Consciously Dwell in Mystery

Practice of the Week
Consciously Dwell in Mystery

Category: Occasional. These are practices suggested for "every once in a while." Some of them are responses to a particular need that may arise; others are simply enriching occasional enhancements to the spiritual life. All of them are worth a try at least once. And any of them might become a regular and central part of your spiritual practice.

There is something else present in everything you see, hear, touch, taste, or smell. It is the unspeakable – the silence inside the sound, the darkness inside the light, the stillness inside the motion. It is the mystery. It holds us always.

The Basic Practice

To be spiritual is to have an abiding respect for the great mysteries of life — the profound distinctiveness of other souls, the strange beauty of nature – the worlds of flora and fauna – as well as the ineffable complexity of our inner selves, the unfathomable depths of the universe, inner and outer. The wisdom traditions challenge us to live within a cloud of unknowing. To practice mystery means cherishing the baffling, curious, hidden, and inscrutable dimensions of your existence and the world around you. Live with paradoxes. Give up the idea that you can always "get it.”

What This Practice Is Good For

The practice of mystery enhances our understanding of the complexity of reality. It is an affront to the modern need have answers to every question and our tendency to create tidy systems with a cubbyhole for every problem and aspiration. Of course, some people simply ignore the mysterious because it lies outside the hallowed precincts of reason and logic. The antidote to these reductionist approaches is to rest in the riddle of not knowing. If you sometimes think that answers are wisdom, it is time to try practicing mystery.


1. Discern the questions – deep and meaningful questions that resist easy answers. Look at “What is...?” questions like, What is evil? What is love? What is faith? What is justice? Discern the questions that seem to you to point toward something mysterious. Discernment begins in taking some moments for quiet reflection, and continues throughout your day as you hold the question in the back of your mind. Your starter question is: What are my questions? As they emerge, it might be helpful to write down several questions in your journal.

2. Repeatedly ask yourself your questions, but without seeking an answer. If an answer pops up, make a note of it and set it aside. Keep repeating the question. The point is not to come up with an answer, but to simply delve into and be with the mystery to which the question points. You are yearning for understanding with all your heart -- yet are rejecting every articulable understanding that might come to you. (You aren't rejecting them as false, but are setting them aside as "not the full story, not even close.") In this way you cultivate abiding, inarticulable wisdom -- in other words, you come to be at home in mystery.

3. Use cues to remind you to practice mystery.

  • Sorting clothes and wondering what happened to the other sock: my cue to practice mystery.
  • Passing a funeral parlor or a cemetery: my cue to contemplate mysteries.
  • Hearing someone applying a system of explanations for good fortune or illness: my cue to remind myself to respect the complexity and mystery of life.

Create additional cues for yourself to bring yourself back at various points during the day to your intention to consciously dwell in mystery.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

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