Somehow, it seems we all grow up with ideas about how life “should be.” I believe that some of our ideas about life are based on our own early lives, both things that went well and things that went poorly. The truth is that no matter how worldly we are as children (or adults, for that matter), our experiences are limited. We know that whatever a child experiences at home is what they believe is normal. Children need to believe that their home is normal in order to feel safe, and so it’s often the case that our version of how life “should be” is less than ideal. That being said, our families of origin aren’t the only influence on our view of life. Depending on our experiences and our exposure to different influences, a number of factors contribute to that develop “image” of reality.
The truth is though, that no matter what the influences on us are, we all reach a day where life doesn’t coincide with our idea of how it “should be.” In fact, life does that to us more than once. We may not get the job we had hoped for or we lose the one we have, a relationship falls apart, someone receives a diagnosis, we total our car, the storm sewer backs up into our basement bringing the contents of the sanitary sewer with it, we notice our hairline receding, gravity takes effect – and a host of other things. Whatever it is that happens, we are confronted with something we did not believe would happen and need to make some choices.
Probably we feel that whatever has happened shouldn’t have happened to us. If that’s the case, we need to examine why we believe that to be true. Perhaps we think that we haven’t done anything to deserve our misfortune. If we stop and think for a moment, we will realize that we know other people who have had bad things happen that didn’t deserve them. For example, what child deserves a terminal diagnosis? This will lead us to consider the possibility our initial theory needs revising – but that can be very difficult if our belief is deeply seated. Most of us carry the belief that people who encounter misfortune have done something to deserve it – but when our experience doesn’t bear that out we must let go of that belief and consider other reasons for misfortune.
Of course, the most frightening possibility of all is that some of the bad – and good – things that happen to us have no reason at all. Of course, things like relationships falling apart always have a reason, though we may have a hard time identifying it. If we chain smoke, drink like a fish, eat only fried foods, never exercise, and eat the fat from everyone else’s pork chops we can be pretty sure we contributed to our first heart attack. On the other hand, I have seen people do everything right when it comes to diet and exercise and have early onset dementia or a cancer diagnosis at a young age.
When confronted with what seems to be uncertainty, religions and spirituality have offered reasons for misfortune – and they all fall short. Christians have at times said that sin was the cause – but we can all point to notorious sinners who don’t seem to have misfortune, and very straight laced people who do. Buddhism and Hinduism offer cause and effect, or Karma, and say that misdeeds from our past lives cause misfortune in our present life. The problem is that a theory that can’t be dis-proven isn’t much of a theory, and there is no explanation as to what the mechanism in the indefinite delay between cause and effect might be or who is the agent of the effect.
What if the truth is that shit happens? What if we are honest about a few things – first and foremost that we all get sick, age, and eventually die? What if we recognize that our atmosphere and geology work in such a way that storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, and a host of other natural events happen to release pressures that build up and if we have been either unfortunate or stupid enough to build homes in the wrong places we just might suffer the consequences of those events, truly for no other reason than we were in the wrong place at the wrong time? What if we recognized that sometimes shit does happen, and if we happen to be in the way we will be impacted, and that it’s truly nothing personal? If we did that, could we live with the uncertainty?
If we stated it more positively, might we be able to live with the fact that life is an adventure? Can we release our preconceptions, our beliefs, our biases, and whatever else we need to and look anew at life? If we did, we might realize that quite a few good things happen to us – things that we really did nothing to deserve. We might finally be able to move beyond the nonsensical belief that the poor did something to make them deserve poverty – AND that the rich did something to deserve their wealth. We might stop wasting our time trying to decide what happened to cause misfortune and redirect that energy toward deciding what to do next. After all, isn’t solving a problem more important than explaining it?
Can we live into the mystery?