Mindfulness: Mystery and Not Knowing
by Susan Sensemann

 Susan Sensemann, Sky-glimmers (blue-green), acrylic on paper, 2012

Susan Sensemann, Sky-glimmers (blue-green), acrylic on paper, 2012

In Primer 4, Living a Life of Openness, we speak about the first of the three tenets of a Zen Peacemaker: Not Knowing. What it is to not know something? In this culture of quick response time that technology demands, we react fast and faster. We cannot count to two between opinions spoken at a faculty meeting, board meeting, or family gathering. We speak over each other. Opinions fly. To be smart is to be at the ready with information and views that we have solidified into rock formations in our minds. We believe what we know we know. We rush to a Got it!  or Gotcha! response. Our hearts race as we fill a momentary lapse in the conversation as quickly as we can. And everyone goes home tired and dull.

What about not knowing? Admitting to oneself that there is something new to learn. Being teachable is a humbling experience as we step away from our mental encampments. However, not knowing allows us to be expansive and creative with our thinking, because we take the time to listen. We allow for possibility. We breathe into a feeling of openness and mystery that is intriguing and fresh. I delve into the word mystery with novels in mind, whodunits, that are plot-driven and unfold to a certain resolution. The reader is witness to the protagonist’s logical and reasonable mind as she ferrets out clues and then, clap, the book is shut tight. The reader grins with satisfaction, I knew it!,

But, what if mystery is simply and profoundly beyond our grasp? A friend recently mentioned Thomas Merton’s consideration of mystery as the certainty that some things are true even if they defy our ability to understand them or explain them. Can we locate truth within a mystery that we cannot grasp? Are our minds open or closed? 

Imagine, for a moment, an old man sitting on his porch in a rocking chair on a summer night. His granddaughter asks, “PaPa, how do those fireflies light up?” The old man rocks back and forth, takes a deep breath, looks out at the pasture, and says, “Child, that’s just stars getting closer for a bit.” 

The old man may not have known the answer to her question. He did not open his laptop and google what illuminates fireflies?  His conjecture about stars twinkling nearby and far off in the night sky satisfied her ten year old mind. She liked being surrounded by stars - it felt like they tickled her shoulders. In fact, his answer is true. Every element on earth was formed at the heart of a star. The old man took a moment to be with those stars and then he enfolded his grand-daughter with a bit of mystery and magic.  

Susan Keijo Sensemann

November 15, 2017

Robert Althouse

Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago, 38 Lake Street, Oak Park, IL, 60302