“This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival… Be grateful for whatever comes. Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” ~Rumi
Yesterday my boyfriend’s father told me that he doesn’t believe that everything happens for a reason. He explained, “Where I can’t get on board is, if that’s true, then why do bad things happen to good people?”
It touches close to home for their entire family because not only does one of their sons’ girlfriends have a rare and terminal form of cancer, she met their son because he successfully removed a melanoma (a fast acting, lethal cancer).
His girlfriend is in her late twenties, and she’s one of the sweetest young women I know. While she beat it into remission last year, it’s just come back. She’s living with constant fatigue, a broken rib that won’t heal, and the harsh reality is that she could die.
His father and I began to connect over this age-old conundrum: Why do “bad” things happen to anyone—especially the kind-hearted, ourselves, or the ones we love?
Hundreds of thousands of years of religion, philosophy, and artistic expression have sought to grasp: why are we truly here and why is there suffering?
Certain chapters of my own life have seemed ruthless or even tragic as they were happening.
As a child, I was often disappointed by my father, a person in my life who I loved dearly and who disappeared on my birthdays and holidays. sometimes without so much as a call.
As a young adult, I learned that he battled his own demons with drugs, alcohol, and a traumatic past, which helped comfort me for why he wasn’t around when I was a child, but it broke my heart in a different way. I have often asked myself, “Why is there so much pain in the world?”
Asking this question led me to realize it was more about my own pain within. My suffering drove me to search for happiness and freedom within myself. In fact, it’s been through the most challenging and darkest experiences that I’ve cultivated the greatest connection with the light of my heart.
Have you ever heard how when someone has a near-death experience, they begin to realize what’s truly important to them in their lives? It’s said they often begin spending time with the ones they love, and ticking off items from their bucket list to do what they love.
A really dark experience can be like a metaphorical near-death experience. Through the most painful life circumstances, I’ve discovered what’s most important to me.
I’ve realized what’s most important for me is feeling free to do what I love, write, speak what is true from my heart, and cultivate a deep connection with love inside and outside myself.
With love as my intention, I’ve overcome circumstantial challenges to realize that connection, authenticity, and freedom doesn’t depend on what happens in your life as much as how you respond to what happens.
But how do you overcome challenging life-circumstances rather than falling victim to them?
The question I ask myself in times of resistance is:
“How is this supporting me?”
Not everyone believes that certain things are “meant to be,” but opening yourself to how a negatively perceived experience could be supporting you is a powerful way to stop resisting what is and create space for acceptance.
When you fall into a state of acceptance, you naturally connect with your being-ness: the now.
When you are truly in the now, this present moment, is there ever anything actually wrong?
Rumi must have known this about non-resistance, as his words remind the world to embrace everything that happens as a gift, a gift to support you.
If you want an end to pain, resist nothing you feel in the present moment. When you open your heart to feeling, rather than responding with “why” or “why me?” you have a great opportunity to transform your circumstances into your destiny.
Difficulty and challenge aren’t inherently bad. The difficulty of running that marathon, working to chase your dreams, or overcoming challenges—including the failures and disappointments—aren’t they part of the stuff that makes our lives meaningful?
While it may be easier to say this about marathons and dreams than to say it to the little girl who felt more and more betrayed by life with each birthday missed by a father who seemed to cause a hole in her heart, or to the young woman who perceives to be losing her dreams because of a debilitating illness, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a purpose in what is being experienced.
It’s not for me to understand why she is facing this twist in her life story, or what’s true about circumstances that have touched the lives of your family, friends, or those who you feel connected with during tragedies that may hit another part of the world.
I can only say that by embracing every emotion caused by my own life stories, every perceived tragedy, and asking life with an open heart, “How is this supporting me?” I’ve reached acceptance and neutralized my own judgments time and time again.
I have spent a lot of time reminding myself, “This is how I’ve asked it to be, so what is it trying to teach me?”
Sometimes the answer was just to feel helpless, to let go of control, cultivate patience, know a deeper compassion, or just realize that no matter what, I love my father, despite the role that he has played in my life.
I love life, despite the challenges I face.
I’ve learned to keep my heart open to feel. And now I’m not so afraid of feeling. It is through feeling the depth of all my pain that I’ve created more space for love—and now I just feel more alive.
So why do “bad” things happen to “good” people?
When you stop resisting, start feeling, and ask how life is supporting you, you get out of your own way. This is what it means to surrender. And from seeing life that way, bad things stop happening; or rather, it’s not that “bad” things stop happening, you just stop seeing them as such.
For example, if I hadn’t experienced so much pain and suffering in my life, I would have never gone on a journey to connect with my heart at such a deep level.
How can I label pain and suffering as “bad” after realizing it’s what has supported me to expand, to experience more intimacy and love, and become more authentic? True acceptance subtly transforms “bad” into “meant to be” and slowly life naturally becomes less painful and more fun.
The truth is, life doesn’t always give you what you think you want; life gives you what’s perfect. But perfection only becomes your experience depending on how you choose to respond to what happens.
Did Nelson Mandela stop believing in a vision of freedom in jail? No. Do you think Mandela would have felt free stifling what he felt so strongly on the inside even if it kept him outside of jail? In fact, do you feel it’s possible Mandela felt freer even within the confines of that prison cell? Why would that be true? Because he was free in his heart.
He transformed his circumstances into his destiny, and he transformed the world. He was just a man; he is no different from you or me. He chose to transform his circumstances into his destiny.
Freedom and happiness have nothing to do with your circumstances, and everything to do with your level of connection with the truth that you feel in your soul and express to the world.
As my boyfriends’ father and I sat there, he said in an afterthought, “I suppose if that kind of disease happened to me, I would just do my best to stand up as a living example to my children of how to face such an experience with ease and grace, so they would also know that it’s possible.”
And isn’t that all anyone can do, face our own individual challenges with as much ease and grace to discover what we’re meant to do: be our selves, follow our destiny, and realize what’s truly important—love.
For when you transform what happens “to you” into your life destiny, you become the change you wish to see in the world.
Photo by Mitya Ku