A wonderful friend of mine recently asked me a question on my Instagram page: Does everything really happen for a reason?
This is my best friend, someone who has known me for more than 10 years, someone who has been there with me through thick and thin, and someone who I have had many conversations with, ranging from shallow topics to deep philosophical conundrums.
So why am I telling you all this?
Because I want to give you some context. The question of Does everything really happen for a reason has of course come up in our years of knowing each other. And when I would answer it in the past, the answer was always the same: Yes it does or Of course it does!
But when this question came up just days ago, I stopped in my tracks. The automatic answer was right there waiting to be said: Yes it does! But I realised that I don’t really believe that anymore. Or, at the very least, the answer is not that simple anymore.
It is simpler.
So I replied something like: Maybe… But figuring out the reason is probably a waste of time; what’s more important is simply staying present.
But why this shift in perspective?
This shift is probably due to my meditation and mindfulness practice. As most of you already know, mindfulness teaches us to stay present in each and every moment. The problem with trying to figure out the reason for why things happen is that you have to look into the past or into the future to do so.
Let’s say something bad has happened to you, like having your wallet stolen. (We don’t usually look for reasons for the good events in our life – we seem to accept them much more easily, which is probably very telling in itself!). If you are trying to console yourself by saying that everything happens for a reason, then you might want to try to figure out what that reason is.
Looking back to the past might evoke some notion of Karma. Karma is a Sanskrit word that means “action” and posits that there is a direct relationship between cause and effect or actions and reactions. So hypothetically, you might conclude that something bad that you have done in the past has caused the loss of your wallet in the present.
Alternatively, looking to the future might lead you to the conclusion that you are being tested (for example by God or by the Universe) and that there is a lesson to be learned in the loss of your wallet, whether it is patience, forgiveness, or acceptance.
The problem with both is: How do you know? Karma is, of course, a very real concept in Buddhist (and other) teachings and we should be well aware of our own actions. But Karma is made in the now. Looking back retrospectively is fruitless. You can’t change the past; you can simply choose to act with pure intentions in the present. Additionally, Karma does not lie in some external force or an act of God (as “reason” might imply); rather, it lies in the actions of each and every one of us as individuals.
Consider this paragraph from Buddhism: Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen.
Similarly, the future is created in the now. You can’t know what the lesson will be (or if there is a lesson in it at all), so waiting for something to happen is simply a waste of the present. A great stroke of luck in the future won’t either change the fact that your wallet is gone in the present. And what happens if that stroke of luck doesn’t come at all? What if nothing good happens to “make up” for the something bad that happened? Will we remain hopeful, disappointed, or just stuck in a permanent state of waiting for redemption?
Now I am not saying that things don’t happen for a reason. I am just saying that we don’t know. And, more importantly, it doesn’t matter. So if you are a person who believes that everything happens for a reason, but you don’t go looking for what that reason is, you may just be better off than the person who tries to figure out why things happen the way they do. Because ultimately, you are remaining in the present moment, in the now, trusting that life will simply carry on.
Finally, looking for a reason as to why something has happened is different from learning from what happened. The former requires analysis and judgement. The latter simply requires contemplation and observation. You can always (and only) learn from the present moment.
When we stop asking “what next”, we can find our way toward accepting “what is”.
Of course I dedicate this blog post to you.
Thank you for this wonderful question, thank you for being my inspiration in so many different ways, and thank you for staying in my life through every shift in perspective.
And to my wonderful readers, thank you for reading this post and for sticking with me this far. Please share your thoughts on this topic in the comments below and have a fantastic day! Sending light and love 🙂