I’ve always struggled with the idea that everything happens for a reason. And when people would tell me that after a crisis or a tragedy, I did a whole lot more than struggle with that idea, I hated it. If everything happens for a reason, I thought, then the supreme being running the show must have a sick sense of humor. I imagined a version of God sitting on some cloud-like throne up above, pranking people and then howling with laughter as he yelled, “You just got Punked!” a la that old MTV show with Ashton Kutcher.
I grew up in a solidly southern-US Christian protestant home. This was the general mentality surrounding that cultural upbringing. Not the getting punked part, but the tossing your hands up in the air acceptance and faith that 1) everything happens for a reason and 2) what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
But for a long time, what didn’t kill me just made me angrier.
Buddhists have another version of this mentality. In certain Buddhist traditions, they believe that your spirit, which continually is reincarnated into new lives after death, chooses your parents at the time of your conception. They believe that your spirit chooses its new home, its new life, based on the lesson it most needs to learn and the parents that will most help your spirit get to that new enlightened destination.
Now that’s an interesting perspective. Not that I’m buddhist, but I have to admit, sometimes it makes a good point. And if you are a Christian, could that attitude not also apply to God? Say, for instance, that God chose your parents for you so that you could learn a lesson most crucial for your entrance into heaven? The idea could really apply to any religion.
That caveat aside, lets get back to my point. What if the reason things happen, the reason we get set on the path and the life that we are set on (whether you’re Christian or Buddhist or whatever), is not someone’s idea of a sick joke, but rather, our own, pre-birth search for our higher selves and the path that will best get us there?
Bearing this perspective in mind, a lot of things from my own life shift just slightly enough to make sense. They lighten just enough to be bearable so I can continue to carry them with me. Or perhaps, one day, set them down and let them go.
First of all, I love that, in this perspective, it means that my little sister chose to become part of my family. I love that it means that one day, my own future child will choose to become part of my family. I love that, instead of being angry with my parents, which can be so easy for any child anywhere to do for any reason, it means I chose them because I thought I could bring something special to them. And because my very essence believed they were the best teachers I could hope to find anywhere on the planet to help illuminate my way on the path.
This philosophy has also helped me to explore this idea, again, an idea that I’ve hated for so long, from another perspective. Everything that has happened has happened so that I may learn a deeper, more long-lasting, greater lesson that is far bigger than myself. The best way I can think to phrase it is by borrowing the words of Pema Chodron:
“It’s said that great suffering creates or brings great compassion. I’ve always been struck by this particular phrase because, more commonly, great suffering brings great bitterness, great anger, great wish for revenge, and great hardening. You can seize that moment: you can cherish that moment of pain, and rather than letting it harden you in the habitual way and create great suffering, that moment can create great compassion. Instead of hardening into revenge, you shed a tear, and you start going in the direction of love and kindness–for both yourself and others.”
Compassion. I see it now. That is my ultimate path in this life. Just to learn and know compassion. It’s hard, especially when someone cuts me off in traffic. For myself, most of all, compassion includes the compassion to forgive myself and the limitless flaws I could easily list about my own person, and compassion for others.
The way I see it, we have a choice. We can choose to harden. Or we can choose to soften. But research shows, and life experience shows, that only softening can really open us up to the wonderful things of life. And only compassion, true compassion for our hard experiences as human beings, can open us up to experiencing the true joy of life.
So have I changed my ways? Do I now believe that everything happens for a reason? No.
But how I make my peace with my experiences, with the horrible things that have happened to me, is through believing that perhaps some part of me chose this path so I could learn a greater truth: compassion.