A friend shared the following quote with me and it touched me so much I felt compelled to write about it…
“The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.” – Albert Einstein
I know that when I am in the presence of something beautiful, whether it is a waterfall, a woman (or man), a baby animal or a work of art, I feel the joy of a child throughout my body. My office looks out on a row of small mountains so I can get this sense whenever I feel like I’m losing my sanity.
Yet the “pursuit of truth” part of Einstein’s quote had me a little baffled. I love learning, but I wouldn’t equate the emotions I feel when I am reading or researching with those of a child. When I discover something I didn’t know, I am happy, sometimes excited. Yet I don’t seem to connect with the sense of delight I see in the eyes of the little girl next door when she discovers something new.
I often teach people how to get into a state of “Beginner’s Mind.” When you can look at things, situations and people as if you have never seen them before, then you might discover something new and delightful. Suzuki Roshi said, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert, there are few.” If you already know what to expect when you approach a situation or person, then nothing new will appear. If you can say, “What might be different today?” and step into a sense of curiosity, you might be surprised. This practice could bring a state of WOW back into your work and your relationships.
Yet I felt there was something even deeper that Einstein was referring to in his quote. When researching how people truly transform their lives for my book, Wander Woman, I discovered the works of Victor Turner who wrote a classic anthropology book called The Forest of Symbols. In the book, Turner describes how you can stand in the state of pure possibility where you eagerly await the unknown future and are fully open to experience what might be true for you now. He called this phase of transformation the “liminal period” when new configurations of ideas and self-concepts can emerge in your mind.
We all experience the liminal period when we are trying to make important changes in our behavior and our lives, when the gap between the old and the new feels uncomfortable. Life feels awkward and scary. You aren’t sure who you are or what you are supposed to do. If you don’t understand what is going on, you may either think something is wrong with you or surmise that doing this personal work was a dumb idea. Either way, you may abort your commitment to change.
If you either go back to your old habits or you keep growing but only focus on the discomfort of change, you lose a fabulous chance to experience what it feels like to stand in the state of pure possibility, where you have no idea what will happen next. If you can’t let yourself stand here, you miss the chance to learn like a child.
In reality, the discomfort of change is only your brain working to create new patterns and connections. In other words, your discomfort is essentially a signal of positive growth. This is the best time to try out new behaviors, to do new things and reflect on your silly mistakes as well as your successes. When you are unsure of yourself, you should “embrace the mystery” with curiosity instead of distress. If you can see that life is about making changes and it is better to flow with the unsteadiness of the transition, you will be in a better mental place to accept the unknown. The more you open your mind, the more options become available. The more you can pursue new truths.
I know you like to get things right. You don’t like to fail. But if you stay in this box, are you really free? I invite you to step into the liminal zone. Experience a few WOW moments today. Then share what you learned here so we can all learn something new and beautiful together.