“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” (Neil Armstrong)
Do you know what a Wuzzle is? A Wuzzle is a word puzzle that reveals a common phrase or saying. The first example to the left represents the phrase “good afternoon.” The one below it is “read between the lines.” No, it’s not rocket science.
Many years ago, I learned a valuable lesson from a Wuzzle. I happened to be in a hotel room in Denver, immobilized by an ice-pack nursing an injured arm. Having planned poorly, I had only the comics page of The Rocky Mountain News within my reach. I read Peanuts, Doonesbury, and probably even Mary Worth, and then turned to the Wuzzle. It was an easy one and I got it in seconds. With nothing else to read, I continued to stare at the Wuzzle. Very soon, I saw another possible solution for the puzzle, and shortly after, a third came to mind. I liked that one best of all.
By now, I was intrigued. “Okay, if I see three, why not four?” I asked myself.
Sure enough, a fourth appeared. One problem yielded four equally workable solutions. And perhaps there were still more. By now, I realized I was no longer musing about newspaper puzzles, but about life.
We may be straying into Zen koan territory here, but how often do we stop searching for an answer once we find it? Where is it written that there is only one solution to a problem? If we stop looking or stop thinking about it, we’ll never know if there is a different solution, perhaps a better and more elegant one. Perhaps there are multiple alternate solutions.
Here’s where it helps to have “shoshin,” or “beginner’s mind.” It’s a concept from Zen Buddhism where we maintain an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions. Instead of clinging to our assumptions and fixed notions, we remain open to new possibilities.
What a glorious way to approach life!
In today’s world, we seem to value knowing above all else—sometimes even when what we “know” is a lie. But what if we could value not-knowing?
In Rachel Remen’s wonderful book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, she shares her thoughts about how we are surrounded by mystery—by things that we cannot know and cannot explain. She suggests that often these mysteries are best lived fully, rather than solved. Dr. Remen further notes, “An answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop wondering.”
Therein lies the problem: when we assume we have the answer, we stop wondering, we stop exploring. But aren’t there times when wonder is exactly what we need?
I recall a story I heard from a friend. It’s not my story to tell, so I will only share the gist. His life was changed—dramatically—by a cryptic comment made to him when he was a teenager. His interpretation of that comment redirected him from one path to a very different one and served as a beacon for much of his life—it literally changed his life. Many years later, he saw the individual who had made the comment and asked about it—it was something he had wondered about for years. Her answer, however, deflated him. They remembered the life-changing conversation very differently, and with this new understanding, what had meant most to my friend changed. It was as if there was now an asterisk added to this key moment of his life.
In a world where people seem to want certainty—even if it isn’t true—can we learn to appreciate mystery as much as mastery? Can we learn to be comfortable with not-knowing and even see the beauty in ambiguity and uncertainty? I think it’s largely a matter of giving ourselves permission to say, “I don’t know” and to recognize the awesome power of wonder.
“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.” (Anais Nin)
[Wuzzle solutions: time after time … double-time … time and time again … two-timing. There are probably more. What did you come up with?]