The Riddle of Life

“How true is that old fable of the sphinx who sat by the wayside, propounding her riddle to the passengers, which if they could not answer, she destroyed them! Such a sphinx is this life of ours to all men and societies of men. Nature, like the sphinx, is of womanly celestial loveliness and tenderness; the face and bosom of a goddess, but ending in claws and the body of a lioness. There is in her a celestial beauty, which means celestial order, pliancy to wisdom; but there is also a darkness, a ferocity, a fatality, which are infernal. She is a goddess, but one not yet disimprisoned; one still half imprisoned,—the inarticulate, lovely, still encased in the inarticulate, chaotic. How true! And does she not propound her riddles to us? Of each man she asks daily, in mild voice, yet with a terrible significance, “Knowest thou the meaning of this day? What thou canst do to-day, wisely attempt to do.” Nature, universe, destiny, existence, howsoever we name this great unnameable fact in the midst of which we live and struggle, is as a heavenly bride and conquest to the wise and brave, to them who can discern her behests and do them; a destroying fiend to them who cannot. Answer her riddle, it is well with thee. Answer it not, pass on regarding it not, it will answer itself: the solution of it is a thing of teeth and claws. Nature is a dumb lioness, deaf to thy pleadings, fiercely devouring.” – Thomas Carlyle, Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay, comp. by S. Austin Allibone. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1880;, 2011.

How often do you consider the meaning of the day? Is each day the same to you, just a random collection of circumstances which stream by you? Or is there a pattern, a consistent pulsation from which the days’ events surge?

Whether you see it as a pattern or arbitrary, the days’ possibilities are established by the confluence of factors, both seen and unseen, heard and unheard, in the world around you. Trying to work outside of the set of possibilities in each day is frenzy; failing to realize the full potential inherent in each day is misapplication and waste.

There is a perfect set of actions with respect to each and every set of possibilities. The right handling of those circumstances, which comes only as wants, fears and worries are cast out by a perfect and abiding appreciation for what now is, is wisdom.

No book, no guru, no one other than yourself can answer the riddle for you. But to answer it, you must first acknowledge – each and every day – that you are being asked the riddle.

6 thoughts on “The Riddle of Life

  1. Joshua

    Ones answer is always being given, moment to moment, as to whether we are in the cross-over point or not. For it is alway available, and only we can choose to abide there, or not.
    If not, all the nasty habits of this world run riot.
    If so, we are living proof that the answer is simple.
    Once there, we find, there really is no other way to live!


  2. Isabelle

    If we are concerned more to handle rightly what comes our way, every single day, than anything else, we would soon experience a peace, fulfillment and purpose greater than any we had known before. This approach is the key to alignment with a greater understanding of all of the “why’s”.


  3. Steve V

    The experience of teeth and claws is a wake up call to return to that perfect abiding and appreciation for what is present. Your very significant words hold the promise of life as we engage and so live them. Many thanks.


  4. Lady Leo

    I think your post on the one central purpose of each life described the answer to the riddle. If what you are doing isn’t supporting the central purpose of your life perhaps you need to take a more thoughtful look at how you’re spending your time. I don’t believe it’s as complex as it’s made out to be. I think the complexities come as a result of distraction or a perhaps a lack of alignment of what I know I should do and what I want to do. The more we are devoted to actualizing our purpose in our day to day living, the less confusion we feel right down to our daily tasks.


  5. Carmen

    Waste not the Life that has been given you, it is a most precious gift they whisper. And what is a Life? of what does it consist? Is it not what I chose to see and be, and feel, and do in each treasured moment, each day and night, sun to moon? this is my Life to be fully in the present with all of it’s glory. The wonder of existence can only be seen when the eyes are open.


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