When we believe we have The Answers, we stop seeking. When we stop seeking, we start dying
The more complex life gets, the more life seeks out safety. For humans that often means religion; for some that means extreme dogma which offers all answers in simplistic black and white. There is no such thing in life. All life is in shades and complex, constantly-changing gradations. It invites us to find ways to navigate those subtleties with a certain grace.
That's lost on many, who run towards false clarity to find shelter in some version of a Supreme Being who can tell them who is good and blessed (us) and who is evil (everyone else). These days, certain Christians are so conflicted over the man whom they say gave their life for their sins that he's a wimp. Well now, that's news to billions of folks (including me):
It was a natural outcome for those who insist on a toxic version of leadership. They likely ache for a return to the Old Testament where men were men and women were, well, stoned to death, and you could lie with your daughter or the family goat for that matter and nobody seemed particularly offended. Don't be, I am having fun at dogma's expense. Extremists deserve it.
The devil hates jokes, writes Father Gabriel Amorth. Humor is the gateway to prayer.
I left a variety of religious folds I'd tried out years ago. Even the most recent, which was largely spiritual, was too dogmatic and anti-woman for my tastes. However, there were many juicy nuggets that I took away from The Work which I continue to appreciate. They are shared across most of the great religions. Most true wisdom is; it just wears different languages, robes, skin colors and interpretations.
I was first introduced to the idea of living in the question through The Work which is credited to G.I. Gurdjieff. You can explore that for yourself. For this article, it was the first time someone had gently pushed me towards the idea that foregoing the need for absolute answers, simplistic answers, is the invitation to real personal growth. Demanding black/white, yes/no answers is purview of the small mind.
Living in true alignment with the Almighty, however we experience it, is to be in concert with the incredible, dynamic nature of a fast-changing, restless Universe. As living beings, we change constantly, right down to the tiniest cells. Just as the black holes, stars and galaxies engage in swirling, energetic jitterbugs and waltzes, as captured by The Hubble and James Webb telescopes.
Nothing in the universe is static. By its very nature, Nature exhorts us to be comfortable with constant change. Life itself begs us to cavort with it, to be in constant motion.
When I was much younger I felt the need to know the answers to all of life's questions. At one point I announced to a dear friend, who was kind enough not to spew his coffee all over me, that I had "figured out how everything worked."
It would take me some years, a great deal of life, plenty of losses and much humiliation before I began to approach a great truth, expressed here by Socrates:
The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
At 70, I'm still the most ignorant of life students. That's a gift. That said, the gift such ignorance has bestowed is that I am quite at ease with the ignorance. The less I grasp at in the terrible, sucking need to know something absolutely, the lighter I feel. The easier it is to laugh. The more access I have to the lightness of being, less weighed down by worry.
I am nowhere near where I wish to be, but bit by bit, I live in greater concert and consequence in a fast-changing, increasingly unpredictable world.
Last night I attended a neighborhood meeting which discussed fire readiness, mere weeks after a fire in Maui swept away people, property, animals and the rest. I left my beloved home and the tight pile of go-bags, food and water supplies which sits in the garage very close to my car door.
Am I at ease letting my house burn? Am I all right knowing that in seconds, one of the conflagrations burning forty miles from my house could be swept by a capricious but deadly wind right to my doorstep?
Yes. I am. It IS all right. Life offers no guarantees. It only proffers life, and the opportunity to learn to fully be in it. Being fully in life, the more I relax in the not knowing, I am grasping less and floating more.
In all honesty such lightness often escapes me completely and I find myself bound up with worry and fear. That is the lesson- learning to release that, and the compulsion to KNOW I'm safe.
We are safe. My friend Melissa mentioned a friend who is aging badly, for she doesn't believe in an afterlife. I do, albeit like all other things it's just a belief. It's as real as I choose to make it. Such beliefs provide comfort and confidence as I march towards a due date. For those who don't have such beliefs, as the end approaches, as with this woman, it must be causing terrible anxiety.
Still, it's not an absolute. My notions of what's next, if anything, are constantly changing.
This gorgeous quote landed in my inbox today from the busy pen of Maria Popova, The Marginalian:
I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.- Rainer Maria Rilke
We may, in some distant day, live into the answer, Rilke writes.
Or die into it, as the case may be.
However by then, we will likely have formed new, harder, bigger questions born of curiosity. That is the Buddhism of courage, a wonderful quote from my friend JC Spears. Courage is born of being willing to not know, to not be desperately driven to find absolute answers which cannot exist in a dynamic, changing Universe.
I suspect even the Almighty is constantly changing Herself, as She likely reflects Her creations. The sacred is unpredictable, life is quicksilver, brief and ever-evolving.
William Bridges, PhD, wrote about managing our lives through transitions in a series of lovely books which I studied and later mastered enough to teach. The only problem with them is that there was an implicit promise. He taught that transition had three phases: Ending, The Neutral Zone and The New Beginning.
The New Beginning implies to the weary heart that there is an end to all the changes.
No such thing. What I've learned it the hard way is that as we are transitioning from one big thing, say a divorce, other aspects of our lives are also shifting and changing. Kids moving out and going to college, our bodies changing as we age, we suffer a broken leg or develop a disease, friends are moving away or dying outright.
Each one of those changes sparks another three-part transition. We are never, ever, ever static. Life keeps right on shifting.
The greater truth, one that I clumsily grasp a bit better than when I first learned Bridges' work, is that living in The Neutral Zone IS life. We are always between the trapeze bars. The trick is to learn to love it there. To revel in never knowing when or from which direction the next trapeze bar will appear, which will take us to newer heights, to the next adventure.
But to trust one is coming. That is faith.
Faith is living in the question, not demanding answers of a Universe that changes so swiftly that any given question at any given time becomes laughable.
The only safety net we have is to love living in the question, being in midair, delighting in the not-knowing. That is the invitation to truly live. To laugh along with the lightness of being.
In the absence of answers, therein lies the answer.
That is to dance with the Almighty.
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