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The Combination to the Safe

The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination, but the combination is locked up in the safe. —Peter De Vries

Some years ago a close friend of mine died. He had a will that clearly specified how his property should be distributed and who should be the executor, and the named executor, also a close friend of mine, had a copy of the will. The problem was that the only original copy of the will was locked in his safe deposit box at the bank, and without my friend having been officially appointed executor, we could not get into the safe deposit box. But my friend couldn’t be officially appointed executor without the original copy of the will. It was a Catch-22. It turns out there is a court process for just this situation, though, and while it was cumbersome, we did it and were ultimately able to get into the box, get the will, and get through the probate process.

Unfortunately, there is no court process for accessing the combination that unlocks the ultimate truth of the universe and answers all our questions—What is this place? How did we get here? How did everything get here? What’s the point of our lives? What happens after we die? Why do bad things happen to good people? How can we live contented lives in the face of so much darkness?

I once asked my very wise teacher Sharon a question like this, and she told me it was a “transcendental” question, meaning that the answer cannot be found using the mind. She said that even if she were able to articulate an answer to the question, I would not be able to comprehend it, because I was trying to “figure it out” the way I have been figuring things out my whole life—through my mind—and our minds are not designed to understand things at this level. She said that this type of question can only be answered through practice—that is, you do your meditation or yoga or other spiritual practice, and in time, the answers become clear, or perhaps the questions change or even fall away. However it works, the clarity that is possible and that we ultimately desire comes through practice, not through study or mental contemplation. In once sense, it was a disappointing response, because I really wanted to know the answer, but in another sense, it was motivating and energizing: If I did enough practice, I would know the things I really wanted to know. And as I move deeper into my practice, I can see that she was right.

And this is true even for someone who is not concerned with grand spiritual questions. Any time we face a difficult question, a dilemma, or a quandary, our minds can only take us so far, but for the most favorable resolution, we need to find the wisdom that lies inside. At times we can access that wisdom relatively easily, but at times it proves elusive. Some form of practice can expand our access and our confidence that we’ve gotten it right.

The answers to our deepest questions lie locked in a cosmic safe, and practice is the means of cracking the combination.

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