I can’t say that I’ve experienced Zen’s Great Doubt. Or the Dark Night of St. John of the Cross. But I do know what it’s like to lose my keys. I’m hoping that this was a message from God. Or at least the Key Fairy.
Last Thursday afternoon I started to rush out the door, semi-late as usual, to drive to my martial arts class. I reached into my hip bag for my keys and found…nothing. Now, this lack of finding pretty much describes my daily search for my soul in meditation.
But the difference is that earlier in the day I’d had my keys in hand, so I knew that I’d lost something. Never having found my soul, so far as I can tell, I’m not bothered when it doesn’t turn up.
I was seriously irked, though, when I dashed around the house, looking in the usual suspect places for my keys, and came up empty. I remembered that in the morning I’d carried them out to the carport, thinking that I needed to move the Prius in order to get the mower out of the garage.
However, Laurel had driven the car into town. So I recalled that I’d gone back into the house to hydrate before tackling some field mowing and had left the keys inside. No doubt about it. Absolutely. For sure.
Which made it all the more irksome to be running around the house in circles, aware that I was increasingly late for my class, certain that if I looked here or there just one more time the keys would magically appear, because I was certain that they were somewhere inside and I couldn’t believe—refused to believe—that I wouldn’t be able to find them.
Until the realization hit me that I could either have the keys lost and completely miss my class, or have the keys lost while I enjoyed the portion of the class that I could still attend if I left right now. So, I dug up spare house and car keys. And left immersed in a mystery.
Driving to Salem I was mildly pleased that I’d been able to accept my lost condition. Part of me had wanted to stay home and search for the damn keys until I found them, because having lost them when I was sure that they couldn’t be lost was driving me crazy.
However, a saner part of me was saying , “Chill out, brother. You can look for them later. Now they’re lost. Later they’ll probably be found. And even if they aren’t, is that the end of the world?”
It turned out that Warren and Dave, my martial arts classmates, hadn’t even started by the time I got there. I told them my lost keys story. Warren responded with a lost key tale of his own. His involved looking all over the neighborhood, and then finding them close to where he began his search.
That story seemed to have some spiritual significance. I hoped mine would too. And, indeed, I believe it does. For my intuition was correct when I told Warren and Dave, “I suspect that it’s going to turn out that Laurel is behind my lost keys.”
When in doubt, blame the wife. Seemed reasonable at the time.
And even more reasonable when I got home, walked into the living room, and saw a note on the rug. With my keys sitting next to it! “We need to exchange our keys,” Laurel had sweetly written.
“What the hell!” I not so sweetly screamed. “I spent fifteen minutes looking for my keys, and you had them! What's this about an exchange? I don't have yours!”
It turned out that I’d dropped my keys in the hallway, just as I had thought. Laurel had forgotten that she’d put her own keys in a gym bag. So when she looked in her purse and couldn’t find them, she glanced around, saw my keys, and figured that they were hers.
The lesson here—and this is where I find (or manufacture) some mystical meaning to all this—is that there was no way I was ever going to find my car keys the way I’d been going about it. I could have looked fruitlessly for hours, because my assumption that they must be where I had left them was wrong.
Likewise, people think that divinity can be found by following the instructions of a holy book or holy person. “Look here, do this, and bingo, you’ll find your soul.” Or God.
I doubt it. The most believable descriptions of enlightenment, satori, or God-realization—whatever you want to call it—are that it comes unexpectedly out of the blue, swoop! You can’t anticipate from which direction, or in what manner, because the Ultimate isn’t bound by directions. Or manners.
Anyway, I now have an increased confidence in the value of letting things stay lost when they can’t be found. Like keys. And souls. And God. Frantic searching doesn’t help if you’re looking in the wrong fashion.
It’s better to wait and trust that what has been lost will be found. The cosmos has a way of revealing itself. But on its own terms, not ours. I like to think that one day each of us will return to our spiritual home and say, just as I did, “Ah, finally. This is what I’ve been looking for.”