Aug 012017

Just released on (, my new book entitled:

Questions That Matter

From the back Cover:

Would you be willing to share with me, why you want to live?

This question, asked of people so bereft of joy and connection that they have considered ending their lives, has taught Roger Breisch much about life and the human journey.

Having logged more than 3000 hours answering calls on suicide hotlines, Breisch has come to know the vital, often life-saving role that questions play in our daily discourse. “Answers have a way of ending discovery and learning,” he declares in Questions That Matter, his first collection of writings inspired, in part, by his revelatory experiences talking people off the ledge. “Captivating questions, however, open us to unimaginable possibilities…”

Breisch’s provocative essays explore profound truths hidden within the familiar questions we all share–questions about our lives, our work, our relationships, our gifts, and what, if anything, they mean. “We all struggle to know how to live in a complex and confusing world,” he reminds us. “We desperately want to know what the future might bring for us and humanity…”

Questions That Matter provides insights far more enlightening than pat answers about an unknowable future. Every page is watermarked with healing wisdom that guides us back to the things that matter most on the journey forward – the love and kindness that illuminate our individual lives, and collective soul.

Feb 092013


Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said it whimsically: few people on their deathbed wish they had spent more time at the office. But recent encounters leave me reflecting, considerably less whimsically, on what I might wish the moments just before I am called from this life.
For ten years, I have facilitated a Socrates Café. Beginning with “Did anyone bring a question?”, we spend the ensuing moments exchanging thoughts and exploring the nuance of language related to whatever happens to nip at us as we gather.*
In the middle of a recent Café, a nurse began to speak softly. She told how she has been with hundreds the moment they passed from this life to the next. “The expression I see most often as a life ends is regret. It is as if they are asking ‘Is this all my life amounts to?’ My goal is to not die with a look of regret on my face.” The rest of us could do nothing more than quietly take in the reality of her experience. Is it true at the moment of passing most people regret, rather than appreciate, their lives? Is it natural to focus on the empty moments rather than those that fulfill us and those around us? I left the Café disturbed.
Two weeks later, we continued to explore the question of regret at the end of life. Perhaps, I suggested, it is not wrong to leave this life with regret. Others recalled how humans have a natural desire to achieve and create…to leave this place better as a result of our journey. Does the endless longing to create insure there will be things undone no matter when our life ends, and that regret over the undone will animate our neurons as they fire for the last time?
In the Sioux tradition there is a battle cry, “I am ready for whatever comes.” It is often translated poorly and credited to Crazy Horse as “Today is a good day to die.” The group reflected on what it might mean for today to be a good day to die. The nurse who started us down this extraordinary path suggested it might be powerful for each of us to seek the answer privately. “If you can answer ‘yes,’ it might be valuable to reflect on the aspects of life that give you emotional permission to say that if life ended today, it would feel complete, satisfying and fulfilled.”
     In between the two Cafés, I was with a group challenged by the following quirky question: “If you could have a superpower, what would it be?” The suggestions were fun and imaginative. Teleportation, the ability to fly or read others’ minds were among the most popular. But it was those that dealt with time that gave me pause: “I’d like to be able to do two things at once…slow down time…turn back time…get by on one or two hours of sleep.” I began to wonder what lay at the heart of such desires. Is a wish for more time an indicator I am dissatisfied with what I have done with the time already spent? Does such a wish silently scream that what I have done—or even worse, who I am—is not enough? Is my endless list of to-dos really that important? And how many of the items on that list are there to assuage my fragile ego rather than meet the world’s great needs? Is it possible to lay head against pillow each night with a deep sense that what was done that day was enough?
So what do I wish as this life reaches its conclusion? The same things I wish each night as I lay head against pillow: that I am wise enough to have salved wounds I might have opened, to have told those around me how much they have meant on my journey and to know that in some small ways the balance of good and bad in my life tips more towards the good. If I have met the world’s great need in some small way, perhaps, in those final moments, I will feel my life will have been enough.
* We meet the 1st and 3rd Wednesday evenings at the Barnes & Noble in Geneva Commons beginning at 6:30 p.m. should you wish to join us. All are welcome.
Oct 302011

“To know the truth is to enter with our whole persons into relations of mutuality with the entire creation—relations in which we not only know, but allow ourselves to be known.”

