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Managing the Mystery

“We are so busy managing our lives, that we forget this great mystery we are involved with”  John O’Donahue.

This quote has been the starting point for some rich inquiry and conversation this week in classes.  I, myself, have been so drawn to it that I felt called to write.

The first half of the quote resonates so fully.  Yes, there can be a lot of managing, planning and controlling that goes on in life.  Usually when I am managing too much for my own good, I have very little sense of my environment.  I may not hear the birds chirping, the wind blowing or something as noticeable as my girls fighting.  This is the power of the mind.  It can easily set me apart from the richness of this outer life.  To use Pema Chodron’s words, “Being preoccupied with our selves… is like standing in the midst of wildflowers with a black hood over our head.”

This parallels to our disconnection from the inner life, by which I mean the direct experience in our bodies, not the experience that I think I am having.  When I am busy managing, I don’t notice the subtlety of anxiety or exhaustion, neither the passing of relief or a joy.  The richness of life, inner or outer, can easily escape me.  Have you ever had that moment where you somehow carried on a conversation with your partner , your children or a friend, but you cannot remember a thing you discussed?  We can get pretty skilled at managing, planning and controlling all while skimming the surface of life, even looking pretty functional.  The managing shows up in numerous ways: planning, remembering, judging, analyzing, to name just a few.  This is not to say that any of these things are bad, but if we do them regularly without touching into our direct experience, we might feel somewhat hollow or that things do not feel in harmony or balance.

This brings me to the second piece of the quote, that “we forget this great mystery we are involved with.”  In fact, a mystery it is.  When I turn to the direct experience in my body without conceptualizing it, I begin to attune to an inner knowing.  It can feel like an intuition, a hunch or a “something just feels right”.  This inner knowing does not always map out a well defined and structured plan for us.  In fact, in my experience, more often it does not.  It just says, “this direction feels right, in harmony and from there who knows.”  This sense of a harmony is something we learn to feel.  There is no formula to it, and we cannot even always to look to others.  Harmony for me might be very different from a sense of harmony for you.  Hence, the quiet knowing or whispers of the heart or body can feel quite mysterious.  In time, the direction takes more form, structure and even purpose, but often we will be called back to sitting in the mystery of it.  The mind will typically not feel comfortable with this, nor can the mind fully grasp it.  This, in and of itself, can exhaust the mind until we rest in the direct experience of the moment, without striving or reaching for anything else.

John O’Donahue’s quote reminds me that I do not want to spend more of my time managing life than living it.  I want to be sitting deep in the experience of it, light or heavy, bright or dark.  I’ll leave my final sentiments through Mary Oliver’s words.  She describes it beautifully.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver


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