I’m lying in my sleeping bag at 10,000 feet in the Sierra’s Desolation Wilderness on a cool June night. The sky is pitch dark here, far from the Bay Area’s brightness and haze, but it is dense with blinking dots and faint wisps of cottony light. When I look out of the corner of my eye, the dim lights become more defined, making them easier to identify as stars. Counting them all would take years, if at all possible. The figure appears incomprehensible. And the mystery of what might exist out there, somewhere, inspires and humbles me simultaneously.
I fight to keep my eyes open while being enthralled by the night sky because I am aware that once I return to the “real” world, my focus will be progressively and mercilessly diverted from the wonders of the night sky. The reality of duties, obligations, relationships and financial obligations is a potent distraction from the mystique of the night sky and our life. I recently reinforced this point when I heard the two intriguing but contradictory statements on the same day.
Imagine growing up in a bright city with no way out, surrounded by light, smog, and tall buildings that block the stars. Later that day, I heard a statement in an NPR story about the Hubble Space Telescope. A telescope’s lead scientist explained how, since the dawn of humanity, we have sought to understand the Universe’s origins. This is the first time we know it, he claims. We can see the spectral remnants of the Big Bang and hear the sounds of the Universe moments after it formed.
As our awareness of the world and the Universe has expanded, we’ve lost touch with the mystery of our existence. Our science and technology allow us to discover the secrets of the stars while also creating communities that will never see them. And as individuals, we risk losing touch with the mighty force of mystery in our lives. What a bizarre world we dream of. When was the last time you lay out at night and gazed at the stars?
When was the last time you tried to count the stars or trace Ursa Major’s outline? When did you last wonder what or who is in space or how you fit in? Humans derive power from mystery. The Unknown provides us with creativity, passion, healing, and inspiration. Artists, scientists, inventors, and philosophers have all spoken about the enigma of discovery, creation, and problem-solving. Shamans and healers from all cultures recognize the power of the unknown to heal and transform the Soul, Mind, and Body. When we lose touch with the mystery, we lose a source of both individual and collective power.
The mystery is also a source of passion. Consider your past and present intimate relationships. It is not everyday interactions or practical matters that keep a relationship growing. It’s not even the tenderness and intimacy. All of these elements contribute to the foundation and structure of a relationship. But it’s in the moments of mystery and discovery that the flame of passion is rekindled: when your lover surprises you with the perfect gift. Or when you catch sight of your partner kneeling over a flower to inhale its aroma. The mystery door is also opened when your partner expresses her anger for the first time or when he confides in you about long-hidden grief.
These moments when you discover something new and surprising about your lover deepen the mystery of your relationship and serve as opportunities for growth and renewal for each of you as individuals. A relationship may be sustained by love, but it is the glimpses into the mystery that refuels love. Relationships begin to stagnate and die when the doorway into mystery remains closed for too long, not when love fades.
This is also true in your personal life. You deprive yourself of a source of strength and passion when you close the door on your own personal mysteries. Embracing the mysteries around you is one way to reopen or widen that door. How does this computer work? How does an acorn become a giant oak? When it’s time to migrate, how do the birds know? What awaits us in the vacuum of space? Do not put your faith in scientists to know everything. If Christopher Columbus had followed popular belief at the time, he would never have set sail. If Einstein had believed in the existing theories of matter, space, and time, he would not have developed the theory of relativity.
Enjoy the mysteries. Existing assumptions should be challenged. Find your own solutions. When something piques your interest, become curious and childlike. Begin by opening the door to the external mysteries, and the door to your personal mysteries will follow soon after. You’ll have access to a vast reservoir of inspiration, creativity, and power when that happens.