Correspondence with a student teacher raised some interesting responses, so I thought I would post here to see if this is any use to anyone else. Indirectly, this ties into a thread on the forums that has been running for a while, and which many have found interesting; I will link below. Here’s part of the exchange with my friend:
Thanks for your understanding and support. I have to say that I am not sure I believe in “everything happens for a reason” concept. Or, perhaps I just need to have a little more faith…
No, that “everything happens for a reason” seems like a non-useful perspective, to me. It is true, though, at the same time to say that the larger perspective cannot be seen at the time, and (assuming one survives the experience) a reason may become clear at a later time. Or the construction of a reason might simply be “post facto” analysis; humans are pattern-seeking organisms above everything else. At its core, this saying is an untestable hypothesis. It may be useful in helping one to feel more relaxed about undesirable events that one finds oneself enmeshed in.
“Everything happens for a reason” seems too passive. I prefer “in this life, there are choices and consequences”. Not making choices has its own consequences. Each choice, without doubt, constrains the possible future from that point. In each of these possible futures, again there are choices and consequences. It is via this process that the past (and its choices) constrains the future.
Life is sure a journey, regardless you like it or not!
And your last point is 100% accurate. There’s more, though, in the same vein: tension (in the mind or the body) is simply resistance to what is. Now (and this has been the story of my life) one can choose to push against what’s happening, but rarely will this change what’s happening. What can be useful, though, is that this resistance increases one’s energy level (for a while, at least) and sometimes that same resistance can reveal, or create, opportunities that were not able to be seen at the earlier time, because one’s energy level is higher. This is ‘staying awake’ to what’s actually happening, and responding to the minutiae of this unfolding rather than complaining about it or trying to stop it. The best analogy is surfing a wave: its shape is constantly changing, and the change is being ridden; thousands of subtle adjustments all the while. Too slow and you miss the wave; too fast and the wave buries you. Expert surfers get buried regularly!
Anger has been the common response of my ‘body–mind’ since I began thinking (say, around nine or ten years of age). For me, anger manifests in the cold/cutting style (directed outwards, with clenched jaw) and self-criticism (directed inward); immensely damaging to relationships, and to myself. This needed to be recognised—I will never forget a late-night conversation with one of my teachers, wherein I offhandedly remarked that I was looking forward to the day when I didn’t feel anger. And he said, why? And I replied, you know; damaging to myself and others; and he replied, “I know that, of course; let me tell you about the time of the Great Beings, that the Rishis (Sanskrit: ऋषि ṛṣi) spoke about many thousands of years ago.
He said that many people are are angry for a few minutes, a few hours, weeks—or their whole lives. In contrast, the Great Beings were said to be angry for “the space of two or three heartbeats”. He mentioned that some schools teach detachment—in his view, if pursued, this is the wrong directions entirely: detachment cuts you off from life eventually. “I don’t feel anything” is the consequence.
Far better, he said, to practise non-attachment: one of the blessings of this life is to feel as much as possible but to not be attached to the feeling (to not let the feeling be mistaken for reality, and hence running one’s life or creating an obsession). And this—to be angry for two or three heartbeats—became my life goal in that moment.
So (in the words of a close friend): “how’s that workin’ for ya?” Probably it’d be better to ask those close to me; but as I am the one doing the writing here, I will answer honestly. The short answer is that I have failed, many, many times—but I am aware that I am noticing more. By this I mean that now I literally feel my body (and a particular place in my abdomen) organising itself to “do anger”. If I am awake enough in the moment, I take a breath in and simply hold it gently, and drop my awareness out of my head into that place in my abdomen. I let the breath out, and (this is the critical bit) let that place relax; I let it go completely soft. The sensation literally melts away (because it has not strengthened sufficiently to become anger; think of a wind gathering speed to become a cyclone); the sensation has been felt, noted, and it passes, by itself. Two things to note here: anger is always a mental response initially, but becomes a physical response in instants, and that this movement (from the head to the physical body) must be caught instantly.
So how does this relate to ‘choices and consequences”? Directly, as it happens: the more aware you are, the more you see “choices and consequences”. And the more aware you are, the more you realise that there are infinitely more choices possible than you will have seen before. This is where freedom is experienced.