I have a love-hate relationship with the concept of “everything happens for a reason.”
For one thing, I have no clue if it’s true. I definitely think things happen for reasons–an endless parade of dominos that we can’t map in its entirety, no matter how hard we try–but sometimes, maybe even often, I’m skeptical that they’re happening for A Reason.
I suppose that speaks to my POV on life in general. I’m not convinced that anything, in and of itself, possesses meaning. (Value, yes. Meaning, no.)
For instance, from where I’m writing, I can see a big rock in my front yard. What does that rock mean? Even as an animist who thoroughly believes the rock has a consciousness all its own, that question doesn’t make sense to me. What do you mean, what does it mean? It’s a rock. It just is.
The same feels true about myself. What do I, as a person, mean? I dunno. I just am.
So while I’m unconvinced (currently–who knows, this could change) that things possess intrinsic meaning, I absolutely believe that we humans possess the ability to create meaning, and perhaps this is even part of our spiritual role in the great chain of being.
This is both a blessing and a curse, this double-edged sword of meaning-making.
One afternoon, I watched from my writing window as a neighbor’s dog hopped up on that big rock and proceeded to take a big dump. The dog’s human stood by impassively, the dog completed its business, and then the two of them mosied off down the sidewalk with nary a care in the world.
What meaning did I make of this?
Well, dear reader, by the time the rant volcano in my mind had finished spewing molten vitriol over the four corners of the earth (“The audacity!”), my neighbor had ceased to be a mere mortal with regrettable shortcomings. No, my neighbor had, in this moment, revealed their true nature, which I can roughly express as follows:
And then, guess what?
Ten minutes later the neighbor returned, sans pup, with a bag in hand, and proceeded to clean up the offending pile. They’d just forgotten to bring a bag.
That sword is sharp, isn’t it?
Okay, so what if they hadn’t come back, though? What if they’d gone about their day and didn’t give my shat-upon rock a second thought? Would that mean they’re a soul-sucking clump of demon hair-flesh?
What if they were having a really bad day? Maybe they’d gotten into a fight with their partner and stubbed their toe on the way out while reading a passive-aggressive text from their mom, and amidst all the turmoil, they forgot to bring poop bags.
Or what if they were having the best day ever? Maybe they’d just gotten a promotion and their crush asked them out and the way the trees are backlit by the setting sun is just so beautiful they can hardly stand it, and amidst all the joy, they forgot to bring poop bags.
The point is, short of marching out there and demanding an explanation, I have no idea what the reason was.
How much of life is like this? We’re only seeing a mere sliver of the narrative, but our minds jump to fill in the remaining seventy-five million blanks with what we’ve already experienced in the past.
Our brains are really, really good at doing this–filling in the blanks, even if this leads to misunderstandings or holy faces on toast–and it’s hard to swim against this wired-in tide.
So what if, instead of fighting against it, we used our mind’s tendency toward meaning-making for good?
Here’s where I actually love “everything happens for a reason.”
If I choose to view life events as having something to teach me, I can be utterly changed by the simplest of things. I don’t have to go on a week-long retreat in the Himalayas (although, hey, that sounds nice, too) to align more fully with my best self.
A dog pooping on a rock will do the trick, should I choose to let it.
When the owner came back to clean up, perhaps the meaning I make from this is, “Wow, I really jumped to conclusions there, and not only did it make me see the world as a cold and antagonistic place, it drove my stress levels through the stratosphere. Maybe this is a sign to try being more curious.”
And if the owner never came back, I still get to choose what meaning I make.
Maybe I give myself space to feel my feelings, because I’ve learned that bottling them up only causes them to persist and multiply.
And then, in the growing calm that follows, I find myself thinking…
“Huh. Remember that time in my teens when I was dog walking on the beach in Evanston, and I forgot to bring poop bags and tried to sneak off without cleaning up? And then the cop, who I hadn’t even seen parked under that tree, used his megaphone to broadcast to the entire friggin’ beach, ‘Hey you! Pick up your dog’s poop!’ and I had to dig through the old-food-filled trash can to find a used 7 Eleven cup to scoop it up while everyone and their cute brother watched? Yeah. That was embarrassing AF.”
And then I find myself laughing over this mortifying memory, and I feel compassion welling up for myself…and for my neighbor.
We humans don’t always act impeccably. We make mistakes. We get careless. We can be lazy. We forget the poop bags at home.
Hopefully we try to do better next time and make amends when possible, but nobody’s perfect, and not being perfect isn’t evidence that we’re balls of flesh-fused demon sludge. It’s just proof that we’re human. Like everybody else.
And in this way, our foibles, our mistakes and our cruelties, our short sightedness and at times selfishness links us to one another. We all have shit to work through.
We’re all putting one foot in front of the other, hoping to be someone we’re proud of at the end of the day, even if it doesn’t look like it from the outside. Even if we look like a schmuck who never remembers the poop bags.
My 2023 mantra is “Huh, I wonder what else is true?” whether in relation to my own stuff or someone else’s.
That person is such a demonic hairball!!
Huh, I wonder what else is true?
I will never ever capture the full nuance of these ideas in writing, and I am destined for a lifetime of barely scratching the surface until I die of artistic dissatisfaction.
Huh, I wonder what else is true? (Also, melodramatic much?)
To aid in this routine-jostling, curiosity-cultivating outlook, I want to end with a tarot card, the Page of Cups.
I love this image. The young figure, smiling and bright eyed, has dipped their chalice into the ocean and come up with a gem-blue fish bearing a message. And what is the fish’s message? Who knows! IT COULD BE ANYTHING.
What sorts of messages do fish normally bring? Hmm, well, the last time I dipped a cup into the ocean and retrieved an oracular fish was…never. This is so far outside our ordinary experience we can’t reach for well-worn predictions while 98% of our attention is on our phone.
We have to remain open to ANYTHING. We have to shake off the haze of autopilot and slow down, pay attention, lean in. We have to create cracks in the old for the magic to seep in.
In this state of radical openness, the world is so abundant–it’s endlessly showering us with gifts, far too many to count.
A sunset so dazzling we remember what it feels like to fall in love.
A heartfelt smile from a stranger that has us flushed with unexpected connection.
The lightning zap of inspiration that fills us with giddy, tingling excitement.
A moment of profoundly enveloping stillness as we wait for the coffee to brew.
You never know what the message might be or what meanings can be made, and with every new meaning you explore, you’re discovering aspects of yourself. You’re forging new pathways of possibility instead of carving the grooves even deeper.
Instead of Input A always meaning X, who knows what the fish might whisper in your ear?
Let’s allow 2023 to be the year where we lean in, where we listen more closely…and where we ask ourselves, “Huh, I wonder what else is true?”
Happy New Year.
P.S. Did you do your year-ahead tarot spread yet? Get step-by-step instructions.