I keep thinking about John Shanley's lines from my previous post.
Each of us is like a planet. There's the crust, which seems eternal. We are confident about who we are. If you ask, we can readily describe our current state…Your answers are your current topography, seemingly permanent, but deceptively so.
Doubt is a recognition that personal earthquakes happen. Magma can erupt at any moment. Continents shift. Fast, not requiring eons to reshuffle the contours of our existence.
Yet each of us erects belief structures upon this unstable ground. We're drawn to do so by the same natural forces that cause the tectonic shifts.
Such is the universe's yin and yang. Creation and destruction. Light and darkness. Order and chaos.
To only doubt…that way lies madness, indecision, depression, suicide. To only believe…that way lies fundamentalism, rigidity, closed-mindedness, unreality.
There must be a middle way. Not in the Buddhist sense, necessarily. But something like that. A way of living that melds confidence in what we know and experience now with a sense, This could change in the next instant.
Not only "could." Will. This will change in the next instant. Life is constantly demolishing my expectations, my understandings, my supremely confident belief that I've got things figured out.
Last night I realized that Outlook wasn't keeping up with my email message typing. I had to repeatedly press the space bar to make distinct words ratherthanrunonletterslikethis.
Amazingly (in retrospect), I jumped to the conclusion that it was an Outlook 2007 problem. I fired up Google, typed in "Outlook slow typing" and found countless complaints about this Microsoft offering not keeping up with fingers on a keyboard.
It was so obvious.
And became more obvious the more I thought about it. Until, after I'd tried some of the suggested software fixes, finding no effect, a disturbance broke through my encrusted mind: "It's the spacebar, stupid."
And so it was.
A few minutes of "sticky spacebar" Googling later, I'd pried off the plastic cover and finished cleaning the mechanism with some WD 40 soaked Q-tips. Back to normal now. Thank you, doubt, for breaking up my unsupported certainty.
Last week, while vacationing in central Oregon, I bought "The Ruins" at the Paulina Springs Bookstore. I felt like reading a good horror story, and the cover of the book featured a to-die-for (if you're the author) blurb from Stephen King:
"The best horror novel of the new century."
From the first page I struggled to put the book down. I was sucked into an unrelenting tale of good intentions gone awry, of people making choices that seem utterly right to them and turn out to be utterly wrong, of young people who had their lives ahead of them until a sinister force appears with a different notion.
I was surprised by how much I liked entering a fictional realm where you know (or at least deeply suspect) that nothing is going to turn out to be likable.
Scott Smith, the author, skillfully led me into the psyches of the characters. Along with them, in my imagination I struggled to deal with a situation that starts off as worrisome, evolves into something bad, and goes steeply downhill from there.
"The Ruins" was an antithesis to the spiritual books that are my usual reading fare. I found myself resonating with a worldview in which no matter how deep a person digs for courage, compassion, understanding, and truth, that effort is going to be undercut by an uncaring corner of the cosmos.
Well, not just uncaring. Evil. Uncaring would have been a godsend for these visitors to a Mayan jungle. They had to deal with an actively malevolent force.
Which I don't believe exists. My bet is that the universe has a "humans, shumans" non-attitude towards us. It doesn't give a shit about our existence because it doesn't give a shit about anything. Including itself.
So when those tectonic shifts happen, there's no reason for me to take them personally. They shake up my certainty with a powerful earthquake of doubt, but I can't assume there's any purpose behind it all – though I'd like it if I were the epicenter of some divinity's concern.
In "The Ruins," meaning (or meaninglessness) comes from within. Nobody or nothing is going to save you. What you make of the horrifying and horrible situation is up to you. A paragraph from near the end:
She thought briefly about praying – for what, forgiveness? – only to realize she had no one to pray to. She didn't believe in God. All her life she'd been saying that, instinctively, unthinkingly, but now, for the first time – about to do what she was about to do – she could look inside and claim the words with total assurance. She didn't believe.