“So at the end of this day, we give thanks
for being betrothed to the unknown.”
~ John O’Donohue
Press play to hear an audio enhancement as you read.
Most people fear the unknown and long for security. But there’s a reason we call the worst form of imprisonment “maximum security.”
We live in a culture of fear and buy insurance to protect us from the unknown, unforeseen, and unexpected “accidents,” suspecting that the universe is out to get us. We describe the worst calamities as “acts of God,” blaming the Divine – which we are instructed to love – for our worst misfortunes.
No wonder we suffer from what’s known as “cognitive dissonance.”
Wikipedia defines cognitive dissonance as “the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.” 1
Society is riddled with contradictions. We fight for peace. We destroy excess food to keep prices high … while children starve. We ignore the sun and fuel our world with toxic chemicals, then choke on the pollution. Doctors, who’ve survived four years of pre-med, four years of medical school, and three to seven years of residency, graduate with almost no understanding that what we eat affects our health. Simultaneously, they do understand that putting sugar in a gas tank will damage an engine. Every time.
We live in an unconscious trance of cognitive dissonance. This becomes conscious whenever we are “triggered by a situation in which a belief …. clashes with new evidence …” The Wiki article continues. “When confronted with facts that contradict personal beliefs, ideals, and values, people will find a way to resolve the contradiction in order to reduce their discomfort.”
Often the way we reduce our discomfort is to deny the obvious and embrace something we can twist to support our beliefs. The furor over “fake news” these days exposes just how bothersome the truth can be. Why should facts be able to sabotage my personal agenda? That’s fake news!
We struggle for security, for the “good old days” which exist in memory like a fish story, much better in recollection than actual fact. For instance, the idea of making America great again pivots on several beliefs that, together, produce a hypnotizing dose of cognitive dissonance.
1. There was some particular time when America was “great.”
2. There has never been a time that was great for all Americans, unless you ignore slavery, genocide practiced on native Americans, The Civil War, etc.
Here’s another duo of conflicting beliefs:
1. Great as our nation was, somehow we stumbled and are not so great anymore. Statistics comparing America to other countries in many specific areas certainly proves that we have been slipping.
2. We are convinced that this is still the greatest county in the world, based on … our beliefs!
Meanwhile, something else is going on. If we can raise our gaze for a moment and peer above the furor of society’s soap opera, we might notice that 99% of life is continuing as always. They say that the mills of the Gods grind slow but exceedingly fine. Yes, there is a slower rhythm to the natural world. Compare how a tree grows with the steady onslaught of computer and phone upgrades, more frequent all the time. But the tree doesn’t crash.
We can see something different from way up here, a kind of order to everything, including the chaos. Consciousness is orchestrating everything, after all, even what we believe are mistakes and accidents. Everything is an act of God, if we include ourselves in what God is. That only sounds arrogant until we realize it’s actually arrogant to claim an identity separate from God. We are not separate, we are not spectators, we are co-creators, and it’s honest to take responsibility for our creations.
That happens in the ever-present moment which, obviously, is when we are doing our creating. Moment by moment we are expressing ourselves, making choices, doing things, and it all adds up to the reality of “life.” Necessarily, we are always dancing with the unknown and real security never exists in some invulnerable state we can count on forever. Lightning strikes, stocks drop, hearts falter … we never know for sure what’s around the next corner.
So, we have a fundamental choice: embrace the unknown and betroth ourselves to this mystery called life, or flail away in resistance, longing for a security we can never guarantee. The smart choice? As the poet John O’Donohue wrote, we can “give thanks for being betrothed to the unknown.”
Why? Because life is a perpetual journey of discovery, regardless of how firmly we nail things down. Even just the desire for “maximum security” turns out to be imprisonment, but we hold the key to freedom in our own hands: choosing to be fully present and welcoming the unknown.
We can walk without fear in the dark, whistling if we need to, because we know that the sun will rise, the rhythms of the natural world will have their way and, to the degree that we include ourselves, this becomes our way.