October 19, 2016
This is a question I am asked with frequency.
For instance, I have a client Jane who is going through a very painful separation from her husband. As she is sitting in a lot of emotional turmoil, feeling rejected, alone, and despair, amongst a host of other not-so-fun emotions, she painfully asks, “Why is this happening?”
I find a lot of times when this question is posed, we look to the past to answer it. Attempts to find meaning in our pain often looks to point out its source. It makes sense why – the idea is to trace back the steps that led up to this event, so we can either have somewhere to focus our anger and our blame, and/or so we can take measures to ensure those exact steps never happen again.
Neither of those ultimately work. If we find somewhere to focus our anger and our blame, it runs the risk of unfairly cementing them, and not actually resolving them. If someone else is to blame, we will remain in fear or victimhood and not the empowered place of self-reflection and ultimately forgiveness.
Similarly, if we discover every single specific step taken ahead of whatever event is causing us turmoil, there is no guarantee it won’t happen again. We need to learn from our past mistakes, but things will never happen exactly the same in the future. Certain themes or patterns may play out again, but as the future is always unfolding, we will never know exactly what will happen next. Rest assured that things that are pleasurable and not (and all colors in between) will happen again, and they will look different from what has unfolded in the past.
So what if instead we consider the question “Why?” about now and about the future? What if we all have the control to create the answer to that question?
Perhaps Jane is going through this because in this process, she is able to gain some deeper self-awareness, courage, and her path will lead her to deeper and more fulfilling love. Perhaps through this she will learn incredible self trust and reinforce her resolve and personal power. I don’t know, even as an outside observer. That has not been determined yet.
For the mind, which begs to solve the problem and have an answer, the real rough part is that we are not able to see the Why until the event is well in our rear-view mirror. And it will only spin its wheels in the mud of victimhood as it repeats the question.
When I was 19, I went whitewater rafting with my family on a trip to Costa Rica. I ended up falling overboard and got stuck in an eddy. Despite my repeated efforts to swim to safety, I was continually pulled back down underwater. For what felt like an eternity, it was the most primally scary times of my life.
I ended up safe and sound without any physical repercussions, not even a scratch, though I was deeply emotionally upended. My life was suddenly turned upside-down as I was left with some deep, troubling questions and realizations about how I was relating to myself, my family, and what some of my core beliefs were.
If you asked me in the days following I would have no idea how to begin to formulate and answer to “Why did that happen?” Not as if I didn’t try, of course. More than anything, I felt lost.
What happened in the following months, though, was that I picked up my first books on Buddhism and Zen. I started exploring meditation and qi gong. Those harrowing minutes in the water changed the course of my life, and were some of the first steps to get to where I am now.
Here I am 18 years later with a good grasp on the Why of that event. I understand the circumstances and choices that led up to it, but more importantly, I see how I chose to change my life as a result.
I will encourage you, reader, to consider which direction you are facing when asking the question, “Why did this happen?” and consider that maybe you get to create the answer to that yourself.