Dare to Be Bewildered

The forest sets me free. Among those solemn wooden beings I find myself again, innocent curiosity and utter bewilderment leading me along the path, toward the great unknown. My footsteps in a world oblivious to them make me feel insignificant, yet this is a liberating experience. It humbles me, restores the child-like nature stolen from me by life, a nature driven by asking bold big questions with too much of an imagination to be able expect reasonable answers.

Standing in the middle of a lavish nothingness, surrounded by the boisterous silence of infinity, I remember seeing the world as an unsolvable puzzle. It often just dumbfounded me. I was struck with sudden perplexity, admiring the intricate beauty of the universe, while at the same time abhorring it for its horrible tendency to defy full understanding.

Growing up, understanding came as a manipulative trickster, taking on ideas as disguises, answers by too many people to too many questions that all begged answering. Soon my mind became soaked with thinking, the sickness of endless cycles of self-defeating ideas that traverse generations like an ineradicable epidemic. No matter how many answers were administered as medicine, it was never the cure I was looking for.

Sometimes answers did provide some comfort, though. The scientific method taught me to better approach questions and answers, question what needed to be questioned, but also came with the relief of realising that many of the tragic things happening to us humans are due to psychological, genetical, and epigenetical histories, a cause-and-effect dance from which it is often hard to escape. Perhaps that meant I should not hate myself for my wrongs, but rather try to understand the causes, learn from them, and show forgiveness.

Still, there remained this uncharted land, the great unknown of the unexplained. Consciousness, especially self-consciousness, seemed to be one of those logic-escaping demons: The Great Defier of Scientific Understanding. And the darkness, the emptiness, the bewilderment which was both a great joy and terror to me in my younger years, kept making itself known, through mere whispers and, as I failed to pay attention, it became symptomatic instead, resurfacing as everything it was actually not.

Along came a fresh wind of religion and the spiritual, inviting the unknown in a more purposeful way into experience. However, in many instances, there seemed to be too many attempts to deny the void of the unknown as well, by offering alternative answers, moral ones, or pseudo-scientific explanatory ones, and institutionalised rituals of dealing with questions, or rather refraining from asking questions altogether but rather surrender to the answers revealed, and those only. Revelations which, however, came in various flavours, just as many as there seemed to be people claiming to know answers, and it almost seemed a sin to just crave again that innocent bewilderment, that wonder, to just admit not having any answers. Is it a terrible mistake to question default answers to unasked questions about the divine? Or to question the logical fabric of reality when the weirdness of nature at the deepest quantum level makes questionable those scientific frameworks that no longer seem to allow any place for mystery?

In the middle of a forest that asks no questions nor has all the answers, I stand, wondering whether the wilderness that bewilders me is telling me a profound truth: that the true path is to surrender to the eternal questions, the questions that defy answering, as they are beyond answering, forcing us to let go of the need to find answers. That we, spiritual people, religious people and science-minded people, should all stay bewildered, and marvel at how questions unfold by themselves, without expecting reasonable answers, when we submit to them.

© 2019 Marcel van Delft

Image: By Takkk – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10059906