It’s All A Mystery


Last night I had dinner with a friend at a nearby Thai restaurant. We shared jasmine tea, cheese-filled wontons, coconut soup, sticky rice, and massaman curry. Delicious. And casual.

As expected, our conversation also was delicious. This is an old friendship in which over a couple of decades we have shared comfort that parallels the tea, fun that matches the wontons, imagination and color that is like the soup, big challenges that are sticky as any rice, and tasty delight that is the curry. A headline conversation thread for me from last night was the inherent mystery of it all. By “of it all,” I mean, life. “So much of it is mystery,” I observed to my friend. “All of it is mystery,” she replied. We laughed. There’s no need to be tentative together. It’s a delight to be with another that isn’t just speaking platitudes when talking about inherent mystery — because, after all, there are a few inevitable gut punches, not just spoons filled with sugar, in this kind of awareness.

We parted. Grateful. Filled.

Last night I had a dream. More mystery. About mystery. About simple behavior and a choice of operating mode that aligns with “it’s all mystery.”

In the dream I am with another friend. She is holding a vase of flowers. She is arranging the flowers and asking me, “does it need two stems of greenery or one?” In the dream I’m aware that she is asking a question as if there were an absolute answer. I respond deliberately to interrupt the assumption. “My hunch is to go with two.” She replies, in a way that attempts to subtly concretize my response, and to enable her a certainty, “So, it should have two?” I respond again, “My hunch is two. It doesn’t have to be two. That is your choice.” A third time my friend seeks what feels like an imposed absolute, “So, you think it should be two?” I offer one last clarity. “My hunch remains two. But it doesn’t really matter. I’m also a minimalist, so I value things that are understated.” My friend isn’t completely satisfied with my answer, but I feel I’ve stood for something that matters about changing the way we think. And I like that. I wake.

If all of life is mystery, it feels important to me that I change my language to reflect this inherent mystery and complexity. So many habits of language point us to removing uncertainty and subjectivity in favor of the certain and the objective. Many find the certain and the objective comforting — I can find oodles of ways that I  have in my life. But comfort doesn’t help us grow up into the inherent mystery that is life. It’s just a comfort. And feeds a well-perpetuated illusion that at its base, is intended to protect us humans from the fear that can arise from uncertainty.


All of life is mystery.

What if I and we lived as such, increasing the way that we encounter each other with curiosity about our choices and perceptions in how we are navigating the great mystery of it all. I know I want this. It’s a round world awakening, this time to get from the flatness of narrowed perception comforted by false certainties, to the roundness of more full awareness and embracing of subjectivity.

The waiter at the Thai restaurant tended to us well over the two hours what my friend and I were there. He brought us our tea. Then our food. After giving us some time to eat, he came back to check on us — “How is your food?” This is habit for me, in the mystery and grand subjectivity of things, to respond from the subjective. I smile at him, genuinely and appreciatively (thinking to myself that the food was really good), and respond, “I’m really enjoying it.”




Offended By Certainty?

I’m offended by certainty. No, seriously. And irritated. It’s worse than an itchy rash that I can’t not scratch.

I’m not sure I’ve ever known enough of why I’m so offended by certainty — it is practically revered as much as chocolate in this world, and how could you ever be offended by chocolate — but I can track it back to my teens. I wouldn’t have said it that way back then. I just had the spidey senses to feel that something was fundamentally weird about grandstanding “knowing.” I remember a conversation with a cousin who was quite religiously certain, asking her if she was certain the color of chair in front of us was brown, and then making a case that it was more maroon colored. Something in me wanted to mess with the certainty.

I’ve told myself everything from “I’m bratty and stubborn” to “I have an authority complex (that is obviously completely legitimate).” My attitude has been everything between humble and revering of complexity to self-righteous and indignant.

I may be getting closer to a key understanding. My “aha” that seems to be moving in for the long haul is that “there is so much more unseen, I believe, in this existence, this glorious existence, than seen.” Always. In relationships. In emotional history. In objective observation (the instrument effects the reality of what is being measured). In complexity of wholes where at best, we get a part of the whole. When more is unseen than seen, it renders certainty absurd, like claiming that this round, spinning, floating in space, world is flat. Or denying climate change.

Certainty, so revered or bullied into being, often from the masculine — it’s different than clarity, which is what certainty often masquerades as. How can you not want that, right?

Perhaps we’d all do good to develop more of a relationship and familiarity with uncertainty and the unseen. With questions rather than answers. With wonderings rather that ultimatums. Certainty, with all of it’s bravado, more often creates battle lines over which we go to war. And that doesn’t pass the spidey sense test either, does it.

In my work with groups, one of my hopes is to dislocate us (and me)  from our certainty. It doesn’t actually take that much to do it when working with participatory process. It’s different that the absoluteness that can be delivered from the front of the room, the head of the table, the podium, or the pulpit. I want people to develop an acceptance with “not knowing,” with being able to adapt to an environment that is dynamic and changing. I want people to develop ability and expectation to never know it all, to never be able to manipulate it all, and yet within that awareness, choose experiments and things to try that offer some good.

I think I’m learning to get beyond my irritation. That’s just simple growing up stuff with a big fat welcome sign to an increasingly apparent land that says, “You Are Not Revered For Your Certainty.” No offense needed.