The Limbo of The Unknown

The Unknown. It feels so often, especially at certain times in our life, as if it is all around us. Sometimes the Unknown is all we know. It is everything. Nothing is known. Everything that could be known is a fog, a darkness, a shadow. And we are floating in it. Looking for some firm ground to place our foot. Some limb to hold on to. It doesn’t even have to be much, but something. Something to hold onto is better than nothing.

Remember moments in your life, maybe when you were younger, when you would get the wind knocked out of you? Gasping for breath, you wondered if the next breath would come and nothing you experienced before could prepare you for that moment. You were absolutely present in a terrifying limbo of unknown.

How do we live in a life, or even in moments, of absolute unknowing?!? What do we hold on to? What do you hold on to? Some have objects that help them remember times that felt safer. Some pray with all their might, to God, to the universe, to their ancestors who have weathered these storms before them… sometimes there is an answer and sometimes there is nothing. Some breathe, remembering that for everything that is unknown, we at least have this moment, breathing in… and breathing out. We fight for that breath, don’t we? As Reiner Maria Rilke writes, 

When we win it’s with small things,  
and the triumph itself makes us small.  
What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to be bent by us.  
I mean the Angel who appeared to the wrestlers of the Old Testament: 
when the wrestlers’ sinews  
grew long like metal strings,  
he felt them under his fingers  
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel  
(who often simply declined the fight)  
went away proud and strengthened 
and great from that harsh hand,  
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.  
Winning does not tempt that man.  
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,  
by constantly greater beings.


David Whyte writes:

To keep despair alive we have to abstract and immobilize our bodies, our faculties of hearing, touch and smell, and keep the surrounding springtime of the world at a distance. Despair needs a certain tending, a reinforcing, and isolation, but the body left to itself will breathe, the ears will hear the first birdsong of morning or catch the leaves being touched by the wind in the trees, and the wind will blow away even the grayest cloud; will move even the most immovable season; the heart will continue to beat and the world, we realize, will never stop or go away… (from ‘DESPAIR’ From the upcoming book of essays CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words)

We face the unknown daily, deeply, and painfully. Each of us have things that give us reason to fight for that next breath. Feeling the unknown, wrestling with it, sometimes even being defeated by it, we find ourselves stronger and we find the way through.

Books I’m Reading – Unbroken

Thanks to an amazing article at, I reserved Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand and started up my first biography in a long time. I haven’t been able to put it down.

The subtitle to this brilliantly written book about Louie Zamperini is, “A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” and this couldn’t be a more accurate description. Zamperini’s story is almost too fantastic to be true (which is probably why Angelina Jolie is making itinto a movie). Zamperini went from a devious troublemaker in New York, to an Olympic runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, setting world records and well on his way to being the first man to run the mile in under four minutes.

“Yet a part of you still believes you can fight and survive no matter what your mind knows. It’s not so strange. Where there’s still life, there’s still hope. What happens is up to God.”

He was drafted as a bombardier in WWII to fly in the South Pacific and was stranded in a raft for 47 days after his plane was shot down. During this time, he and his raft mate were harassed by sharks daily and shot at by Japanese airplanes, only to be captured and held as a POW by the Japanese. His story is incredible and such an inspiration for perseverance and clarity of focus.

Being controlled by “shoulds” we lose sight of how we really feel

“We are less aware of the harm done our feelings by these pervasive shoulds than of other damage inflicted by them. Yet it is actually the heaviest price we pay for trying to mold ourselves into perfection. Feelings are the most alive part of ourselves; if they are put under a dictatorial regime, a profound uncertainty is created in our essential being which must affect adversely our relations to everything inside and outside ourselves.” Karen Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth

Spiritual Direction and reflections on Spirituality


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