This is how the Internet works:
Somebody in Kentucky finds one of my columns and asks to reprint it in a newsletter. Our email exchange begins a dialogue ‑ in this case, on Buddhism, on‑line spirituality, and how the world works ‑ and in one of her exchanges, my email pal says, “I have a friend, Jim Ferguson, and this is Ferg’s Law:
When everything can go right, it will, and at the best possible moment.”
If that’s how computer networks work, that’s how life works too. Too many bugs or breakdowns or glitches can obscure the bigger picture, that a vast complex network pretty much works pretty much most of the time.
We are pulled in different directions by conflicting evidence. Jokes abound about differences between optimists and pessimists. But this is deeper than that. This is about the tentative conclusions on which we base the way we live our lives. If the evidence were simple, our decisions would be simple too.
This weekend I am in Iowa for a family funeral. It was funeral weather, overcast and cold. We walked through snow to a hole in the ground and stood shivering in the zero wind as final good‑byes were said. I have attended dozens, no, hundreds of funerals, and always there is a desire for some sign from beyond the grave. And always there is silence, the answer to our questions is silence, and finally the silence becomes the question to which we must discover our own answers.
Do you ever get sick and tired of the negativity, the whining and complaining about the Internet, computer technology, and where the world is headed? Negativity is a mode of control, a way to try to make people, places, and things fit into a manageable box that we can sit on or manipulate.
I guess we need to live within safe boundaries.
I was diving once in an isolated bay on Maui, far beyond Kapalua, where tourists seldom venture. I was swimming out over the dark corrugated texture of the reef. Toward the mouth of the bay and the open ocean, curtains of blue and deeper blue shimmered in the distance. Suddenly the reef ended and the drop below me was hundreds of feet to a sand bottom. I felt the loss of safety represented by the reef but kept swimming. Then, beyond the curtains of deep blue something moved, something large and dark, so large I didn’t know what it was, and the next moment it was gone.
I turned and swam back toward the reef. Once I was over the coral again, fear of that unknown dark form disappeared. The reef represented the safe harbor we are always seeking, while the open water with its unknown possibilities was the invitation of life itself.
It is time to leave our comfortable rooms, the poet Rilke wrote, every corner of which we know, and venture forth into eternity.
Web sites work best that lead us by easy stages from accessible text or images into the complexity of information patterned beyond our comprehension. Our thinking too leads by degrees of precision from simple manageable truths to the highest level of insight.
When the Buddha became concerned that his teaching was at a depth most people would miss, he began salting his stories with “sandbox stuff,” the elementary truths we need to remember: Don’t hit. Be gentle and respectful. Don’t take other people’s stuff.
Murphy’s law is a true description of life at the lowest level of insight. Things that can go wrong usually do; the tendency to break down seems to be woven into the fabric of all of our projects and woven as well in stars that explode and galaxies that disintegrate. The myth of heat death articulated by physicists, our current high priests of cosmology, turns the silence of the grave into the silence of the universe.
Standing at the grave, I remember a friend, an artist named Jim. He called me from the hospital to say he was dying, but before I could visit, he checked out for a final European trip with his mother and sister. In a tourist hotel in London he lay down and died. They shipped his body back home for burial.
The following week I was discussing plans for a memorial service with his companion. Now, Jim always had long wild hair, shoulder‑length hair, in keeping with his artist image. As I spoke with his companion, there suddenly emerged on the edge of my consciousness like a stained glass window brightening as the sun came out from behind a cloud Jim’s face, and it stayed there, unlike a memory, as the conversation continued. But for whatever reason, his hair was very short.
Then he faded, and moments later, his friend mentioned that ‑ to please his mother’s conventional sensibility ‑ he had cut off all his hair before leaving on that trip.
We can explain that event at any level of precision, but whatever our interpretation, something emerged in my consciousness that told a more precise truth than we usually know how to tell.
Negativity is a way to build a dark familiar reef under our swimming selves. The ultimate source of negativity is a lack of courage and a need to make the darkness safe, rather than risk the open water.
At the graveside ‑ and we are always at the graveside ‑‑ the powerful compression of grief tunes our awareness to what matters most. We surrender to the truth that is always there, but buried, our deep longing for forgiveness and mutual forbearance, our desire to surrender the need to be rigid or right. The readiness is everything, and during those moments of exquisite timing ‑ tolled by a clock that ticks to a different rhythm ‑ we know that when everything can go right, it will, at the best possible moment. We weep, and we embrace one another. The universe is gregarious and welcoming. We are built to live in space that is gateless, unbounded, free.