The Mystery of the Ordinary

magritte face of genius 2

“Our experience of the world involves us in a mystery which can be intelligible to us only as a mystery. The more we experience things in depth, the more we participate in a mystery intelligible to us only as such, and the more we understand our world to be an unknown world. Our true home is wilderness, even the world of everyday.”

“Unfortunately, (a) true sense of the mystery of things which may, in fact, deepen in the course of scientific investigation…finds no articulate place in the articulated results of scientific investigation…Philosophical interpretation of the experience of the activity of scientific investigation is seldom offered. Thus the wonder, respect, and love for things investigated, which may be at the heart of scientific experience, virtually escape reflective interpretation and testimony.”

– Henry Bugbee from “Inward Morning.”

The title of this post was inspired by the announcement of an exhibition of the works of Rene Magritte, the quintessential surrealist artist at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. While contemplating the subject of this posting, it occurred to me that what I may have been struggling with all this time is the mystery of the ordinary. We take so much for granted as temporal beings in a material world, supposing that since we have come to unravel so much of the mystery of our existence through science and technology, that it is simply a matter of time before we unravel it all. It seems unlikely to me that we could continue to thrive or even exist without coming to terms with the mysterious, and the quote from Henry Bugbee puts it in perspective for us.

far away looks magritte

The events of my personal life recently have given me some pause in this regard. I must confess to a certain degree of reluctance to submit myself to the trials inherent in the process of assimilating the many different aspects of spiritual discovery, and of coming to terms with my own experience of consciousness. My heightened sense of awareness of other people’s emotions and their spiritual selves has been unsettling at times, creating a degree of conflict as a direct result of my sensitivity. Occasionally, contact with the stream of life from their inner worlds has evoked emotional responses and triggered instinctive behaviors that might no have occurred ordinarily. Particularly high degrees of openness in a few cases have resulted in a commensurate degree of confusion. and I have not always been adequately prepared for the unrestrained response in my own inner world.

Even when there is an intellectual awareness of the possibilities which may arise in such situations, depending on which end of the spectrum one finds oneself, it can either enhance the experience or send it wildly out of control. There is also a potential for an unavoidable encounter with individuals who we perceive as particularly spiritually vital, but who are, for whatever reason, inadequately prepared for such an encounter themselves.


Opening ourselves to another individual, exposing our inner world and having another’s put before us, can be a considerable risk in some ways. Without careful consideration regarding the possible effects of unrestrained responses, or of insufficient control of one’s emotions, it is unpredictable what may happen. Sometimes, it requires a true leap of faith.

Recently, I was formally introduced to an engineering consultant from the upper levels of management, and ended up in a lengthy discussion, surprisingly not only about philosophy and religion which are of particular interest to me, but also about personal beliefs and the news regarding the state of our culture in the United States and abroad. This bright and engaging fellow is from Pakistan, a Muslim by birth, and a curious mixture of enlightened intellect and pessimistic practicality. His double major of Mechanical Engineering and Religion at the university level struck me as uncommon, although not entirely unrelated. On the surface one doesn’t seem to have much in common with the other, but as is often the case, perceived divisions between subject areas can be dispelled with a persistent effort to find commonalities. At the heart of all knowledge, there is some kind of ultimate reality which reflects the unifying force within life itself. E. O. Wilson wrote a book called, “Consilience: the Unity of Knowledge,” in which he makes a compelling case for finding our modern day version of “Ariadne’s Thread,” the one which assisted Theseus to “…retrace his steps through and out of the labyrinth.” The enthusiasm of our philosophical discussion easily diverted our attention away from the task at hand. Several reminders were needed from others about what we were supposed to be doing, because we repeatedly got caught up in our conversation and didn’t realize how much time had passed between reminders.

magritte empty mask

The ease with which our conversations progressed and the similarity in our areas of interest were powerful incentives to continue with them, and to discover such a common interest base with an individual raised and educated in such a radically different worldview almost defied belief. We were both struck by the notion, and delightfully surprised to find a degree of personal compatibility which resulted in becoming such fast friends. Lately, it seems that I have been approached by many of the people who come across my path, who have required my attention or counsel. It has resulted in an odd mixture of anxiety and anticipation, and in the coming together of certain aspects of my inner voice and spirit with the external world. At times, it feels synchronistic like signposts of crossroads, and I am alternately encouraged and uplifted, as well as a bit fearful and anxious, from the feelings inspired by progress spiritually, as well as what feels like a widening gap between the world being revealed to me in the process and the world in which I must engage the process. Within the world of the ordinary experiences, it seems that I am being drawn inexorably deeper and further away from the everyday world, and moving toward the uncertainty of new experience.

Magritte’s surreal artworks are intriguing and thought-provoking. I remain in awe of the flow of the stream of life, and must trust in the wisdom that guides us on our journey of the spirit.

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