"When you penetrate a mystery, it doesn’t become less mysterious. It becomes, if anything, more mysterious."
~ Stephen Batchelor
“Events happen to reveal the truth of what our life is about, a truth we try so hard to evade, cancel, or reverse. Yet, is also a given that we will never understand why certain things happen. In fact, the comfort we derive from explanations makes us wonder about the authenticity of our explanations.
Perhaps the need to know is part of the ego’s demand that it be in control. That way of living does not accommodate the full range of mysteries we meet up with in life.
A psychology or religion that explains everything cuts us off from a sense of wonder about the world and from growth in humility about ourselves.
Saint John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic, happily declared his spiritual predicament in this way: ‘I entered I knew not where, and there I stood not knowing: nothing left to know.’ ...meaningful growth comes at the price of pain. Why? That is a mystery, and the fact that there is no satisfying answer is related to the first noble truth of the pervasive unsatisfactoriness of human life. It can only be greeted with a yes, not deconstructed with a reply.”
By David Ploskonka (used with permission)
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
"A remote faint question, where I might be, drifted and vanished again in my mind. I found myself standing astonished, my emotions penetrated by something I could not understand.
I felt naked. I felt as perhaps a bird may feel in the clear air knowing the hawk wings above and will swoop.
I began to feel the need of fellowship. I wanted to question, wanted to speak, wanted to relate my experience. What is this spirit in man that urges him forever to depart from happiness, to toil and to place himself in danger?"
~ H.G. Wells
Narration adapted from the works of H.G. Wells. Excerpted from the following:
The Time Machine (1895)
The Island of Dr Moreau (1896)
The First Men in the Moon (1901)
In The Days of the Comet (1906)
The World Set Free (1914)
"If we’re really honest with ourselves when we look back on our lives, we can see that all our decisions, large and small, were made from a place of uncertainty and sometimes profound conflict."
~ Irwin Kula
Excerpt from "How Learning a Foreign Language Reignited My Imagination," by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic Monthly, May 22, 2013:
"I started studying French in the summer of 2011, in the throes of a mid-30s crisis. I wanted to be young again. Once, imagination was crucial to me. The books filled with trains, the toy tracks and trestles—they were among my few escapes from a world bounded by my parents’ will. In those days, I could look at a map of some foreign place and tell you a story about how the people there looked, how they lived, what they ate for dinner, and the exotic beauty of the neighborhood girls.
When you have your own money, your own wheels, and the full ownership of your legs, your need for such imagination, or maybe your opportunity to exercise it, is reduced.
And then I came to a foreign language, where so much can’t be immediately known, and to a small town where English feels like the fourth language.
The signs were a mystery to me. The words I overheard were only the music of the human voice. A kind of silence came over me.
...There is a symmetry in language ads that promise fluency in three weeks and weight-loss ads that promise a new body in roughly the same mere days. But the older I get, the more I treasure the sprawling periods of incomprehension, the not knowing, the lands beyond Google, the places in which you must be immersed to comprehend."
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
"A man finds
a melon by the road and continues up
the hill thinking it is the warm melon
that will remain after he has forgotten
the ruins and sea of the summer. He tells
himself this even as the idea of the taste
is replacing what the melon tasted like."
~ Jack Gilbert
There is no path that goes all the way.
Not that it stops us looking
for the full continuation.
The one line in the poem
we can start and follow
straight ahead to the end. The fixed belief
we can hold, facing a stranger
that saves us the trouble
of a real conversation.
But one day, you are not
just imagining an empty chair
where your loved one sat.
You are not just telling a story
where the bridge is down
and there's nowhere to cross.
You are not just trying to pray
to a God you always
imagined would keep you safe.
No, you've come to a place
where nothing you've done
will impress and nothing you
can promise will avert
the silent confrontation,
the place where
your body already seems to know
the way, having kept
to the last its own secret
But still, there is no path
that goes all the way,
one conversation leads
one breath to the next
there's no breath at all,
of the burden.
And then, wouldn't your life
have to start
all over again
for you to know
even a little
of who you had been?
"I think that all that people really need to know is that it's okay to be confused and to have whatever response you have...One of the things that you find the more you read poetry is that your taste changes over time...there are people you respond to differently at different times in your life. One of the most valuable things you have as a reader is your individual response...If you're willing to take the time and you're willing to accept the fact that you're going to be confused and things are going to seem strange or unpleasant, eventually it can be a really rewarding art form — one of the most rewarding art forms — if not the most rewarding art form."
See also: "How to Read Poetry Today," by David Kirby, The New York Times, April 8, 2011
The Facts of Life: Egolessness
by Pema Chödrön, from Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion
The second mark of existence is egolessness, some-times called no-self. These words can be misleading. They don’t mean that we disappear—or that we eraseour personality. Egolessness means that the fixed idea that we have about ourselves as solid and separate from each other is painfully limiting. That we take ourselves so seriously, that we are so absurdly important in our own minds, is a problem. Self-importance is like a prison for us, limiting us to the world of our likes and dislikes. We end up bored to death with ourselves and our world. We end up very dissatisfied.
We have two alternatives: either we take everything to be sure and real, or we don’t. Either we accept our fixed versions of reality, or we begin to challenge them. In Buddha’s opinion, to train in staying open and curious—to train in dissolving the barriers that we erect between ourselves and the world—is the best use of our human lives.
In the most ordinary terms, egolessness is a flexible identity. It manifests as inquisitiveness, as adaptability, as humor, as playfulness. It is our capacity to relax with not knowing, not figuring everything out, with not being at all sure about who we are, or who anyone else is, either. Every moment is unique, unknown, completely fresh. [From this perspective], egolessness is a cause of joy rather than a cause for fear.
See also: "We Must Learn to Love Uncertainty and Failure, Say Leading Thinkers," by Alok Jha, The Guardian, January 14, 2011
Excerpt from “Chaos Promotes Stereotyping,” by Philip Ball, Nature.com, April 7, 2011:
A study shows that messy surroundings also make people more likely to stereotype others.
Diederik Stapel and Siegwart Lindenberg, social scientists at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, asked subjects in messy or orderly everyday environments (a street and a railway station) to complete questionnaires that probed their judgements about certain social groups. They found small but significant and systematic differences in the responses: there was more stereotyping in the disorderly areas than the clean ones…
Study subjects sat further away from someone of another race when the train station was a mess.
In one experiment, passers-by in the busy Utrecht railway station were asked to sit in a row of chairs and answer a questionnaire for the reward of a chocolate bar or an apple. The researchers took advantage of a cleaners' strike that had left the station dirty and litter-strewn to create their messy environment; they returned to do the same testing once the strike was over and the station was clean.
In the questionnaires, participants were asked to rate how much certain social groups — Muslims, homosexuals and Dutch people — conformed to qualities that formed part of positive and negative stereotypes, as well as qualities unrelated to stereotypes. For example, the 'positive' stereotypes for homosexuals were (creative, sweet), the 'negative' were (strange, feminine) and the neutral terms were (impatient, intelligent).
As well as probing these responses, the experiment examined unconscious negative responses to race. All the subjects were white, but when they were asked to sit down, one chair at the end of the row was already occupied by a black or white Dutch person. In the messy station, people sat on average further from the black person than the white one, whereas in the clean station there was no statistical difference…
Stapel and Lindenberg say that stereotyping may be an attempt to mentally compensate for mess: "a way to cope with chaos, a mental cleaning device" that partitions other people neatly into predefined categories.
See also: Broken Windows Theory