An unknown country

I have been thinking about unknown countries and I suppose that’s what being in a liminal space is all about. Reading Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living has opened up new territory for me.

It has taken me to the borders of this unknown country where I think it is okay to be comfortable with not always knowing and understanding. I have been writing a lot about liminal spaces and now Krista Tippett has brought a further dimension in which mystery is part of it.

The book has put me on high ground and I can look across and see the new landscape: this much I know at this stage, I still have a considerable way to go.


This new wisdom which I see through a glass, darkly has begun to widen the scope into an excavation of the mystery in and of our lives and and that we can feel all sorts of things, experience all sorts of contradictions and not yet have it all figured out as Shane Claiborne (who also appears in Becoming Wise) intimates.

Mystery has everything to do with uncertainty. And uncertainty’s fellow traveller is vulnerability. It also sits in liminality. They all bump into each other.

Robert Coles, in conversation with Krista, uncovers it more clearly, suggesting that mystery is ‘an invitation, and it’s a wonderful companion’.

Until I read that I had never seen mystery as a wonderful companion. In this vein, Krista writes with unerringly clarity, ‘Once upon a time I took mystery as a sensation best left unexamined. Now I experience it as a welcome.’

This openness to something as big as mystery is something that has been, for me, an unknown country.

This is strange, particularly when I was getting to understand the liminal spaces in which we find ourselves. In fact, the recovery of mystery has helped me to connect to other parts of the personal work I have done round these themes: everything that I have been reading and experiencing recently says this about how we make our way – it’s okay to examine things we don’t fully understand yet and may never do fully or even in part.

Yes, it is complex and inhabits perplexity and I no longer feel afraid to also welcome the spiritual.

It is fascinating how we love a narrative where there is an enigma, a disruption and then a quest to solve that mystery. Happy to watch a drama unfold where there is a real pleasure in trying to work out the mystery – solve it and find some kind of resolution.

I am hooked on Designated Survivor because of the real pleasure in wanting to solve the mystery. But, unlike life, it is mystery at arm’s length.

As the guru that is life teaches, reality is much more messy and resolution is not always possible and the mysteries of stuff are often damned hard to understand or comes to terms with.

David Whyte in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words provides a fascinating angle on destiny which, to me, is also mystery’s companion.

Destiny is as big as a word as mystery and is dependent on ‘brave participation, a willingness to hazard ourselves’ as he demonstrates here:

It is still our destiny, our life, but the sense of satisfaction involved and the possibility of fulfilling its promise depend upon a brave participation, a willingness to hazard ourselves in a difficult world, a certain form of wild generosity with our gifts.

Discovering the destiny of our lives in this great big mystery that we come face to face with daily needs a bit of grit and self-awareness, an important component in our understanding, and seems to only come with what David Whyte says ‘a familiarity with our own depth, our own discovered surprising breadth and always, a long practised and robust vulnerability equal to what any future may offer.’

And the familiarity with a ‘robust vulnerability’ is also very much part of destiny, mystery and, of course, liminality.

Pema Chodron, Brene Brown and countless others in this trope talk about befriending stuff and while Krista was talking about the spiritual life in this particular reference, she too writes of ‘befriending reality, the common experience of mystery included. It acknowledges the full drama of the human condition’.

I think they are all right. The examined life, uncovering the unknown country of mystery in /of our lives requires self-awareness; Krista puts it in such poetic terms that we can’t but be inspired to at least get to the border post.


Pyrenees Camping 2009 019
The French Pyrenees, looking towards Spain, 2009


Brene Brown, Rising Strong

Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully

Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living

David Whyte, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words


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