What’s going on here?! I ask myself this question more and more. In recent months, it’s been on a loop, a broken record in a mind beleaguered and baffled by world events, breaking news, weather predictions, and trips to the grocery store.
Interestingly, I have a history with this question. It began as a mantra (of all things) during the Summer of 1983.
We were interns for Wisconsin Congressman Les Aspin on The Hill. The Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall, and the Cold War loomed large. President Reagan introduced the Strategic Defense Initiative. The Peacekeeper MX Missile had its first flight test. The AIDS epidemic was in full swing. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. And as they say, that was just Monday morning.
At the height of a distinguished career on the House Armed Services Committee, Aspin was an astute veteran Congressman known for his “maverick streak” and his controversial positions on the US defense establishment.
As interns, we did the usual: research, mailings, errands, hearings, constituent correspondence, and more mailings. Everyone hustled and everything seemed very important, yet our involvement and impact seemed peripheral at best.
Enter Ari, the oldest intern at about 21. Ari would walk into every occasion asking us, “What’s going on here?” This was not a rhetorical question. It hung in the air like a spell, compelling a well-considered, thorough account of happenings and what they meant in all ways.
Whether posed in a whisper along the back wall of a densely packed congressional hearing or on the Capitol steps, the question was in earnest and required immediate attention – lest it begin to loop.
Ari was asking us, as peripheral as we were, to speak to what was going on, holding us accountable and subtly bringing more and more into our consciousness.
As the weeks went by and we became more practiced in answering it, the question took on a life of its own. It became the mantra we recited to ourselves and to each other almost hourly.
And it changed everything. In working with this question-mantra, understanding grew. For my part, I witnessed the…
- distinction between a genuine inquiry and reactive resistance cloaked as a question. The inquiry brings me back to the moment and opens me to seeing and understanding. Resistance prevents me from seeing fully and disturbs an already disturbed mind.
- disparity between my story of what’s going on and the “more” there is to it.
- importance of including what’s going on inside myself if I am to fully grasp what’s really happening.
- fundamental nature of interconnectivity and interdependence.
Now, as then, every What’s going on here?! is a teacher. It calls me to consciousness. It reminds me that every moment is alive with its own wisdom and that the world, and all beings, depend on an understanding that none of us are peripheral.
Dedicated with admiration and appreciation to Les Aspin (1938-1995).