When Mystery Comes to Visit
Lately the only thing that feels knowable is the unknown. In the last year and a half all of us have ridden these waves intimately. Up and down, deep and within, and far out to sea. Just when you think the swells might end, it seems the great ocean of the unknown dishes us up another mystery.
For someone who is very much a planner, this time of the future being so entirely unknowable has been humbling— and at times frustrating. Being able to anticipate the tides of life gives us a feeling of safety. Like storm walls, they help buffer us from the rip-tide of anxiety, the sense of being too small in a too big world.
But there is another way to be with the unknown. I’ve been feeling it wash around my ankles lately. I know you’ve felt it, too. Perhaps when walking by the body of the ocean on a moonlit night or gazing into the rich darkness of an early fall twilight.
We can be afraid of the bigness of life’s mystery— all that we cannot know— or we can embrace it and be embraced in return. When we approach the unknown for what it is, a benevolence as deep as the ocean and as inconceivably full of life, we open ourselves to the blessing of being cared for by a wisdom beyond our knowing.
In Taoism, the mystery is the birth place of reality. That oceanic void out of which all things arise. In Buddhism this mysterious “no-thingness” is called śūnyatā and is seen as the place of pure, unmanifest potential. In the west we refer to our most ancient and esoteric practices as “the mysteries.” Entire mystery schools were founded as a way to teach profound paths to the divine.
All the most beautiful things in life are, at their heart, a mystery. Birth, love, magic, miracles. We struggle to embrace mystery because, well, it’s just so mysterious. But all along mystery has never stopped embracing us.
This, I think, is what the ancient sages meant when they said that mystery is our beloved. Mystery is like the soil of the earth, the dark of the stars. It is an origin-place that is always with us, a force that is paired with our soul. To say “I don’t know” is one of the wisest things you can ever admit, because mystery is the place of deep knowing from which we come, and to which we will one day return.
When we can trust the benevolence of the mystery, we can be like the divine fool of the tarot— ready to leap into a destiny that is much greater than the one we previously conceived. When we stop trying to hold on to life so tightly, we give the universe the opportunity to hold us. In the process, mystery ceases to be something we struggle against. Instead, it becomes a place where we can rest.
Recently I took a trip to Maine to visit loved ones and be with the ocean. In the midst of a coastal heat wave, my dear friend Sylvia took me to her favorite dipping spot on the shore. Tucked into a small cove, the water was bath-warm from the sun. A shallow bed of kelp stretched out as far as the eye could see. Escaping the day’s heat, I waded gratefully into the waves. Laying like a starfish in the great hip of the ocean, I rested among the moving kelp beneath me, their sway holding the sway of the sea. I closed my eyes and I let myself be buoyed, lifted and rocked by the wave’s embrace as it moved through the gentle sea greens, as it moved through me. It was blissful. If only for a few moments, I let go of everything but the desire to experience this weightlessness. The undetermined future. The sensational experience of being.
Mystery, I think, can be like this… if only we let it.
As life continues to hand us more mysteries, we can meet them as companions. Invite them in for tea. Because you may not always be able to see the bigger picture… but the mystery can. Just beyond your knowing is a wider vision for your life, one that is suffused with more benevolence and love than you can imagine. All you have to do is let go and trust the warm ocean moving beneath you— holding you up as you sway.
What does the mystery look like for you? When trying to befriend mystery, it helps to find an image that sings to you. Is it a desert sky at night? A rich forest in twilight? A temple that smells of sandalwood? Leave me a comment below and let me know.