We are a curious species. We want to know things, understand how things work, trace origins, explore the unknown places in the world and beyond. More than this, we long to explain things, to have the answers, to have ALL the answers. And we live in a society that believes this is indeed possible, that through scientific inquiry and rationality we will eventually understand everything from the origins of the universe to the mystery of life itself and everything in between.
Is it possible? To know everything? To fully understand our world? This is certainly a comforting thought. And there is great value in believing in the possibility of knowing what is (currently) unknowable. It keeps us striving to find new medicines, to cure new diseases, to find new frontiers in space, new understandings about our origins as a species and as a planet.
The triumph of science has given us so much knowledge. Just as importantly, it has given us all a kind of permission to question. It celebrates an inquirying mind. And science has rid us of a lot of crap too… dangerous superstitions and blind faith, cultural norms that told people they shouldn’t question things or god would punish them.
But again I ask, is it possible to understand everything? This is not a question of whether we should continue our scientific inquiry into things. But do we recognise that there are some things science can never explain and some things we will never know?
I went to a women’s sweat lodge this weekend, based on the Lakota tradition. This tradition honours the seven directions, or what I have begun to think of as the seven aspects. The East represents childhood, joy, play, love, new beginnings. The South is the warrior aspect, the strength of service, of working and getting things done when they need doing. (This is the place of the mother.) The West represents the wisdom of patterns, of stepping back and seeing the whole picture. And the North represents the connection between mundane reality and spirituality, between the every day and the sacred.
North, South, East, West, these are familiar directions. But for the First Nations people there are seven directions. Look up, the sky is the place of all those who have gone before us, all our human ancestors who have learned things and passed down their wisdom to us, all the mothers and fathers who have given birth to and nurtured and loved generation after generation of people down to ourselves. Look down, the Earth, the greatest of Mothers, without whose air, food, water, etc. we could not live, the one without whom we would not be here.
The seventh direction, however, is the most special. It is the Mystery. All that we can never know. Hearing this explained at the sweat lodge this weekend was a profound moment for me. The kind of moment that briefly stops time, stops the running train of thoughts. The kind of moment when the feeling of the present pulls you into a different kind of conscious awareness and things feel still and clear. Honouring the mystery. All that we can never know. It felt right. It felt humbling and at the same time, by actually speaking it aloud, I felt part of it, connected to that mystery. It was not a recognition of all the things we can never be, never experience. Simply all the things we can never know, all the things we can never explain with our rational, scientific, logical mind.
It felt like a breath of fresh air. As if that deeper part of me that I have seen in meditation and in brief random moments in my life was finally recognised and had a place to be.