NAVIGATING THE MYSTERY- Managing The Unknown In Our Lives


Life can seem so very mysterious and unknown. In certain moments, the unknown can be seen as an adventure and exciting, in other moments the unknown may seem to be synonymous with an unpredictable lack of safety. I like the comforts of the "known," as do many. I like familiar music, knowing plans and having a schedule, having the route to my bathroom in the dark memorized, knowing my bills will be paid and how, and that my car will travel safely. I do rely on some of that "known," in order to feel safe, and I have, every now and then been surprised by a flat tire, dead battery, late rent payment or a laundry basket in the way of my route to the bathroom in the dark.

If I react with resistance, judgment and anger every time something unknown and possibly unpleasant, surprises me, then I would be externalizing my power. I would be expecting the people, places and circumstances that I encounter to operate in a particular way in order to maintain my peace. That is simply way too much randomization to base my happiness on, so I must accept “what is,” look for the blessing and make a party out of it as best as I can.

Preferring, liking and wanting to “know” what is going to happen is different than the feeling of fear of not knowing, or the obsession and need to “know” in order to feel safe. Learning to navigate the mystery with an increasing amount of curiosity, grace and surrender, can help prevent us from filling the moment with fear and searching our brains for answers that can’t exist while the unknown variables of the mystery, are at play. That circular searching of the mind with fear can activate stress, panic, adrenaline, the attempt to control the uncontrollable and putting our peace off on the lay-away plan. Setting our attention in the “now,” gives us a sense of the “known,” as the “known,” is simply a moment to moment experience.

I love the serenity prayer from the 12-step program. I use it when I feel rocked or when I simply want to begin my actions from a grounded place. I often rely upon it to remind me that I am human and can only control two things, my perspective and my behavior.

"Please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference."

This simple prayer is a lifeline for me, it helps me to recognize that I cannot control traffic, I cannot make people tell the truth, I cannot dictate the weather, a delayed airplane, an election, a flat tire, or many other things. I do, however have access to controlling my perspective and that perspective gives me my behavior. My perspective today is that there is a blessing in ALL things. As I look for it, I see it everywhere. I saw it in a connecting talk with my Dad, in intimate conversations with strangers, and in a more awakened community.

We never know what the mystery provides. I’ve heard it said that people make plans and God laughs. My friend Mariah came to join me for a doctor’s appointment, when low and behold, my car wouldn’t start. I was pretty sure it was a dead battery so I called AAA. “Let’s have a dead battery party,” I said, “there’s a blessing in divine timing and we shall look for it.” I called the doctor’s office and it turns out that my doctor was running extremely late. When we left the appointment, there was a woman in a wheel chair that asked us if we would wheel her to the emergency room because she said she wanted to hurt herself. Of course we wheeled her.

As we rolled her along, I asked her if it was ok to whisper some things in her ears. She said, “yes please.” I whispered to her that Mariah and I were just talking about how the root of our suffering is that we have these thoughts that we are somehow not good enough and that we believe those thoughts. I told her that we were made in the image and likeness of the infinite divine universe and because of that it was impossible for any of us to not be enough. I asked her to please be merciful and forgiving of herself. As we brought her to the counter of the emergency room, I touched her arm and she turned to me, and smiled. That was the best dead battery party we ever attended.

Fearful thoughts that plague our minds can leave us feeling very much out of control. Engaging in our fear thoughts however, is something we can practice gaining control over with awareness. My friend Karl and I came up with a distinction called, “First Thought, Second Thought.” Our theory is that thoughts are infinite and are flying throughout the collective mind, ours included. The ones that most match our personal concerns are the ones we most recognize. Those are the ‘first thoughts,’ the ones we truly don’t ‘think’ ourselves but are ‘thought’ within us, like an asteroid flying through the galaxy of our minds that resonate with our stories.

