Being Open to Experience

"That some good can be derived from every event is a better proposition than that everything happens for the best, which it assuredly does not. "
James K. Feibleman

As the credit card ad used to say, “Life comes at you fast.” We don’t get to pick all of our experiences. Life will give us some that are nice, and some that are not so nice, some that are easy and some that are hard. The difference is partly in the nature of the events and partly in how we respond to them. We naturally want to avoid accidents, natural disasters, illness, and death, but the way we handle them when they occur makes all the difference. It is possible to spoil every experience, good or bad, by taking a victim perspective. It is possible to transform every painful experience through acceptance and equanimity.

Every unfortunate event carries with it an opportunity. It may be the opportunity to learn better coping skills, or it may be the opportunity to test our patience and courage. Perhaps it is the opportunity to refocus our attention on what matters or to draw closer to the people that matter most to us.

We can easily miss those opportunities by dwelling on our special misery. When we make it all about ourselves, when ego takes center stage, when we focus on the question “Why me?” and the on the unfairness of it all, we only deepen our suffering. Some questions are unanswerable, and some of them are not useful. When catastrophe happens, it is natural to ask, “Why did this happen to me?” Sometimes the answer is apparent: “I smoked for 30 years.” “I rode my bike without a helmet.” “I treated people like dirt.” “I was in a hurry packing my chute.” In other circumstances, the cause of the disaster is not apparent. It seems random, unfair and inexplicable. In such a case the better question is, “Given that this has happened, how shall I proceed?”

When faced with the “Why me?” question. The answer may be “Why not me?” Am I so special that I don’t have to face the problems other people have also? Whatever we are experiencing, it is highly probable that someone else has had worse. People with fewer resources than we have have likely faced equal or greater difficulty. We are each one among billions of humans faced with the dilemma of suffering. The more useful questions may be:
How can I face this challenge with equanimity and grace?

How can I access my courage—not lack of fear, but accepting and transcending fear?

How can I be more focused on gratitude?

What is still good despite the bad?

What supports me in this hardship?

What remains beautiful amidst this ugliness?

What is to be learned by this? How can I use that?

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© 2006 Tom Barrett