On a crisp June night I’m lying in my sleeping bag at 10,000 feet in the Sierra’s Desolation Wilderness. Here, far from the light and haze of the Bay Area, the sky is deep black, but thick with twinkling dots and dim wisps of cottony light. When I look from the corner of my eye, the dim lights become more defined, easier to perceive as stars. To count them all would take years, if it was even possible. The number seems incomprehensible. And the mystery of what could exist out there, somewhere, at once inspires and humbles me.
Enthralled by the night sky, I struggle to keep my eyes open, knowing with a disquieting certainty that upon my return to the “real” world my focus will be drawn steadily and relentlessly away from the mysteries of the night sky.
The real world of responsibilities, work, relationships and bills provides a powerful distraction from the mystery of the night sky and the mystery of our lives. This point was driven home, recently, when I heard the following two intriguing but contradictory statements in the same day.
First, in a recording, Carolyn Myss observed that this is the first time in which entire generations will grow up without seeing the stars! Imagine growing up in a big, bright city, without the resources to leave, surrounded by light, smog and tall buildings that blot out all but the most determined of the celestial objects.
The second statement I heard came later that day, in an NPR story about the Hubble Space Telescope. A lead scientist for the telescope explained how, since the dawn of humanity we have been seeking to understand the origin of the Universe. This, he said, is the first time that we do understand it. We can see the spectral remnants from the Big Bang and actually listen to the sounds of the Universe moments after its formation.
What a strange world we have dreamed into existence. Our technology and science enables us to unravel the secrets of the stars while simultaneously creating communities that will never see them. As our understanding of our world and the Universe has expanded, we have, as a culture, become disconnected from the inherently mysterious nature of our existence. And as individuals we run the risk of losing touch with the powerful force of mystery in our lives.
When was the last time you laid out at night gazing into the sky? When was the last time you attempted to count the stars, or trace the outline of Ursa Major? When was the last time you wondered who or what might be out there in the vast reaches of space, or what your place is within this Universe?
Mystery is a source of power for humans. We draw creativity, passion, healing and inspiration from the Unknown. Artists, scientists, inventors and philosophers all speak of the mysterious nature of discovery, creation and problem solving. Shamans and Healers of all cultures understand that the unknown holds the power to heal and transform the Soul, Mind and Body. When we lose touch with that mystery, we lose touch with a source of personal and communal power.
Passion, too, comes from Mystery. Consider your intimate relationships, past or present. It is not the daily encounters or the practical matters that keep a relationship growing. Nor is it the moments of tenderness and intimacy. These are all integral parts of a relationship, forming the foundation and structure. But it is in the moments of Mystery and Discovery that the flame of passion is refueled: It is when your lover surprises you with a perfect gift. Or when you catch an unexpected glimpse of your partner kneeling over a flower to inhale its aroma. The door to Mystery opens also when your partner displays her anger for the first time, or when he trusts you with the sharing of a grief long held hidden.
These moments when you encounter something new and surprising about your lover take the relationship deeper into the mystery and are the moments of growth and renewal for each of you as individuals. It may be love that sustains a relationship, but it is the glimpses into the mystery that refuels love. Relationships begin to stagnate and die, not when love fades, but rather, when the doorway into the Mystery remains closed for too long.
This is equally true in your personal life. When you close the door that leads to your personal mysteries, you deprive yourself of a source of power and passion. One way to reopen that door, or open it wider, is to embrace the mysteries around you. How does a tiny acorn transform itself into a majestic oak tree? How do the birds know when it is time to migrate? How does this computer do what it does? What waits for us in the vast reaches of space?
Do not believe that the scientists know everything. If Christopher Columbus had accepted the prevailing wisdom of his day, he never would have set sail. If Einstein had believed the existing theories of matter, space and time, he would not have formulated the theory of relativity.
Bask in the mysteries. Challenge existing assumptions. Discover your own answers. Become curious and childlike when something intrigues you. Begin to open the door to the external mysteries and the door to your personal mysteries will soon follow. When it does, you will have access to a vast source of inspiration, creativity, and power.