I believe that no matter how seemingly loaded these first thoughts are, they are truly neutral, they have no power and have no power over us. Engaging with these thoughts with justification, proof, and resistance gives them power and renders them active. I believe that engaging with our fear thoughts with any kind of resistance, argument, denial, deflection, defensiveness or even deflated agreement, takes them from a neutral status, to being personal, loaded, activated and powerful. It effects us emotionally, physically, psychologically and physiologically. The self-judgments we have carry some basis in truth, but perhaps even if it is true, that doesn’t mean that the existence of those aspects, are synonymous with being unlovable, unworthy or not good enough. This is why most of us get defensive, I believe. We don’t want to be caught being any of the negative traits that we ourselves judge and that we fear, if anyone knew existed within us, it would render us unlovable, rejected and unworthy. Perhaps then, we must simply admit we are all of it, and become merciful to our humanity.

Most of us have moments of being those things that we fear are unlovable. We may even find ourselves rejecting others who behave in those unsavory ways. Of course we fear that others will judge and reject us in the same way, leading us to try to be perfect or hide our imperfections. Inevitably, unless we are robots, we will have moments of selfishness, anger, acting out, deflecting the truth, hiding something we fear to be found out, forget to pay a bill, forget a plan we made, break a promise, act like a victim or not take responsibility for ourselves. We are also kind, generous, loving, contributing, wise, responsible, punctual, honest, intelligent and thoughtful. There are innumerable ways of being within all of us, not just the seemingly lovable ones. All can and do exist inside of us. Understanding our whole selves helps us to treat ourselves with mercy and forgiveness, while extending that same mercy, to others. This is freedom.

Many of our less savory aspects are character defenses, masks, compensations and/or cloaking devices that were developed at a time when our young minds were creatively trying to protect us from harm or perceived harm. These shadowy aspects did the best they could with an underdeveloped frontal lobe (the part of our brain that can imagine consequences and plans into the future) to strategize our safety. We can choose to love and accept all parts of ourselves with understanding and compassion. We have many shadow formations from:

  • Being nice to elicit kindness

  • Anger to throw up walls to protect ourselves in advance

  • Hurt and victimized to protect us from further harm

  • Bullying to attack other’s imperfections as a way to deflect from our own

  • Care taking to feel valuable and needed

  • Perfectionist to avoid being caught imperfect and belittled or criticized etc.

These shadows were implemented to guard our safety, and for this reason, no matter what consequences they have wreaked, if understood, can now be used to help us consciously re write what protection is, with adult awareness, and stop hiding and hating our humanity.

To navigate the mystery with some confidence requires an understanding of the times and events that our shadowy traits were formed. It helps us to stop hiding them, hiding from them or hurting others and ourselves with their unconscious, pre-programmed behaviors. It provides us the opportunity to reinterpret our safety issues and the way that we process them. We can even rewrite our experience by looking at our old conclusions and beliefs with adult eyes.

We all make mistakes and I don’t know one “perfect” person. Most importantly, none of our imperfections are synonymous with our lack of value, worth or lovability. That is the thing that I believe most of us fear. It is the thing that makes us deny our imperfections, as if to say, ‘if I have no flaws, then I will remain lovable and valuable.’ Navigating the mystery with some peace requires us to have a decent relationship with our shadows. We need to understand them and become grateful for their good intentions. After all, our shadows truly believe that they are in some way protecting us. However aberrant that protection may look, it needs not to be judged, hidden and discarded, so much as understood and upgraded. Having this relationship with our shadows can help us to navigate the mystery when they rear their heads in habitual automatic response. As we come to truly accept them, we can then become impervious to the disdainful accusations of others toward our imperfections. Basically, the way people treat us, says more about how they treat themselves, than it does about who we are, unless of course we choose to agree with them.

When we come to love and understand our shadows, it could free us to spend more time living our lives, instead of dancing around, spinning in circles, trying to prove that we’re good enough so others will love us. That would lead to a lifetime of dancing and spinning in order to control the external flow of love, approval and acceptance in our lives. There is no peace in that. If we were able to get all the people in the world to love us, we would have to keep dancing and spinning to maintain their love, all without making a mistake.

