It’s very hard to think of the troubles of other people as life lessons for the rest of us. It’s just not how we’re used to thinking. In a way, we think of ourselves as a herd, not unlike the one above, going through life as it lays before us. Some of us even believe we create our lives and what we do is a result of our own desire and actions in this life.
I thought that way, once. But I don’t any longer.
Poor, daffy Shirley MacClaine cemented her reputation as a nutcase when she suggested Holocaust victims might have been killers in past lives who were subsequently paying for past sins. I get what she meant, but it was an unfortunate example. I love Shirley’s enthusiasm, but she’s not the best person to introduce these concepts to mainstream America. I can’t fault her, though, for believing as she does.
I, too, believe in past lives and that we know ahead of time what each incarnation will bring–and agree to it. Because life on earth is Soul School, a place where we learn just by going through the life we have chosen.
Most people in the U.S. do not believe as I do, I know. I didn’t always believe it, myself. This idea that we make deals before we come into this world with others who will be in our lives–even those who treat us badly–it’s not compatible with the Judeo-Christian ethic. But it is what I have come to believe.
Everything that has happened to me in this lifetime has been meant to teach me something–assuming I let it. And when bad things happen to people I love, it behooves me to see if there is something for me to learn.
Guru Ram Dass was given a perfect example of this in 1997 when he was in bed thinking about how to end a book on aging. The book is Still Here, by the way, and it’s full of wisdom. Anyway, he was trying to “feel” his way into aging, imagining what it would be like to be very old and unable to move and speak easily. It was then that he realized he could not move his leg. In fact, he’d had a debilitating stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body and limited his ability to speak.
He has continue to teach and inspire, despite the stroke.
Ram Dass tells us that the slowing down that comes with aging may well be a built-in method of reminding us it’s time to take it easier, to observe and contribute at a different and more meaningful level. He now looks on his stroke the same way. He intended to come up with an ending to the book, but he was given so much more.
A gift? That’s not how most of us would view a massive stroke. But he got the lesson and in sharing it with the world, his stroke was a gift to us, too.
On my way to the hospital to visit my friend the other day I had an epiphany about the balance of power in friendship and also about my own relationships. The details are unimportant, but it was an aha! moment that was a direct result of my many thoughts during and about my friend’s long hospital stay.
“Holy shiz!” I thought to myself. “I just learned something about myself from this experience.”
I don’t know many people who would consider a serious illness a gift. It would be a challenge for me, too. A natural response would be to bemoan our situation and ask, “Why me?”
And yet, when bad things happen to us, or to good people we know, it’s appropriate for us to dig deep and like Ram Dass, look for our own lesson in that.
Because chances are, there is one.