When I was young I loved a series of books called "Minute Mysteries." Each page had a set of clues, and the reader's job was to put things together to figure out what had happened. Two famous examples go like this:
1. A father and son are in a car accident and are rushed to the hospital. When they arrive, the doctor on call says, "I can't operate on this boy -- he's my son." How can this be?
2. There is a man walking down the road dressed entirely in black. There are no lights on anywhere and no moon. A car with no lights comes down the road and manages to avoid the man. How? (The answers are at the end of this post, if you've never heard them or can't figure them out.)
This tendency of the human mind to be able to piece together disconnected elements to form a whole has been invaluable evolutionarily, for sure. Our ancestors used it to avoid danger, track game and find useful plants. And we use it to create valid scenarios that help us explain our lives to ourselves. Mysteries are still popular and we admire people, who, like Sherlock Holmes or mechanical engineers, can put together clues and solve problem. Most of the time, the stories we create are not accurate reflections of reality, and sometimes even do harm, but we can't stop making them. We can, however, know clearly that they are stories, and find freedom in the questioning, the making of them, and in doubting them.
A few weeks ago the fish in our pond, five beautiful koi pictured in the video above taken by Adam Monty, disappeared. The pond is on an acre of land behind the Temple surrounded by wild and lovingly cultivated gardens, open to the public during the day for silent contemplation and walking. The fish had started to become quite tame, coming up to the edge of the pond to eat fish food out of our hands. There were two children's bikes abandoned near the pond, and a golf ball sitting deep in the middle. One of us had noticed a huge flock of migrating birds alighting on the pond earlier that week. Where were the fish? What had happened to them? We even called the police, who were very kind and said they wouldn't report a fish theft but we should call them anytime we were concerned about people doing unwanted things in the garden. And then three of the fish returned later that night, just for a moment, having been hiding out in their fish cave at the bottom of the pond. It took a few weeks for them all to appear and to start swimming around again, and they are still very skittish. They don't eat out of our hands any more, and head for the cave when they detect anyone nearby.
Naturally, people came up with theories. Here are just a few:
The children stole the fish.
The birds ate the fish.
The children went into the pond to retrieve the golf ball, and scared the fish.
The birds scared the fish.
Stop making up stories about what happened to the fish!
And, my personal favorite:
The fish ate the children, and it took them a couple of weeks to digest them.
We may never know, but the solutions to the minute mysteries highlight how easily we can miss what's right in front of us. Solution number 1: The doctor is the boy's mother. And number 2. It's the middle of the day.
We human beings have this amazing capacity, which is impossible to stop without inflicting brain trauma, but without which we'd be much less human. Facing mystery, we want explanations. Sometimes, the questioning is everything and appreciating the creativity of the human mind without taking things too seriously, is the way of play in the fields of freedom.