Let the Mystery Be

by Mark Walstrom

I have a confession to make. I know at the core of my being that life is a mystery; however, the moments in my life where I actually live life as a mystery are infrequent.

As I thought about why I have such difficulty living in the mystery it became clear to me — I don’t like uncertainty. I need to have things in place so my fears and insecurities don’t surface. It seems that I’m trying to continually construct a safe, secure, and predictable world. I just want life to have some certainty — is that all bad?

As I look back over my life I can see the consequences of living such a contrived life — failed relationships, moments of isolation, tentative decisions, restlessness, reluctance to take risks, and a loss of awe and wonder, just to name a few. Often, I want to know in advance how things will turn out.

I’ve wondered lately how this compressed way of living came to be. It wasn’t so long ago as a child I was curious and simply observed life instead of analyzed it. I never recall having an urge to understand how atmospheric conditions produced the mesmerizing cloud formations I would watch float by for hours while lying in the grass. When walking in the woods I was immersed in a sensual experience of sounds, sights, and smells that did not need any explanation. I remember I always did better in classes like art, literature, gym, and music where I didn’t have to memorize the right answer. So, what happened? Why, I wonder, did I stop stargazing and start trying to fit this vast, mysterious universe into my severely limited and already overworked brain?

In all honesty I don’t know the full scope of why and I never will. It’s far too complicated and convoluted to sort out at this point. I can, however, see the progression that has shaped my life over the years since my childhood and it is fraught with diversions away from the mystery. It seems that at some point my fears and anxiety got the best of me. I wanted to make all of the uncertainty, and the accompanying discomfort, conveniently vanish, never to be experienced again.

It makes me cringe when I look over at my bookcase and see a plethora of clinical texts and self-help books that I’ve used as a guide on how to live my life. I’ve read books by people who have had conversations with God, know how to cure all ailments, including cancer, and know where I came from before I was born and where I’m going after I die. I’ve studied psychology, philosophy, and theology, attended practically every workshop on how to become a better person, and have eaten “health” food that tasted like cardboard. And what did all of that expenditure of money, time and energy get me? Both confused and wiser. Confused because I thought all of those gyrations would bring me enlightenment and they didn’t. Wiser because I now understand that life is a mystery beyond comprehension. It has become very apparent to me that systems, philosophies, and beliefs are static, life is dynamic. I don’t need more instructions on how to live.

I still don’t live in the mystery as much as I would like, but certainly more often than I used to. And I do feel a little more free, spontaneous and liberated. Instead of seeking out a guru, another book, or my astrological forecast, I just try to live in the moment and accept that I don’t know much of anything. I try to be curious, asking questions to help me go deeper into the mystery. Living in the mystery keeps me humble, honest, and inquisitive. Now when I feel overwhelmed by life I take a walk in the woods, watch the clouds go by, or gaze at the stars. For me, being a student of the mystery is much more challenging and rewarding than being an expert. When I do slip back into my control mode I try to remember the inspiration of a friend who recently admitted his own frustrations living with the mystery. “Just when I think I’ve got life figured out,” he stated, “something happens, my neat little world collapses, and I’m left realizing I don’t know much of anything.”

I wonder what life would be like if we all stopped living out of our certainty and lived more in the direct experience of each moment, and considered that moment to be the only truth we know. Perhaps we would listen more and talk less. Perhaps we would really learn something of lasting value. Perhaps we would relate to each other out of our felt experiences instead of our beliefs, assumptions, and projections. Perhaps the way we connect with each other would be more genuine, real, and heartfelt instead of superficial, condescending and judgmental. Perhaps, without the certainty, we would allow the mystery to teach us how to live in the fullness of life.

There is one thing that I do know; life will always be a mystery.

Mark Walstrom is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He can be contacted at (616) 222-9857.