While we try desperately to be “good” and hide our flaws to please everyone, we would never be able to accept the love anyway. We wouldn’t feel deserving of it, because we would know that we weren’t the image we projected. When we can love and accept our imperfections, then we can call ourselves out on them when they happen, we can apologize, change our behavior and forgive ourselves. If others don’t forgive us, that says more about how they treat their own imperfections than it does about our ours. My brother in love Jeff sent me this quote that I think about every day.

“Most of our faults are more pardonable than the means we use to conceal them.”

-Francois de La Rochefoucauld

The feeding and fueling of fear can activate anxiety, loss of the moment, a release of physiological chemicals that break down cells, inhibit digestion, steal energy from the reproductive and digestive system and turn us into someone, we may prefer not to be around. For some great ways to handle fear thoughts see my blog on "If Thoughts Were Like Baseballs." So, what are my alternatives? I have boiled it down to this quote that I have been chewing and sculpting and am finally pleased with-

"The arrival of my peace is directly proportional to the speed with which I can accept what is."

-Jo-e Sutton

Peace is not synonymous with "no pain." Sometimes, there isn't a "no pain" option. Sometimes the option is a shot glass of pain or discomfort now, or a quart of pain and suffering later. As we try to avoid pain or discomfort, it accumulates interest. We can suffer later when we refuse do endure the discomfort of refraining from eating a food we are allergic to or that hurts us or is unhealthy for us. This avoidance can leave us feeling much more tired, bloated, allergic, inflamed and bad about ourselves later than the momentary discomfort of restraint. We can skip working-out because we don't feel like it and then be really uncomfortable later when our energy dips, we have lower self-esteem because we let ourselves down, didn't keep our word to ourselves, dropped out self-care or struggle with pain or body image issues.

In America, sometimes it seems that we try to "pretty up" our aging process, hide death behind formaldehyde and paint, avert illness or struggle and run from life's obstacles. We can't keep running from "what is" before it eventually catches up to us... with interest. A shot glass of discomfort now is better than a quart of pain later. -Jo-e

As my sister Kelly says,

"It's not what happens to us, but how we handle it that matters."

Avoiding the inevitable discomforts in life are rarely free of consequence and further discomfort. Sometimes there are just uncomfortable things we must face in life. If we continue to skirt them, then they will back up on us and multiply. If we avoid paying our taxes we may end up looking over our shoulder for fear we will get caught it can lead to suffering later in the form of the IRS garnishing our wages, and depriving us of peace. If we avoid discomfort by being dishonest about a personal boundary, we may feel entitled to express ourselves irrationally at someone when it was our job all along to define our truth. If it leaves us behaving in an undignified way then we must be responsible for our own poor behavior, no matter who started it. After all, we aren't in 5th grade anymore. Once we act out, we lose the validity of our original need or concern and now we are the one who has to apologize and looks a fool. If we truly dislike that dynamic, it may inspire us to hold our tongues until we can communicate our needs and feelings with some calm or risk speaking up sooner. The choice we weigh is usually, this pain or no pain. Sometimes, it's just some pain nor or suffering later.

"Pain is inevitable and suffering is optional."

Here is a simple math formula

Pain + resistance = suffering.

Pain + acceptance = pain.

Pain is inevitable.

We can grow our ability to handle it.

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How do we navigate the mystery, those events, emotions and responses from people, places and circumstances that we cannot control? What are the secrets? They must be complicated, expensive or take a lifetime to learn, right? I think that the answers have been closer than our noses and our breath all along.

“I believe the answer is to live in the present moment as long as we can, before we fly into the imagined future or the remembered past.”

This should seem easy, emphasis on the word “seem,” and it takes practice. Practice makes progress and progress is all we will achieve. If we can stretch our awareness to hold the glorious, sad, painful, beautiful present moment, then our trips to the future and the past, may be shortened. This means our presence to the present, is lengthened. The present is where we are safe, have all we need and are truly more than ok.

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