Pattern #23

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Dancing Among Clarity, Inquiry, Mystery…

Credits: Stone Circle: Pexels – Pixabay / Sun: jplenio – Pixabay / Girl: gostua – Shutterstock / Universe:  Vadim Sadovski – Shutterstock / Magn. Glass: iadam – Shutterstock

Clarity is vital in the midst of chaos, confusion and misdirection. Inquiry is vital to evolve beyond incomplete knowledge. Recognition of omnipresent mystery is vital for humility, the source of all truly new realization. So treasure all three for their complementary gifts and don’t let them get in each other’s way.

  • What’s clear to us at this point about this situation? What do we most need to find out at this stage? What important factors will we probably not be able to clarify in the time we have? What shall e do about all that?
  • What does clarity feel like? Is it the same as or different from certainty? How do clarity and certainty relate, in your own thinking and feeling?
  • When does your clarity shift gears into inquiry? What goes on in that process? How does it feel?
  • To what extent do you think of mystery as something to solve and to what extent does it feel like an existential fact or presence? Can you see it both ways? How do you deal with it?
  • What relationship or dynamic do you experience between clarity and mystery?
  • What are the positive and negative manifestations of doubt? How do I/we/you manage them?
  • What can we gain by “dancing” among clarity, inquiry and mystery?
  • And how might that play out in our work together, in general and right now?

Going Deeper …

This is an edited version of the video on this page.

This is really interesting. At its heart it’s about learning and its associated flexibility. It’s about growth, discovery, education, the whole practice of science, which is fundamentally about this. And part of what is tricky with this pattern is that each one of these – clarity, inquiry, mystery – is compelling in itself. And unless you hold them all, you don’t see that they are clearly linked to each other.

Clarity is associated with the emotion of certainty. Certainty is an emotion; it is not really a cognitive state. You go “Oh! THIS is what’s going on! THIS is what it means. THIS is how it hangs together! Huh!!” – and that connects to your experience or to your previous knowledge in a way that’s very compelling and useful for you, for whatever reasons you want to use it.

So particularly when – as the pattern heart says – there’s chaos, confusion or misdirection, it’s really useful to get clear on things. But what clarity and certainty don’t tell you is what you’re missing. They act as if they’re the whole thing. You go “aha!!” and your cognitive system relaxes. You don’t have to do any more work. You’ve arrived.

Part of the wise democracy worldview – the cognitive, personal, lived attitude that is embodied in the wise democracy pattern language – is that you don’t settle down on ANY of these. So there’s chaos, confusion, and misdirection. These things may just be there – or perhaps they’re being consciously manipulated at a mass level or at a personal level. And so it’s really good to name it: “This is what’s going on!” and to feel some clarity, like “I have a place to stand!” But if you get stuck there, that’s a problem.

Often a scientific hypothesis will come from an intuitive sense that “This is what’s going on; this is how this works. Now, because I’m in science, I need to test it and see how it works in real life. So now I have to design my experiment (or whatever) to do that…” Now, that’s an inquiry. An experiment is an inquiry. Not only is the experiment going to happen, but I’m gonna be reporting on it and other people are going to look at it and try to replicate it and try to critique it and to falsify it.

“Falsify…” That’s such a great word in science. “It’s all fine and good to appreciate your theory or experiment, but we’re here to see if we can find a hole in it.” So the scientific inquiry is there to punch holes in clarity and move things to a different level of clarity. Very often there’s a dance between inquiry and clarity where you find the holes in your previous clarity – or somebody else’s previous clarity, their beliefs, their worldview, their sense of things. There’s something that doesn’t feel right about it to you, and you do your inquiry – whether that’s asking questions, talking to friends, consulting the Internet, doing a scientific experiment, whatever. You are checking it out and you may come up with more chaos and confusion or you may come up with new clarity. So that’s the dance between clarity and inquiry.

It says in the pattern heart that inquiry is vital to evolve beyond incomplete knowledge. Well, all knowledge is incomplete. There is no complete knowledge. Somebody once said that there’s no accurate model of the universe except the universe itself. There’s just too many nuances, details, dynamics, whatever. And that’s true in every situation: Whatever we understand about it is incomplete. And in wise democracy – in any effort at wisdom – were dancing with that fact, trying to be as complete as we can in the ways that are relevant to long-term broad benefit. That’s the bottom line of this pattern language.

Then there is Mystery. Mystery contains uncertainty but is bigger than uncertainty. You can actually be certain about mystery. There are things that are unknowable almost by definition. There are philosophers who have wrestled with all this. The whole question of what is reality – when you start delving into it deeper and deeper and deeper as some philosophers are doing and as quantum physicists do – it becomes harder and harder to nail down this Thing that is Absolutely Real, such that there’s no disagreement, there is no multiple perspectives, it’s just THERE. The closer you look, the less that is true. So this is a very interesting dynamic that goes on in terms of reality.

And the more you acknowledge mystery – whether things are unknowable, or I don’t know them now, or I know that there’s more to it than whatever I think I know or more to whatever I’m exploring than seems clear right now… That assumption is very beneficial and useful. Whatever you think you know, that’s tentative knowledge. And it’s good to say “I think I know this” rather than “I know this” – to be able to think in those terms and welcome the relativity that ultimate mystery gives you, and to dance with that in the background. But you can continue to do the dance between inquiry and clarity, while understanding that mystery is there. And every now and then, it moves into the foreground and you go “Wow, I am really not getting this at all and I’m not sure how to proceed….” and being able to BE with that and know that you will be able to dance further and further into the mystery.

As some people have said, the more you know, the more you don’t know. It’s like a bubble of light in a sea of darkness. The bigger the bubble of light grows, the more surface area it shares with the darkness. So you learn to be humble and exploratory – and that’s basically the essence of this

And the dynamics of spiritual, psychological and developmental growth are in the heart of this. Scientific exploration and discovery are in the heart of this. Healthy education is in the heart of this. And being aware of the delights and traps of each of these modes, how they fit together, and how if you get stuck in any one of them, you lose fluidity, you lose functionality, and ultimately you lose whatever wisdom is possible in the situation.