                    Parker J. Palmer in To Know as We Are Known
Twice each month, for more than eight years now, I have participated in a “Socrates Café”—a space where a small group explores what we have come to know and how is it we came to know what we know…our individual and collective epistemologies. During our time together, we try to remain “in the question.” Even sentences ending in periods, extend, rather than end, inquiry and exploration.
A path we have traversed many times over the eight years wends its way around the meaning of truth. In virtually any Socratic journey related to truth we inevitably come to a fork in the road. Is truth, we ask, objective or subjective? Objective truths do not depend on cultural or even individual journeys and experiences. They are universal…shared and honored by all of humanity. To follow the path upon which truth is subjective is to accept that truth can diverge in different parts of the world, in different cultures or even in different people. “Well, that’s my truth” we exclaim, as if that closing salvo wins the day in an argument.
In more than eight years, 200 sessions and 400 hours, we have yet to decide if either or both paths to truth are valid.
I have loved Parker Palmer’s work, wisdom and insights since discovering his book The Courage to Teach more than ten years ago. In an earlier, recently discovered, work To Know as We Are Known, Parker offers a fascinating insight into truth. We mislabel truth, perhaps even do it violence, he suggests, if we use either moniker: objective or subjective.
When we view truth as objective, we build a wall between it and humanity. Objective truth stands alone and apart. We lay claim to truth as an aspect of the Universe outside of us as participants in the play. It is what the scientific method has asked us to believe is the only valid truth. It is a truth outside of, and unchanged by, humanity.
When we see truth as subjective, we may keep our personal relationship to the way we see the Universe, but we separate ourselves from each other. Each of us, bearing our own truth, becomes a beacon unto our individual self. My truth is mine, yours is yours and neither need interfere or intertwine with the other. “Well, that’s my truth” draws a wall between us that may never be pierced.
So if sliding truth gently into either envelope—objective or subjective—serves to separate us, either from the world or each other, what then? It is from this place of confusion that Parker reminds us that the word truth has the same Germanic root as the word troth. As in betrothal, troth is a covenant we make with another in which we understand that our futures together shall be forever intertwined.
So truth, Parker suggests is not an objective or subjective set of facts or opinions. It is instead a covenant we make with each other, and with knowing itself, to explore the world together…opening ourselves to many perspectives…and allowing the possibility of being rendered anew each and every moment as we encounter the world with open minds and hearts. It is to “enter with our whole persons into relations of mutuality with the entire creation.”
If this troth is to be true and honest, the search for truth requires obedience and vigilance—obedience to the covenant into which we have entered and vigilance in our commitment to both know and be known. As with all of life, truth is an often messy, confusing journey…not a clean, well-manicured destination.
Feb 202010

When Andrew asked the question, it didn’t appear to meet the philosophical dictates of our Socrates Café—a place where we explore the questions of our life by “remaining in the question.” The way Andrew posed it—what is life?—seemed to beg for an answer. I have read a fair amount about how science defines life, and those definitions are complex, technical and nearly endless. I felt totally incompetent to add to the conversation now firmly planted on the table in front of us.

But then we recalled the Native American traditions that taught us to think of everything as infused with life and giving all things the respect a living being deserves. Each rock, river, tree and animal added to their life and so was treated as part of that life.

Then Jean reminded us of James Lovelock’s Gaia theory in which he proposed the Earth itself is alive, and that each of us is a portion of that life force—elements of a much larger and more complex living system. Like the mitochondria that exist in our cells and enable cellular life to exist, everything is simply an essential part of the larger living being the indigenous people of the Andes reverently refer to as Pachamama—Mother Earth.

The conversation migrated to Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil believes computers will ultimately become more intelligent than humans, enabling them to create other machines more intelligent still. Taken to its extreme, Kurzweil talks about a technological singularity in which progress becomes so rapid the future becomes infinitely more unpredictable than it is even today. I have heard it said that Kurzweil hopes to live until such a time that computers have the capacity to reproduce the neural synapses from his brain, enabling him to “live” virtually forever. Do we call it life if a machine infused with the memories, intelligence, wisdom—and perhaps even the consciousness—of Ray Kurzweil? And if we do, and such a machine is unplugged, is it murder?

That led us to cybernetic organisms—cyborgs—that combine the natural with the man-made. At what point do humans relying on massive support from machines cease to be alive?

We even touched on the philosophical questions posed by our rapidly increasing understanding of genetics, including the possibility of eliminating disease and creating designer babies. What happens to the variety of human experiences when we can genetically engineer beauty, happiness and an end to suffering? What horrors will we rain down upon ourselves as we begin to forget the wisdom we can only realize through misery and suffering? Will we somehow forget the very meaning of generosity and humanitarianism? At what point do we transgress from being good to being God?

Today, a week after the Socrates Café, I am still animated by the conversation. I recalled the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn in which he suggested we are arrogant to think evolution continued unabated until Homo sapiens arrived…and there it came to an inglorious end. Is it possible that evolution continues and that we, by our invention of artificial intelligence, are now in some way its handmaiden?

So was “what is life?” an appropriate question for our philosophical inquiry? More than I ever imagined. We ended up uncovering some of the deeply philosophical questions the next couple of generations of humans must face and answer. They make our current debate over healthcare and taxes seem almost trivial by comparison.