothing trying to be something.

Or is it that I’m something trying to be nothing?


So, tell me…

Has anybody else figured it out yet?

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “human footprint 2” by jedydjah via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]



(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you…)


Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.


10 thoughts on “STALKING THE WILD QUESTION (Another IPS)

  1. Hello there,

    Wow! This wild question in poetry has its unique characteristics. 

    The author finds a way into entering into the deepness of the matter in a very stylish manner. You will find the clues to the question so close but yet so far. As the article says, this question pokes into the real aspects of a matter. 

    You will need to accept all odds that open up while chasing the wild poetry to find it. By going through the possibilities slowly and thoroughly, you will get closer to unfolding your mystery question. 

    All these tips in this article will go deep in helping someone grasp something out of deep thought poetry.

    Thank you for the good work,


    1. Sergej, I do thank you for your visit and for sharing your thoughts on the post.  Your awesome comment makes me smile.

      I kind of figure that the post really is more about walking through life than it is about poetry, ya know.  But, what am I saying?  Isn’t poetry Life-Its-Own-Self?  Hee!

      Please do come again….

  2. LineCowley says:

    What an intriguing title of a book “The Power of Onlyness”. I have so many questions for which I do not have answers, and most of them have to do with life, and the complexities of relationships. 

    What a lovely experience of your friend Michael, who befriended a little migrant bird, named Worm. And it was only because of his persistence and perseverance, that he got Worm to eat out of his hand.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful poems and life stories.

    1. You are most welcome, LineCowley.  Thanks for paying attention.

      Please do come again.

  3. I find this advice on how to capture the wild question quite insightful and useful. It’s so true that sometimes we have a question or a problem that we’re trying to solve, but it feels like it’s just out of reach, like a wild animal that we can’t quite catch. This metaphor of the wild question is a great way to conceptualize the process of working through a difficult problem.

    I especially appreciate the idea of giving yourself permission to pursue the question, even if it seems a bit crazy to others. Sometimes we can be our own worst critics and talk ourselves out of pursuing something that really interests us, just because we’re worried about what others might think. But if we can give ourselves permission to explore that wild question, we might be surprised by what we discover.

    1. I think you’re absolutely right, Anoth.  Very often we tend to feel as though we need “permission” to go exploring.  Since (very often) the consensus-world is way more concerned about getting other important-to-somebody-else projects done, it’s unlikely that you’ll get somebody else to give you that permission.  You might as well just give it to yourself.

      Hmmm….isn’t there an old cliché about it being way easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission?  (Clichés are very often old truths walking around in disguise, ya know.)

      Thanks for the visit and for your thoughtful comment.

      Please do come again.

  4. A very beautiful story as always.

    I find very ingenious the way the connection between the deep question and the story of the little bird Worm was made. First of all Michael’s impression of the bird being out of focus and resorting to the deep question and his persistence and perseverance making Worm eat out of his hand, translating the self questioning for the resolution of the problem.

    1. Welcome back, Patron P.  I am pleased you enjoyed the story.

      Please do come again.

  5. Liam Tremblay says:

    What a strange thing this wild question is. I have never looked at this question from this point of view. The way they look and answer that question is so astonishing. For those types of people how much do care about what others think about them, Wild Questions and the way to answer that can be very helpful.

    1. Liam, I do thank you for your visit and for taking the time to comment.  Pursuing answers to the wild questions can lead down some unusual (but still human) ways of walking that may not resonate with people who are exploring mindsets that are more mainstream. 

      I think that is probably the point of asking the questions.  Exploring the wild can be a lot of fun, I say.

      Please do come again.

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