I love mystery. It's something that can't be explained and isn't understood. I also love mysteries, books that center on a mystery which -- almost always -- is explained.
But until it is, it isn't. A mystery remains mysterious until it is understood.
"Mysticism" sort of sounds like "mystery." However, according to the Great God Wikipedia, it's more about communing with or being aware of an ultimate reality/truth. So a mystic supposedly understands a mystery of some cosmic significance.
Whether metaphysical realities exist. What happens after we die. If consciousness is possible without a physical body. How the universe began. Whether there is a master plan to human life, or if it is unguided.
Since Homo sapiens is still debating and discussing such queries with as much Who knows? as our species did thousands of years ago, it's obvious that the Big Questions of Life are as much a mystery now as they ever were.
So let's be honest. Let's allow mysteries to be what they are: mysterious. When a mystery is explained, when it is understood, it becomes something else: knowledge.
Not just private knowledge, since this doesn't unravel a mystery. We all have subjective intuitions where the nature of the cosmos becomes absolutely crystal clear to us.
For a moment. And usually unexplainably.
To dissolve a mystery, it must be explained as well as understood. There are lots of prophets who only are acclaimed in their own minds. You can hear them muttering on downtown street corners and find them in mental hospitals.
Or being worshiped by devoted followers. False purveyors of answers to life's mysteries are commonplace. Frequently they're called "mystics" who supposedly have understood what the rest of us haven't.
OK. Then show us the goods. Lay out the explanations for those Big Questions of Life. Let's see how persuasive they are, how much demonstrable evidence there is for them.
If this is done -- and my book shelves are filled with many of those answers -- it becomes clear that the explanations are all over the philosophical and metaphysical map. Christians don't agree with Hindus who don't agree with Muslims who don't agree with Buddhists.
Mystery wins out. As it always has. As it likely always will, to some degree. We're not ever going to be able to explain everything in existence, especially existence itself.
Beyond the knowledge space illuminated by human understanding lies darkness. Mystery. I used to be fearful of it. So I grabbed onto answers, even if they didn't really answer the questions I was asking (and still am asking).
As Socrates taught, knowing that you don't know is a big part of wisdom. Maybe the most important part. Empty minds can be filled. Minds who think they are already crammed with knowledge can't be.
Yesterday I came across a blog post about "Scientility." This awkward word has been proposed as a science-friendly substitute for "spirituality," as when someone says, "Wow. I just had the most amazing spiritual experience."
Almost always, it is anything but. Not spiritual, not other worldly. Physical. Yet on-the-edge physical, out there closer to Mystery, where the unknowings roam.
Francois Choquette came up with scientility. Good for him. I like his intention, though his new word doesn't wow me. Here's part of how he describes it. (Go here for the full description.)
Scientility: Describes the sensation that a scientist or amateur of science experiences when he/she observes an amazing phenomenon, for which his/her qualifications or knowledge makes them experience it [with] a greater degree of appreciation and joy than people without that knowledge.
...Richard Feynman said it best, but didn't have the word scientility to describe it:
"I have a friend who's an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don't agree with. He'll hold up a flower and say, "Look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. But then he'll say, "I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull."
I think he's kind of nutty. [...] There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts."
Mystery always is with us. The more we know, we more we know we don't know. As the saying goes, “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.”
It's lovely to stand on the edge of what we understand and look toward what we don't. There's nothing to see, of course. Which is the beauty of it. Mystery is the open vista that lies beyond our fenced-in bits of knowledge.
When mysteries are falsely believed to have been understood -- the bane of religiosity, sprituality, and mysticism -- we close ourselves up in a cage of our own making. Free yourself.