Mystery and the Psyche


"It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage & beautiful country lies in between."

This beautiful quote by poet Diane Ackerman inspired me to think about mystery.

Then I opened Erica Jong's new book, Fear of Dying (St. Martin's Press, New York 2015) to find another quote about mystery (attributed to Mishkan T'filah: A Reform Siddur, a prayer book for Reform Jewish congregations):

"Days pass and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing; Let there be moments when Your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder, "How filled with awe is this place and we did not know it!"

A person doesn't have to be a poet, musician or theologian to experience this high point of our existence. For example, many people reach the state of awe upon the birth of a child.

We can't always reach the feeling. For me, a cup of strong coffee in the morning is necessary before I appreciate the magnificent sunrise or the marvelous construction of my Schipperke dog. In other words, chemistry can play a big part in our ability to experience mystery.

Then another--our psychology--can be a factor. When we're "self-centered" we see ourselves as the center of the world and we're perhaps less likely to appreciate the world that lies outside ourselves.

But a mysterious experience can help us break out of our self -involvement.
For example, my life changed one morning during a run in Central Park with my dog. We noticed a crowd gathered in a semi-circle at the base of a tree. Everyone was fixated on a squirrel who sat quivering, as a pointer dog, intense and poised, focused his entire energy on the tiny, gray creature. I joined the crowd to watch and felt a sense of calmness overcome me. My sense of haste dissolved as if time had stopped, as if all of life was contained here, in this moment. Suddenly, the pointer leaped toward the tree and the squirrel dashed up the trunk. The moment broke; the crowd collectively sighed (with relief) and then dispersed.

In the next few minutes I had an insight--realizing that the world didn't revolve around me; in fact, I was indeed a small part of the world that immersed me.

Conclusion: A sense of mystery can free us from a kind of self-centeredness to help us reach beyond the limits of self.