When I first announced to friends and colleagues that I would be selling my apartment, everyone asked where are you moving to?
When I told them that I hadn’t decided yet, and wouldn’t decide until I was at least in contract, it prompted even more questions.
Don’t you need to know where you’re going?
Why would you give up your apartment without knowing where you’re going to go next?
Where will you live?
And my favorite: What’s your plan?
Our Need to Know
When I was growing up, I was a voracious reader of novels. I never got more than a few pages into a new book before I flipped to the end and read the last few paragraphs. I wanted to know how the story would end.
Every type-A, high-achiever I know (including myself) likes to be in control of the outcome. Failing the ability to be in control, we at least want to know what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen.
Consider: why do you read reviews of a restaurant, movie, or product before you invest in it?
It’s likely that you want to know what it’s about, if it will be worth the investment of your time, energy, money, and attention, if it’s going to be “good.” You want to know if the risk will “pay off” before you invest in the experience.
Why not just try it and assess for yourself?
Knowledge and Control = Certainty = Safety
One colleague — not a close friend (or even a real friend) asked me about my plan every time I saw him. He seemed to have a burning desire to know where I would be going, as if his happiness depended on knowing my plans.
If that sounds extreme, consider that the “need to know” — information, what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen — is linked to our survival mechanism. If we know, we can prepare, and we can stay safe.
According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, without certainty in our basic physical and foundational needs — home, finances, health — we cannot progress up the pyramid to the next level of needs — relationships, and, beyond that, the self-actualizing needs of growth and contribution that create our sense of fulfillment.
Each of us has our places where we feel the need to exert control, where we feel we cannot move forward unless we know exactly what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen. We don’t really like surprises.
If you find yourself thinking “I love surprises, when I know what they are and I like the surprise,” welcome to the club. You are human.
Tony Robbins expands on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs by simplifying the model to six core human needs. At the foundational level, certainty lies in tension with uncertainty. As much as we want to know and control what will happen, if we had no surprises in life we would get bored quickly.
I find this tension in myself in my craving for structure even as I rebel against structure. I work to stretch myself in both directions at once.
All life lives at this crossroads between holding on and letting go, between control and surrender.
Being in the Mystery
People who meet me today, when they hear I sold my home without a new place to live lined up, or that I came to Pamana for two weeks and canceled my return flight to stay longer, might think I’m one of those bohemian free-spirits who just rolls with the waves. Although I’ve long been practically bohemian compared to many people I know (in my family, I’m the black sheep in this regard), I still haven’t completely relinquished my membership in the “Type-A” club.
It’s been a long journey for me to get to this place. Selling my home and setting out on my current adventure are the most recent steps in a long history my practice to build the muscles required for “being in the mystery” without having a panic attack.
This practice of “being in the mystery” is another component of embracing the energy of winter.
In the energy of the seasons, winter is a time when the land lies fallow, cleared of crops. From the surface, the earth looks still, but the work is happening beneath the surface.
What will emerge in spring — and when, exactly, it will emerge — remains a mystery.
Getting comfortable with “being in the mystery” is a core component of embracing winter energy.
What Does “Being in the Mystery” Mean?
Being in the mystery means releasing the need for control, information or knowledge — whether that knowledge is about what’s going to happen, when you’re going to see the results of your work, or how many people have liked the picture you posted to Instagram two minutes ago.
The idea that we have control over anything, or that we ever truly know what’s going to happen and when it will happen, is an illusion. The nature of life and business (which, after all, is just a slice of life) is that it is unpredictable.
The very essence of a risk is that you don’t know how it will turn out. If you know what’s going to happen, it’s not a risk.
Being in the mystery does not mean that you don’t have a plan. Having a plan is great and often useful, when you also recognize that higher forces are at work. Ultimately, your plan is not the plan.
How Being in the Mystery Improves the Quality of Your Life
Being in the mystery is one of the most uncomfortable places for Type-A personalities, but it’s a crucial skill that will enhance the quality of your life. As Tony Robbins says,
The quality of your life is directly related to how much uncertainty you can handle.
The more you can relax into the mystery, the less anxiety and overwhelm you will feel.
Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it. — Khalil Gibran
How many times have you allowed yourself to be distracted by running through a future conversation in your head, only to have the conversation go in a different direction?
What would you have given, after-the-fact, to reclaim that time and energy?
We spend so much time and energy worrying about what’s going to happen, and when and how things will happen. All that mind-churn about logistics and how things will play out distracts us from what’s in front of us.
Being in the mystery saves you that time and energy up front. It eliminates the mind churn. It creates space for the deep work of the creative process and nurturing relationships.
When you release the need to control the future, you free up energy to focus on the present.
Presence is at the core of productivity.
The more you build the muscle of presence, the better you will be at eliminating distractions and focusing on what’s in front of you — whether that’s your child, a friend in need, a client, or your current project.
When you bring presence to your activities, time stops disappearing from your day. Without the internal mind distractions, you will find you have expanded your capacity to get more done with less effort.
When you bring presence to your interactions, the people with whom you interact feel seen, heard, and loved. You will create deeper and more meaningful relationships.
When you learn to get comfortable being in the mystery, you give yourself the ability to appreciate and enjoy where you are, instead of worrying about where you’re going and when you’ll get there.
Not only will you accomplish more, but you’ll feel better while you’re doing it.
Where Do You Fall in this Spectrum?
This is a topic that always seems to strike something in people. I’d love to hear where you fall on this spectrum.
What’s your comfort level with being in the mystery? Where do you fall between the desire to control everything or know when things will happen, and the ability to go where the day takes you?
Share in the comments!