During his closing remarks to the public congressional hearing of Michael Cohen’s testimony, an emotional chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, entreated Mr. Cohen to think not of his pending prison sentence and the many other negative outcomes of his criminality as happening to him, but rather to ask why all of this was happening for him. Was it for a better, stronger Michael Cohen to emerge on the other side? Was it for a better America? The point was that when negative events happen in our lives, we often make ourselves out to be the victim and perceive the experience as happening to us rather than for us.
This line of thinking is certainly challenging, especially when negative events are out of our control and not the result of our own actions or behavior – like the death of a loved one or a natural disaster. For victims of crime and abuse, this request could be understandably perceived as downright insulting and hurtful. Victimization is real and should never be minimized, most especially from a justice standpoint. As a spiritual practice, however, we must discern what approach to understanding our life experiences is going to produce the best outcomes for ourselves, our families, and our communities.
Perhaps we begin by removing the subjective dualism of “positive” versus “negative” experiences. I suggest this because, typically, when good things happen in our lives that are out of our control we think the universe, or God, or the world is pulling for us. We don’t anxiously wonder “why is all of this good stuff happening to me?!” 😩 We tend to only think that bad things are happening to us. By removing any subjective judgement about the experience being good or bad and simply look at the experience as simply that – an experience – we develop a heuristic that allows us to learn and grow from any experience regardless of whether we think it’s good or bad. For example, I am sure my children think being disciplined is bad, when in fact it is good for them. Perception is not reality. Reality is what we make it.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said “Thy will be done,” as he prayed about his pending crucifixion. If we can understand and perceive our lives and all of our experiences, good and bad, as divinely ordered for our benefit, we can endure anything no matter how difficult.