When was the last time your attention was captured by a cloud in the sky or the rustle of wind in the trees? When was the last time you wondered what it might be like to be someone else, a stranger in a crowd? Have you wondered how you would feel if you let go of your political and religious opinions?
I’ve discovered that if I neglect these questions, my world closes in on me. It is easy to become cynical, self-centered, and narrow-minded. Some of my greatest fears are that I might lose my curious nature; I might become a stick in the mud; and in doing so, could lose my humanity.
Have you ever relaxed into the act of simply observing the workings of your mind? That is, has your mind observed itself in the act of being a mind? What are your emotions at this moment? What are your thoughts? Are you fully engaged in the present or are you thinking of something else while reading this? How do you respond when someone asks the sort of questions that I have presented to you right here? Do you ever ask yourself questions like these?
Isn’t life a series of questions?
I was fortunate to grow up in a an area where I had frequent access to the countryside. Many times, I hiked out of town by myself or with my best pal John, just to hang out with no goal in mind other than to just leave town.
Once, we commandeered a farmer’s haystack and laid on our backs, staring at the sky. John pointed at a solitary cloud and asked me what it looked like. To him it looked like an ocean liner. I studied the cloud and agreed that the cloud was a huge ship. I asked John if he wished we were on board the ship and could go away for awhile. I don’t remember the exact details, but we imagined outlandish destinations that we hoped to visit someday.
If you’ve ever been alone in a corn field on a hot summer day, you know that you can hear the corn plants grow. The first time I witnessed this phenomenon, I felt uneasy, yet curious. I wondered about the mystery of nature. I didn’t want pat answers or superstitious explanations, I wanted to observe a corn plant in the act of growing. I wonder had I followed this question very far, would I have become a botanist.
One day, we remembered news coverage of a race riot that took place in Alabama. John asked why people treat other people so terribly. I said that I’d been trying to figure out why some of our classmates bullied John and I and that nobody ever came to our defense, not even the teachers. All I could reckon was that people don’t like people who are not like themselves. Maybe the race riot came about for the same reason.
Every day some of us engage with mystery. Sometimes the encounters are deliberate, as in meditation. Other times, random chance brings us face to face with something we cannot explain. Poets, writers, and artists have frequent meetings with mystery.
When you don’t shrug off discomfort and ambiguity, mystery presents a link to your subconscious mind. The mysterious workings cannot be accessed through everyday explanations but only through thoughtful contemplation and observation. Mystery cannot be explained away by soundbytes or Shibboleths.
The mental detective enters the shadowy territory between reason and irrationality. He finds the need for a careful balance between wisdom and intuition. What he already believes, is set aside for the moment. He can then begin to objectively observe the mystery as much as humanly possible. He takes off the rose colored glasses of ideology, opinion, and belief.
If you can set your personal identity aside for awhile, you will unshackle your objectivity. When you believe you are a Hindu, or a Christian, or a Russian, or a Canadian, or an American, or whatever, you are separating yourself from humankind and nature. Separation by belief and nationality closes the mind by the door of tradition. Separation breeds difference, feelings of superiority, and, ultimately, violence.
To successfully investigate mystery, one cannot be violent, not even if one studies the mystery of violence. Hence, the person who wishes to understand humanity, nature, and the Universe must forget that she belongs to any belief system, political party, nation, or other institution that sets itself aside as special. In as much as possible, the filters must not be present. Have you ever looked at the world without personal filters and concepts?
Anyone can do this, but most people refuse to do so. It’s easier to change the subject or close off the path to inquiry altogether. Thinking about mystery is scary, so why do it?
Life isn’t just the day to day routine of following a career path or job. Life is more than getting out of bed, taking care of your responsibilities, entertaining oneself, then collapsing into bed, day after day, night after night. Life is much more. Life can be huge and profound. Life is the great mystery of the Universe.
In this age when nations, peoples, and individuals are currently experiencing existential crises, we’ve forgotten what living is all about. Life is more than technological, political, economic and ideological fixes. This disciplined, mediocre, garish way of living is not a satisfying life. Life is not set in stone and does not obey our doctrines.
Life is constantly changing, experiences can be incredibly rich and enriching. Life is different than what we’ve been told it is supposed to be. Life is happy and sad. It is satisfying and frustrating. Life is full to the brim with mystery. Mystery is why we suffer and find joy. Mystery is found when one loses oneself in the dance of life. Mystery is found in the skies. The deepest mystery is within the mind.