Softening to Mystery:
A Story of Us
Niels Bohr, one of many leading-edge quantum physicists who also speak metaphysically, has concluded that there are two kinds of truth – small truth and great truth. He said, “You can recognize a small truth because its opposite is a falsehood. The opposite of a great truth is another truth.” I’ve come to agree that great truth is paradoxical in nature. It exists in the realm of mystery and is so big that, while it may be apprehended in the heart, it cannot be captured conceptually. Words fail us here. At best, they convey only part of the story.
Here’s a cosmological story – a piece I wrote many years ago and recently revised. It roams in the murky waters of mystery, where truths intertwine. It invites us to soften to the mystery of who we are.
Softening to mystery means saying “yes” to apparently contradictory things, accepting paradox, living with an ambiguity that does not allow us to pin life down or to pin ourselves down. It means opening to darkness and light, the infinite and the infinitesimal. We cannot be easily sized or sized up. In this story, we humans exist on three levels: Personality, Individual Soul and God-Soul. All are true of us. None is only true.
The level of personality includes the material body with all its physical attributes and chemical quirks, the mind with its habits and patterns, and the ego identity with all its characteristics and attachments. Even at the level of personality, where we are the most obvious and observable, we are quite the mystery. Biological and social scientists spend their lives trying to make sense of us at this all-too-human level. With our many contradictions, our weirdness and goofiness, our capacity for the heroic and horrific, there is one constant: we are finite beings. The ego is going to die – and it knows it.
While the personality is unique and temporary, the individual soul is timeless. It is the uniqueness of us that transcends time. God speaks creation in the eternal now. Each of us can be viewed as a word in God’s vocabulary – all interconnected, part of one lexicon, each distinct. At the level of individual soul, we are unique, eternal, and many.
There is only one God-Soul – and we all share It. In this story, when God speaks creation in the eternal now, God is sharing God. At this level of being, which I believe is at our core, we are one with each other and one with God. Mystics in every spiritual tradition speak of this oneness. Here, we are infinite, divine, and one.
Softening to mystery invites us to include and integrate all of who we are. In this story, each level of being is true of us. Each has its unique reality. And all three are woven together in seamless wholeness. There is oneness in this “three-ness”.
We humans are so tempted to exclude rather than include. We are tempted to deny what we don’t understand and dismiss what we don’t like. “Either/or” is simpler than “both/and”. Judging and controlling feels safer than acceptance, appreciation and awe.
While we have some choice about what parts of ourselves we nurture and cultivate, we don’t have choice about what parts of us exist. For example, at the level of personality, we are wired for fight and flight. That wiring is built into our nervous systems. Millennia ago, this wiring was adaptive. It helped us survive. However, if we continue to operate out of our fearful and cantankerous tendencies, our prospects for long-range survival seem bleak. The question becomes how do we work constructively and respectfully with ourselves, accepting how we’re built, rather than work against ourselves, trying to suppress or deny what is. We can invite the personality to grow and we can’t eliminate it.
We can’t eliminate the divine part of us either. We can fail to see it in ourselves, in others, and in all that is – but we can’t make it not be there. In this story, God is unavoidable, eternally and inextricably woven into the fabric of who we are.
There’s an often-told Zen story about a monastery that was floundering. Membership was dwindling in a climate of bitterness and back-biting. Somehow, a rumor began spreading that one of the monks was Buddha reincarnated. There was much speculation about who that person might be. Soon, the monks started treating each other with new gentleness and care. After all, no one wanted mistreat the Buddha. The monastery grew to be a center of joy. It flourished, attracting new members from miles away.
In grade school, I remember being taught that we are children of God. Many religious traditions and spiritual practices invite us to cultivate an awareness of our divine origin and connection. As we soften to this aspect of the mystery, a reverence for ourselves and others grows quite naturally. We may even remember that, at the level of soul, we are deeply in love with each other and always have been.
In this story, no matter how hatefully we behave, we still have a divine spark. No matter how holy and evolved we become, we’re still goofy. In us, both the sublime and the ridiculous find a home. Softening to the mystery of the human condition invites reverence and compassion, humility and humor.
So, enjoy the mystery. Experience it with gusto. Just don’t expect to solve it.