By Amanda Moreno
In the past week I have come across two articles condemning some current memes that I happen to at least partially agree with. One is “everything happens for a reason.” The other is the concept of radical self-love.
Since reading the critiques I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of keeping context and privilege in mind.
I’ve also been thinking about the ways we seem to have a compulsion towards vilifying ‘the other’; head straight into conquer/war/polarization mode; and generally conflate any kind of belief with religion — and therefore with primitive (and ultimately uncivilized) thinking. All are very problematic. It can also be problematic to discuss these things in a way that doesn’t essentially recreate that dynamic.
In the first article, Everything Doesn’t Happen For a Reason, the thing is: I agree with most of what he’s saying, some of it quite emphatically. The importance of standing with a loved one in a time of grief and being present with them without offering solutions or saving them is something I write and talk about often.
The article was really intriguing to me and I had to push my own assumptions out of the way to some extent. I agree that telling someone that “everything happens for a reason” when they are in an acute state of grief can be seen as an act of violence. But I also do believe that everything happens for reason — and for me, it is not a form of bypassing but rather of orienting to my situation.
That outlook needs to be hushed during certain periods. In Steven Forrest’s Inner Sky, his discussion of the archetype of Scorpio touches on the fact that while the Scorpionic type loves to dig deeper in order to truly understand the psyche and ultimately arrive at the truth, the digging can become compulsive. We also need the [Taurean] time to just sit in the grass and breathe and eat some food. When the digging becomes compulsive, we can get moody and broody and depressed. Sometimes we have to stop searching for the truth — or for meaning — and just be.
“Everything happens for a reason” can be used as a crutch or avoidance mechanism, especially when being offered from someone else when you are in the process of grieving. It’s both being used as a crutch by the other person, while at the same time being offered as one for the grieving. I don’t think it’s helpful when being proposed as a source of comfort — at least not for most people.
I remember the first time an astrologer said to me, “when it gets really rough, just imagine yourself somewhere as a being of light looking down at the struggles you’re going through, and remember: you chose this.” Those words were incredibly helpful to me, but I also remember thinking that I kind of wanted to suggest he never ever say that to anyone else.
I also suppose the “everything happens for a reason” concept is an offshoot of the idea that God — and I do mean capital “G” God — won’t give us more than we can handle. Part of the rebellion against the phrase is linked into a deep sense of betrayal by god that permeates the collective, and a deep distrust of religion and religious thinking. And again — sometimes those wounds need to be gone through and processed, and not provided with the Band Aid of someone else’s beliefs.
For me, the languaging is something more along the lines of James Hillman’s idea of “psychological faith.” I don’t believe I’ll be given more than I can handle, although there are times when I have to shake my head at the universe. And hell, maybe it is a crutch. But I also know that in some of the work I do and in some of the things I’ve gone through in life, having faith that there is meaning in it, even when I can’t see it for some time, is an immensely powerful thing.
I also really love this, from the article:
“Some things in life cannot be fixed, they can only be carried.”
I don’t see that as being antithetical to a belief that everything happens for a reason. I myself can hold both beliefs and also go through grieving processes, although sometimes a pause in looking for the meaning of an event or challenge is very necessary. I’m in one of those phases now.
In reading the article about the dangers of the ‘radical self-love’ theme, titled “Positive Attitude” Bullshit: on the Dangers of “Radical Love,” I was once again able to see the author’s point. But again, something about the tone and the language really bothered me. There is a militancy that reminds me of lessons of the Aries-Libra nodal axis.
On the one hand, the expression of voice in this deeply personal and yet collectively relevant way can be so important and relatable. When people who can articulate complex thoughts can write, they should. Writing and language are huge conveyors of meaning. They help us to understand ourselves, giving us a treasure map to help us find truth.
But something in the portrayal still feels somewhat dangerous to me. Perhaps it’s just because I totally believe in the radical self-love thing, while at the same time I am not ever even slightly aligned with the kind of ‘woo’ Oprah preaches (as discussed in the article), even though I have respect for her.
Again, the issue of context comes up. The Aries instinct to express is vitally important — but I think there is a difference between proclaiming your own truth versus giving into what feels like war-time, polarized thinking: These people are wrong and awful and need to be silenced.
The author of this article hits on a topic that I know I’ve participated in several times at Planet Waves. Are slogans such as Radical Self-Love or the notion that meditation can fix everything really appropriate when we think about people who are struggling to get food and water? It’s a very privileged pedestal we get to stand on as we cheer about self-love, yoga and stopping to breathe deep. Remaining sensitive to the context and the fact that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all, end-all-be-all belief is vital.
So much exists in soundbyte form. The tendency towards polarized/football-game mentality seems insidious, even among intellectuals and so many of our strongest mainstream thinkers. Again, I think all of these forms of self-expression are incredible and helpful and necessary in some ways. But seeing our tendency towards pitting ourselves against the ‘other’, vilifying each other, and then starting to strike down has started to make me feel like we’re entering another phase of witch hunts. Hopefully without the actual physical manifestations of punishment this time.
I repeat: this is a loaded, complex and layered topic. Having opportunities to question my own biases and the lenses through which I see things and my own assumptions are important to me, and are opportunities I probably need to latch onto more often.