what have you come to teach me?
Falling to my knees in soft grass,
the smell of earth delights me.
In adoration, with sun-lit heart,
I lean back,
and birds scatter to all corners of the Earth.
R.E. Maley, 27 August 2019
"Everything happens for a reason" has never worked for me. After childhood, I lost the conviction that there was a divinely-written book somewhere detailing each minute turn of my life. I appreciate, though, the sentiment of the people who say it. In those eyes, there is something to be gained from unexpected disappointments, losses, and tragedies. There is something to them, and they are in your life to serve you.
I heard a story a while ago from a friend in the medical profession. He told me that from an indigenous shamanic perspective, even illness has a purpose in our lives. He related the story of a woman who, in the middle of her life, had a terrible cancer. Her world was turned upside-down, to the point that her husband left her. When she was exploring alternative healing modalities (something many oncologists encourage their patients to do; anything safe for the sake of feeling better), a shamanic healer told her that the cancer had come to her for a reason. As it turns out, her husband was abusive. From the healer's perspective, the cancer came to expel him from her life. And now that its job was done, she could thank the illness for finishing its work, and allow it to leave her body.
Perhaps my objection to "everything happens for a reason" is the idea that someone, some being, has written my story to its end. I can't help but believe strongly in the entropic flow of the universe. (A system in perfect order has only one direction to go.) I'd rather think of it this way: that each moment, each interaction, can be learned from. When unexpected things enter our lives, we ask: what have you come to teach me?
Approached this way, all things can be great teachers, and the onus is on us to contemplate, unravel, and grow from challenges. Thus we are not forced by our circumstances into new lives; we know that all things are opportunities, and we humble ourselves at the foot of each moment.