Apr 3, 2017

The Freedom of Mystery

“The Heart Has Reasons that Reason Cannot Know.”

-Blaise Pascal

Born Rationalists

If you’re reading this, you likely think like a Westerner. You may not feel like it, just as a fish doesn’t feel like he’s in water. Nonetheless, as Westerners, we inherit a particular way of seeing life.

Part of this inheritance Rationalism. Rationalists believe that reason—the power of our minds—is the ultimate judge of what’s true. If something can be argued to be true using reason, then we accept it. Because our personal experiences can’t be argued, they fall outside of what Rationalism values. As a result, we find ourselves leaving experience out of our life toolset.

But this leaves us with a problem: what do we do with life’s deepest mysteries—the parts that Rationalism can’t reach?

The Rational Prison

In the religious world, Rationalism leaves little room for mystery. We view certainty as spiritual progress and uncertainty as spiritual failing. Doubt—a natural part of being human—becomes shameful.

In the secular world, Rationalism is no less problematic. If reason (and evidence) constitute what is real, then all of our subjective experiences become second-class information in our journey of life.

We find ourselves in a strange prison where our most precious life experiences are out of reach of our rational mind.

We want to fully embrace love, beauty, and awe.

Our longing to connect with each other.

The feeling we get when we’re in a wide open space.

A smell bringing us back to childhood.

We want to know that these experiences mean something.

But to do so, we have to leave the boundaries of Rationalism.

 

Embracing Mystery

Many people, at many times, have held that our direct experiences of life are just as “true” as what we can argue.

That’s because truth isn’t something that lives between our ears. It is what it is. It is reality. That means that understanding life is just as much about participating and being present as it is about understanding and reasoning.

People who embrace direct, personal experience as a way of understanding life are sometimes called mystics. This is unfortunate, because the word makes a very ordinary approach to life sound extraordinary and out of reach.

So ignore the titles. The point isn’t to become a mystic, but to make space for all of life.

For the parts we can wrap our minds around and for the parts we can’t.

For the places where we have faith, and for the places that we don’t.

This is what we mean by the freedom of mystery. It’s the freedom to think, to feel, to doubt, to wonder, to be human. When we embrace mystery, we see how it can carry is to places that are inaccessible to reason, yet still deeply important to who we are.

Reason asks us to draw a map.

Mystery asks us to walk a path.

Reason associates not knowing with shame.

Mystery associates not knowing with wonder.

Reason assumes that we can figure it out.

Mystery assumes that the universe is bigger than us.

Reason says, “you can’t understand it.”

Mystery replies, “but I can love it.”

Practice

Choose a mystery that is personally important to you. Now, think about a way that you can move toward this mystery without trying to “solve” it through reason. In other words, approach it through an enjoyable experience rather than just through reason.

Inspired Product

Our love for mystery inspired one of the products we make, the Mystery candle. It’s a simple way to remember and practice the value of mystery in the rhythms of ordinary life.

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