For me, (and am sure for many others), 2021 was tough.
It started with the hope that we can get over the effects of 2020 but those seemed to extend through 2021 too.
It also seems so many people were just angry – at all types of things.
There are many small voices with loud microphones creating distracting and dispiriting noises.
Add to this noise; many challenging, long term consulting assignments around client’s personal loss, relationship break-ups, depression and worse, and observing events around the world regarding covid; deaths through civil unrest; social and economic disruptions caused through climatic change; business failures, bankruptcies…2021 left me wondering the fundamental question – why?
Why does a loving father take his own life leaving his partner and children to carry on alone?
Why does an estranged partner take the lives of his wife and children; Why after investing their lives into a small business, does it then fail because borders closed overnight?
Why after 35 years of marriage, does one partner decide it’s over; Why does a three-year-old daughter become struck down with life-threatening cancer resulting in at least two years of invasive chemotherapy?
Why is there so much loneliness in the world? Why do people suffer wondering where their next paycheque will come from?
Why? Why? Why?
Why do these terrible things happen – and mostly to good, innocent people just going about their daily lives trying to do and be the best they possibly can? If there is a caring spiritual force looking over us, then that force is either very angry with us or not doing a very good job!
Painful trials are fertile ground for the seeds of doubt. And boy, haven’t we all experienced painful trials in our lives, especially over the last 24 months.
Seeds of doubt undermine our own confidence, our wellbeing and emotional adaptability.
I remember reading a book about life transitions where it predicts that each of us will experience at least 36 painful trials in our adult life, at an average of one every 12 to 18 months, and three to five “lifequakes”, events that are truly disorientating with an average duration of around five years.
Is it any wonder our faith and beliefs get shaken? Besides curling up and hoping it all goes away, what can we do?
The first image that comes to my mind in answering this is the image of an elephant and a monkey.
There are many versions of this story, but my simple interpretation is that the monkey makes a lot of noise, likes being the centre of attention and thinks it’s in charge.
The elephant, on the other hand, moves slowly but purposefully, remembers embodied knowledge for its entire life, communicates without making sound, and goes where it wants to go – regardless of the monkey’s efforts.
We are the monkey – but the elephant is the universe. The universe is truly the one in charge.
Do you trust the universe?
I do! I also trust in the goodness and the intent of the universe.
While what may be happening right now may not be to my liking, I do trust there is a bigger picture.
That doesn’t mean I surrender everything to another source.
I still have to turn up and put in.
As the late great Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said “Sometimes you find
yourself the only one in the room and you have to turn up and make it happen” – how true!
So, the first answer to my question is trust. But gee, in the face of life’s painful trials, that’s challenging.
Another answer revolves around our concept of fairness. When my brother died, I can remember discussing his life with a friend when the
sentiment of “it’s just not fair” came up. At the time, in my grief, I agreed.
Now on reflection (and with no doubt the process of time), I would say – “What’s fair?”, “Why not my brother?” and for that matter, “Why not me?”
Life’s not fair – life is full of many painful trials.
This all comes back to your view of your life and the role the universe plays in it.
I don’t believe our life is meant to be perfect or ideal.
That view of life is dangerous – it leads to disappointment, a sense of unfulfilled expectations and then anxiety, depression, and other forms of dysfunctional behaviours.
The role of the universe is not to stop bad things from happening.
After all, experiencing these painful trials is where growth occurs. Rather, I think the role of the universe is to be an ever-present force – a gentle force that surrounds us seeks to comfort us, and give us strategies to cope with these painful trials.
I don’t believe the universe, God or any other spiritual reference point neither causes bad things to happen nor prevents them.
The rain falls on the just as well as the unjust. The universe does not interfere with the natural consequences of cause and effect.
The universe stands with us but does not stand in our way.
The other solution to this “why” question is that bad things do happen.
I think there is a belief that if I live a good life and “do good”, nothing bad will happen.
I don’t think this could be further from the truth, and the more we hang onto this belief – consciously or not, the more dysfunctional is our response.
Have you ever noticed that when bad things happen, we need to find out why?
We need a reason, someone to blame, and we need to justify it – the old “they had it coming to them!”.
And until we find that purpose/reason/ person, we won’t be satisfied – leading to years of sorrow, ill-feeling, missed friendships and wasted energy on revenge.
What would happen if there was no rhyme or reason?
Acceptance is one of the first steps for
healing. It is hard to do – especially if you
want to blame someone – but imagine how empowering that release for the need to know why is?
Another way to answer the “why” is to look for the positives.
This is a challenge when you’re in the pits of pain and a sense of loss.
We know there must be some positives at a rational level, but probably not then and there.
Maybe the way to handle this is to accept life is a mystery and accept that there are reasons why bad things happen, and those reasons are not always known to us.
Another solution to finding the “why” is deeply examining our view of life and looking deeply into our values and beliefs.
We would all like a world that is predictable, manageable, and under control – one that abides by our own rules.
We want a universe on our terms – and unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen.
I was recently given the imagery of people in Papua New Guinea rowing a boat, carrying religious folk to a coming-of-age ceremony.
The weather turned, and the boat looked in peril of being swamped.
The religious people started to pray and prepare for death while the local people rowing the boat just kept going.
They later reflected that the religious folk’s faith was based on a “solid, dry ground, safe terrain” version whilst the locals’ view was based on an all-weather,
multi-terrain view – taking these painful trials as they come.
Great imaginary isn’t it!?
I can’t answer the “why” as to so why bad things happen and I must confess I’ve given up trying.
But what I can do, and I urge you to do the same, is to walk with people through these painful trials, to address the seeds of doubt, and allow growth. In that way, you will transform yourself, and I suspect transform others.