“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” –Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”
Yesterday, a wise friend of mine drove me from our comfy little table outside a cafe in Old City Philadelphia to the beaten-down pounding lot set up by Philadelphia Parking Authority, because they had towed my car. I had been having a great conversation with two other women, but when I got up to pay my meter, I discovered I had read the sign wrong and the tow truck had already taken it. I even saw the truck dragging my car down the street, my cute little “Love Heals” bumper sticker a message to all. (Love does not protect you from getting your car towed and paying $175 to get it back.)
But at least this opportunity gave me a chance to ask my friend a question that comes up for me, over and over again, while we rode to the pounding lot. “How much of life is in our choices, and how much is part of the plan (i.e. fate, destiny, God’s will, etc.)?”
I keep asking this because I think I’m trying to uncover how much power we each have over our own lives, how much creativity, how much our will directs what happens vs. a higher will setting things in motion for us. What is a personal agenda, and what is divine? What happens when they work together, and what happens when we’re at odds?
Quakers, the weird spiritual group I worship with on Sundays (a group that largely remains in the darkness, on the fringe), have a history of this idea of being “led” by the divine. Their journals and teachings, with a Christian mystical bent, suggest that we can open ourselves up more fully to Divine Light, which means Divine Guidance. Then we are nudged and led to enact certain behaviors that help others and work toward accomplishing a certain Divine Goal. Or something like this. Sort of.
Anyway, my friend was happy to answer this question, because it had also been a source of her own meditations. Her understanding so far, she said, was this: “Ultimate Reality—a better word than God in this case—doesn’t really care what choice you make. It will always work around you and with you to lift you toward your greatest good.”
This made me think of Ultimate Reality as a kind of ocean, full of waves, always carrying you back to shore. That there is no judgment, no pointing fingers, no hellfire. There is simply woosh, woosh, woosh. You find yourself, over and over, back in a situation that you need to deal with, to live in, to manage. And if you don’t manage it well, you’ll suffer. If you don’t accept what is, the truth, then you suffer in your resistance. But if you move with this divine creative force, the world opens up as a sort of dance. It is the way we handle our emotions, then, or the problematic thought-patterns that govern us, which create suffering.
Maybe every direction we turn is a street in heaven. Every opportunity is the Divine Creative offering us a potential way.
This is all very metaphysical, I know. It doesn’t help you pay the bills. (Or does it?) I find it fascinating.
The last thing she said was, “Therefore, there are no mistakes.”
“Yes!” I answered. I had a similar realization while traveling. I had been dogged by the long-held belief that there was a “right way” and a “wrong way,” and, because I suffered from a bit of perfectionism, I felt I had to always pick “the right way.” This caused a lot of messed-up-ness in my head and my heart and my spirit. Because if I did something that didn’t sit well with me or feel peaceful after, I flagellated myself with some imaginary flagellator. (I don’t know what those things even look like.) I thought that by doing the “wrong thing,” I was awful, horrible, would screw everything up, that my life was meaningless, and so on, and so on. This was a horrible way to live! It was like some evil demonic vampire zapping the life from the true me! Thank God she’s melted away. Because now there is the recognition that “right” and “wrong” is not always so clear cut, and that there are multiple opportunities, multiple ways that Ultimate Reality tries to get your attention and direct your course in a positive way.
Wouldn’t this make us relax so much, to think that if we screw up, we’ll have another chance, another direction, that can lead us toward betterment? So then our job becomes being alive and awake to each moment, ready to acknowledge those opportunities, those beautiful people who weave their way in, rather than to flagellate ourselves with the imaginary flagellator?
Isn’t this what the Christian term “mercy” is all about?
I recognize there may be nuances to this theory I haven’t delved into. Many people who are religious are attached to rules, to the idea that there is a “right way” and “wrong way.” But I think those people who are rigid and strict are less interested in people’s betterment, people’s growth toward love and healing, than they are interested in making others part of a club that affirms their own belief systems, so they can say “A-ha, I was right!” (Maybe?) Because when people come on board to that belief system, the staunch rule-followers can feel validated that they are “right,” that they have “won.” Regardless of what part of someone’s spirit they’ve had to suppress to get them there. Perhaps.
So, what would it look like if you faced your life with the belief that there are no missteps? That every opportunity is an opportunity to learn? That in whatever direction you choose, there may be a slice of heaven you just haven’t learned how to taste? That God, or Ultimate Reality, is not intending to find a way to punish you, but instead help you to see and move closer?
This doesn’t mean you fall into the trap of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, and denying your own humanity. It doesn’t mean wickedness is okay, that you should endeavor to hurt people or step on people or lie to yourself or others.
It just means that you surrender to the recognition of a greater Good, a greater Love, working through all things, leading toward wholeness and betterness and unity. And that you are a part of that, too. Or can be, if you choose to bathe in that water.
Might be a neat way to live.