For our own good

Sometimes the things we want aren’t good for us.

This message has come to me in various forms, from several different people, in the last couple of years.

I think it has to do with the way we want to see ourselves, and the difference between how we want things to be and how they really are. And maybe even the difference between who we want to be and who we really are.

For example, for a very long time I’ve wished I lived in a warmer climate. I imagine how much better I’d feel if it was warm year-round. And perhaps it’s true. I might feel fantastic.

It’s equally possible that I might not appreciate it the way I imagine I would. Now, I value each day of beautiful weather, because I know it won’t last. But if every day was perfect weather, I doubt it would have the same meaning for me. I probably wouldn’t spend as much time outside as I do now.

Another example would be having the desire for personal space, and the ability to make everything just the way you want it. What if, when you get exactly what you want, you find that you miss the company of others, and you would rather things be a little bit messier, but a little more lively? On the flip side, what if you’ve wished for years for companionship, and when it arrives, you realize how much you miss the quiet?

Over the years, I’ve learned that things in our lives are the way they are for a reason. It’s often an opportunity to learn something. If we can stop resisting what is, we may be more able to see how a current circumstance or situation can be an opportunity to grow.

What if everything is as it should be, right now?

Why ask why?

I’ve been reading Mira Kirshenbaum’s book Everything Happens for a Reason.  It’s a thoughtful exploration of how we assign meaning to events in our lives, particularly as to the way that challenging events give us opportunities to grow more fully into ourselves.

One of her key points is that the meaning is not in the event itself, but rather the meaning is within each of us. So, while two people might experience the unexpected loss of employment, they may each tell a different story about how that event was a catalyst for some sort of personal growth. According to Kirshenbaum, when we look for meaning in a life event, we can place it in one of ten categories/stories:

  1. To help you feel at home in the world
  2. To help you totally accept yourself
  3. To show you that you can let go of fear
  4. To bring you to the place where you can feel forgiveness
  5. To help you uncover your true hidden talent
  6. To give you what you need to find true love
  7. To help you become stronger
  8. To help you discover the play in life
  9. To show you how to live with a sense of mission
  10. To help you become a truly good person

Of course, the alternative is to believe that everything happens at random and nothing has any meaning, ever. In that paradigm, it’s easy to fall into despair and see ourselves as hapless victims in a series of events we have no control over.

While it’s true to a great extent that we can’t control what happens to us, what we can control is our response. If we allow the challenges we experience in life to shape us, to change us for the better, that says a great deal about the development of personal character.

To take it a step further, if we actively participate in the process by viewing these events as opportunities for growth, and we maximize the value of each in helping us become more fully who we really are, we may find a greater sense of peace within ourselves and a greater sense of purpose in our lives.

The play’s the thing…

All the world’s a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players:/ They have their exits and their entrances;/ And one man in his time plays many parts. – Shakespeare

There’s a belief common in spiritual practice that all the people who play important roles in our lives, from our parents, to our friends, to those who hurt us the most, signed up for their roles to teach us something that we came here to learn. And that those who love us the most are the ones who hurt us the most, because in being hurt we have the biggest opportunities to learn and grow.

And, when we exit, we will meet all of them again as their authentic selves, not in the role they played on the stage of our lives.

As a dear friend reminded me recently, we are all acting out plays that were written a long time ago. He was referring to our behavior patterns and thought patterns, which can become ingrained at an early age.

Except we forget that it’s a play. We get invested. We think it’s real. This is like believing the funhouse mirror shows us the real picture.

If our lives are pure fiction, what stories are we telling and re-telling? More to the point, what stories are we buying? And what stories are we re-living?

The challenge is to see the play for what it is. To recognize the players in our own mythology. The heroes. And the villains.

And the bigger challenge? To re-write the story and change the ending. To become the heroes of our own lives. To rescue ourselves instead of looking for someone else to do the heavy lifting.

We shall not cease from exploration/and the end of all our exploring/ will be to arrive where we started/and know the place for the first time. – T.S. Eliot