I remember the freedom I felt, as a young adult, when I realized that every painful occurrence was not intentional. I read and re-read a few paragraphs from 12-step literature about how we mindlessly “step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate in kind.” I started to understand that my fears—of not getting what I wanted, of losing what I had—ran my life; and other people’s fears ran their lives, too. When you want what you want, when you are positive that you’re right, anyone in the way gets run over. I also recognized that life was not fair: some people through no fault of their own had much harder lives because of other people’s fears. I plastered that bumper sticker, “Shit happens,” on the back of my little Toyota, to remind myself of all this. I tried to give up taking things personally.
A number of years later I saw another bumper sticker that I immediately stuck next to the first, sensing that it completed my philosophy. This one said, “Grace happens.” For me, it expressed two truths. The first was that in any situation, no matter how difficult, I had the option to choose the better way. But that bumper sticker also told me that there is a mysterious web that holds all things together and I’d better not assume that I can predict the future. Sometimes, unexpectedly, life can shift sideways. A seemingly immutable situation can change. What’s required on my part, to assist this shift, is a certain lightness of being. I’m invited to look outside my normal self-centered, logic-bound framework. I’m invited to act out of joyful expectation of a shift.
These days, I feel like I need a third sticker, one that says, “I know nothing.” Because the certainty of those two short phrases stutters to a stop in the face of the chaos and evil we’re experiencing. My mind can’t imagine that there’s a solution to all this.
It’s difficult not to hate the perpetrators of the Ukrainian war. But refusing to de-humanize the “other side” is the only way through this. Otherwise, we’re locked in an unwinnable battle where the perpetrator sets the terms of the engagement. This is true whether we’re talking about the Ukrainian war, pandemic pandemonium, climate emergency, institutional racism or the dog park.
While it’s true that I know nothing, it is not true that there is nothing I can do. If we take seriously the idea that this beautiful blue-green planet is a single living organism, then our consciousness is necessarily intertwined with the consciousness of others. From this perspective, every single thing that we do to shift ourselves into generous, courageous, calm states has reverberations around the world. Refraining from aggressive actions HERE may not stop the war THERE, but it will reduce the overall anxiety and rage in the world. And who knows what doors might open and what shifts might happen?
Shit is inevitable. Grace? We can enable it.