Are you a person who believes that we create not only all the successes and good in our lives, but also all the bad events? When was the last time you heard something like this: "Look at it this way, when [bad thing, fill in the blank] happened to you, it was your higher self giving you a growth opportunity and life lesson!"
Consider the scenario Liz Phillips writes about in her blog, The Treacherous Terrain of Spiritual Utilitarianism Imagine that you, a person who considers yourself firmly on a fulfilling spiritual path, have just broken your leg in a freak accident. While recovering in the hospital, you are visited by someone who, up until now, has been a dear friend...
Your friend opens her mouth to comfort you and says, "It must be really hard to be dealing with this right now." She continues, with unnatural excitement, "You've given yourself such a wonderful soul growth opportunity!"
When you gawk at her with both incomprehension and a sinking feeling that perhaps you'd rather remain ignorant of her meaning, she simply plows ahead with the explanation you never had been waiting for, "See, before you were born, your soul chose all the lessons you were to learn in your lifetime. You chose to sign up for all sorts of traumatic experiences, including breaking your leg, so you could accelerate your spiritual development in this lifetime. Gosh, what a wonderful thing! Think of everything you can learn from it!" Wonderful?...
My daughter Liz goes on to ask: Did you choose before birth that you were going to break you leg? Does everyone choose what happens to them before birth? What about abuse or cancer survivors; what about survivors of genocide? Surely, assuming there's an afterlife, no soul would choose such a horrible experience willingly, no matter how sweeping the universal perspective might be. You think back to spiritual teaching you've heard in the past about the other side being full of light and unconditional love. Could anyone possessing unconditional love for themselves and all beings ever justify or permit atrocities to be done to themselves or others they love simply on the grounds of expedience? Talk about violence inherent in the system!
The above example describes a concept that is perhaps most popular in new age philosophy and spirituality, but is gaining supporters from people of spiritual backgrounds of all sorts. While this concept is most prevalent in new age thinking about reincarnation, it can appear in a slightly modified form in books or workshops on the law of attraction and manifestation by people who genuinely express their spirituality with heart and dedication.
The problem as I see it, is that the following is a true statement: A creative and optimistic person can retrospectively find something good/healing/perspective-altering that came out of a harrowing/negative/traumatic event in one's life, even if it is as simple as "I lived another day." Hindsight is 20/20.
But, because the statement really is true, some people now turn this around to say, "You chose that opportunity; you created your own reality," for the reason of this beneficial outcome you now see in hindsight. Now you don't have to be a victim anymore because you created the very circumstance that you are trying to make sense of. On top of this, it is then suggested that you will benefit from adopting this viewpoint so that you won't identify as a victim!
At the core, it's another form of victim blaming.
I wrote my dissertation on women who suffered terrible traumatic events who then became actively engaged in changing their world so that another mother would not have to go through the same tragic experience. We owe a lot of things we take for granted, like car seats, swimming pool covers, motorcycle helmets and drunk driving laws, to women who created meaning from a terrible event by doing something protective that helped other people.
I will never subscribe to the belief that these women willed the events and the tragedies in their families for the experience of their own soul's growth. I do believe that an essential part of being human is to learn from experiences and protect ourselves, our families and our communities. While amazing humans, like Victor Frankel, are beacons to our very highest selves, most of us will not face a holocaust from which we must then find meaning. But one cannot go through life for very long without loss, danger, injury and illness. We are all in need of compassion, from ourselves and from others. For me, this is a kind of "reincarnation". I am born again and again into another better self every minute I choose to live a more compassionate life. (Meb)
Good Grief. It's a term I use often without thinking much about it. One of those oxymora, like pretty ugly or virtual reality. Or, is it? Is there really such a thing as good grief?
Not long after my mother died in February, I was on a walk with a friend who asked if I had any thoughts on grief, if my recent experience had enlightened me. She had read the March newsletter that I had written and seemed disappointed that I hadn't said something more about it. It got me thinking. Do we allow ourselves to talk about grief enough? Do we feel that others are willing to engage in this conversation? Having lost her own mother not too long ago, my friend was willing to engage. "Do you have any regrets?" she wanted to know.
What is it about death, the finality of it that allows us to feel things we should have known all along? When I flew to the Bay Area for the first time after the funeral, it struck me harder than the day my mother died that she was no longer there. My usual phone call right after landing didn't need to happen. No enthusiastic voice on the other end of the line to welcome me. "Home," such as it is for any of us, felt permanently altered. No matter that our roles had flip-flopped long ago after my father died, I didn't appreciate how much she anchored my own sense of belonging and identity. As Janie's daughter, I was well-versed in the art of etiquette, the proper use of "I" and "me," and that to stand up and be counted is our greatest responsibility as human beings, whether it is to lend our time for a cause that needs our help or to speak up in the face of prejudice. If, in grieving, we recognize the indelible marks left upon us, the testament to a life well-lived, then in this recognition, perhaps you could call it "good grief."
