“We don’t know our beginning or our end. We are always in the middle.”

—Lola McDowell Lee

Our lives seem to be surrounded by mystery. We don’t remember our births, nor do we know when or where or how we will die. And, even if we do know when and where and how, we truly don’t know what that will be like, if it will be like anything at all. Look at our Healing Modalities.

Unlike a novel or tv show or movie, which are usually presented to us with discrete beginnings, middles, and endings, from a strictly existential viewpoint, we are always in the middle of our lives. We can put down the novel and return to it later. Or with a tv show or movie we may be able to hit the pause button. But we can never really put our lives on pause. Life has an uncanny way of just continuing…. And, no matter how young or old we are, we are always in the middle of our lives.

With any of our daily activities, we can see that beginnings or endings are not so easy to nail down either. When did our breakfast really begin? When we took our first bite? Or when we poured the cereal into the bowl? Or maybe it was when we purchased the cereal at our local supermarket? But then, before that it had first to be stacked on the shelf… and before that, delivered… before that the grain had to be harvested… before that seeds planted…. You get the idea: nothing has a literal one-time beginning that we can isolate and point to and rest on. No one thing seems to be the direct cause of any other one thing—though we certainly act as if that’s so. Even if we propose the Big Bang as the first cause, we can’t help asking what was there one second before the Big Bang?—i.e., what “caused” the Big Bang?

Nothing comes to us without an uncountable number of previous “causes” or antecedents. Nonetheless, from an ordinary perspective, we’re comfortable chopping our lives up into discrete parts which we label as activities, projects, duties, chores, jobs, relaxations, entertainments, games, etc. And there’s nothing wrong with that; that’s how we organize ourselves and get things done within the limited temporal framework of our hours, days, weeks, months, and years.

But from a “big picture” practice perspective, it might be useful to step back for a moment and see what this “being in the middle” of our life might imply and how it might help inform intelligent and effective practice.

Realizing that our life is surrounded by mystery is only a step away from realizing that the “middle of our life” is also imbued with mystery, with fundamental unknowing. And why is it important to realize this? Because it’s one of those realizations which has the power to stop us—at least momentarily. And in that stopping we can begin to let go of our tendency to automatically want to control our lives, which includes trying to fix ourselves and others. The realization of our unknowingness allows a certain fundamental relaxation. We begin to see that we’ll never really ever “figure out this life,” that the attempts to do so only create strain and stress and eat up a lot of our precious energy, energy that could otherwise be available for awakening and enjoying our life’s mystery.

As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche once said, emphasizing a different part of the mystery: “The bad news is that you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang onto, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground.” With no ground below, we can relax—after we first experience the sheer terror of the fall. And that’s important, and can’t be avoided. So from a relative perspective, you could say we fall from our mother’s womb into this life, and we continue to fall the whole way, grasping and grabbing at whatever we think our hands can hold on to. Many of us never realize we’re in free fall. Practice helps us experience that and, once we do, paradoxically, there is no falling because just as we can’t find our beginning point, there’s also no end point, no conclusion; we’re just free falling…. or maybe just flying, or maybe we’re the whole thing, non-separate from the seemingly discrete events of our life.

It’s important to see that our attempts to figure out and control our life aren’t necessarily overt, or even very conscious. But on some level—perhaps at the level of unacknowledged thoughts—that’s what we’re really engaged in. “If I could just see how this is all put together, then I’d know what to believe, what to think, and what to do … and then, everything would be OK.” (i.e., I’d be alright and things would be under my control). Look at our Healing Modalities.

Joko Beck used to say there was only one thing we can ever truly count on—not people (certainly not their words), not the weather, not the stock market, not even our own integrity 100 percent of the time—all we can ever count on is that things will be exactly the way they are. Right now in this present moment.

From a practice perspective, this is ultimately freeing because we’re then able to substitute the actual certainty of the present for all the false certainties we put in its place and which we don’t really believe anyway—hence our anxiety, nervousness, unsettledness in the face of all our likes and dislikes and our attempts to manipulate them to our own benefit.

To eventually come to enjoy the mystery of life is to find ourselves in awe and gratitude and appreciation. When we slowly let go of all of our expectations of life—of others, of what life supposedly owes us, of our sense of entitlement, our resentments—we begin to be able to simply be, and in that being a deep sense of appreciation grows along with a deepening sense of compassion (after all, we’re in this together). And this is not to say that we can’t act in the world, make practical choices, follow the various paths of our talents and preferences, and learn to behave from our highest aspirations. In fact, the more we’re in touch with the fundamental mystery or unknowingness the more room there is for natural creativity and appropriate, effective action to come forth. Of course, for most of us none of this comes without some diligent application of practice. So, may we all have the courage and willingness to practice with perseverance and diligence throughout our days. Look at our Healing Modalities.