Losing the second parent carries a particular sting. There is no older generation, no protective ceiling to shield you from your own mortality. If thirty years ago my father's death had the effect of scattering my four siblings and me to the winds, my mother's death had the opposite effect. In the days before and after her funeral we shared a generosity with each other that stands as a fitting tribute to legacy and love and here again, I can say "good grief."
My mother was a big believer in miracles and held steadfast to her own faith. Home for her had long ago been diminished when my father died and so when she asked that I pray that, "God would take her home," I know she saw her own death as a win-win. Maybe knowing this is also "good grief. (Katie)
Always a sucker for a sale, I am in the midst of a Week of Transformation, a special package at the gym I just joined. Now, every time I turn or walk or even breathe, I get a sharp reminder that although I exercise religiously, there are always muscles to enhance and strength to build.
It has made me look at things differently. I used to think of transformation as being explosive, kind of like the Transformer superheros my children once played with...you know Boom! something happens and suddenly you change course. Some transformations are like that: mother or fatherhood for example, with their responsibility for a new and helpless life. And with weddings all around us, we see the beautiful couples take their vows, full of promise and with anticipation of the multiplicity of changes that are in store.
Other transformations are ones we expect, either marked by decade birthdays or the passage of those dear to us; but the little things, like the sudden tweak of a new muscle, also deserve our attention. Too often we find ourselves only looking at the big transformations - the ugly ducking to the graceful swan. If it doesn't have pop, do we even take the time to notice it?
It has taken me years to recognize that transformation is more about paying attention: feeling at home in your body, slowing down, being present and relishing the gifts we find around us. It's also about recognizing the deepening bonds of selflessness, caring and support that we put into our relationships with others and with the world. These are the things that become truly transformative, in the steady stream of moments strung together in our lives...and in the epiphany that occurs when suddenly we recognize, I am different.
My aching muscles remind me that change always has to come from the inside. As Martha Stewart would say - and I would now agree- "That's a good thing!" (Joan)
I have been creating a garden lately, tearing out the old patio, gopher-proofing, and replanting for the drought. It's been a long time since I've had such pleasure digging in the dirt, enjoying the sun, the breeze and the sound of the birds. Like the ancients, who celebrated the seasons in Ephesus in honor of the goddess Demeter, I am celebrating, for I think the Spring in me has returned.
Along with the joy of planting and being in the nursery among living, beautiful things, I am also acutely aware of a true sense of loss. I am grateful for this respite in my life; having this space of time to plant also means time to feel things, think about things, assess the past and let go of what I cannot change. As I plant my nasturtium seeds, imagining how they will look in July, I think about how the juxtaposition of loss and death with growth and rebirth is so clearly a part of life. When I plant the new, I am aware of what went before and can never return. There is loss and grief associated with that. I tell myself that Life Truth and feel what was too hard, or too frightening, for me to feel before.
But the regret and grief doesn't stay. The woman I was then, when whatever happened, happened, deserves my love and respect. She was brave, she tried very hard, and she did her best.
I sometimes get up early now to hear the world wake up. Watching how the sun dispels the darkness underscores that I am alive for another day of possibility. My friend, Patty (the one who was really and truly hit by a bus), also reminds me that every day is a chance to live. My friend, Jack, is fighting cancer and is being reborn this moment with stem cells. And yesterday, I discovered this amazing young man while reading the Huffington Post on Religion. I was moved by his wisdom and ability to seize the moment. Shalin Shah's last wish, that people treasure life and see all the sunsets, has gone viral. You can read what he has to say at: http://www.huffingtonpost.
Like Shalin, we all have a bucket list - those things we hope to achieve or do before we die. But living our life purpose should be at the top of that list. And what I have come to understand and believe is that it is in living each moment that we fulfill our part in the unfolding of God's creation. So be present, be joyful and treasure the moment. Forgive who you were and love who you are, because right now, you are exactly where you are meant to be.
Much of the last several months I have spent on airplanes crisscrossing the country. From CA to MA, WY to FL, CO to NY, it has been a blessing and a privilege to spend so much time with my mom, mother-in-law and an assortment of others: a veritable feast of family, restoring our souls as well as frail bodies chilled by the harsh winter. I have gotten to see Spring reappear in all of its glory and felt the grace and restoration that comes with laughter, fresh air, beautiful scenery and a renewed outlook on life. Like most of us, I have experienced moments of frustration where my patience has worn thin, moments of anxiety about choices that are made and even moments of pain with yet another fractured bone in my foot. The faces of spring, a generosity of spirit and finding joy in the moment is where I have found life's small, yet powerful, miracles.
I wonder if perhaps I am finally on the road to understanding the notion of finding God in all things. This belief is at the root of the Ignatian spirituality I struggled with so many years ago as an undergraduate at BC. If so, Thank God, better late than never... (Joan)