As many readers know, I have been sick for the past month plus with a digestive disorder. In the end, it turned out that I am infected with a tropical parasite. Fortunately, although debilitating, it's completely treatable.
What fascinates me is how eager some of my friends were to have it my disease was of some cosmic spiritual nature. I got all kinds of advice about how this plague was a sign of some deep inner malaise--wrong work of centers--my energy out of alignment--and so on. The idea that it could be something as simple as a microbe just wasn't good enough. (Even my gastrointestinal specialist crawled to this conclusion--which I intuited the very first week--at a snail's pace.) Interpretations of a metaphysical nature had to be slapped onto the situation willy-nilly in order to make it either interesting, or valid, or whatever it is that we metaphysical types think has to be done in order to comprehend a nasty, inexplicable situation.
I don't know about the rest of you, but when I get a parasite, I want a modern doctor to treat me with the appropriate drug. I'm not in the mood to sniff catnip or have people burn moxie sticks over me. I don't have anything at all against homeopathic medicine--some of my best friends practice it, and I wholeheartedly (tho sometimes, I admit, skeptically) support them --, but I think I'll apply it after all of the flagellates are dead, thanks.
Along the same line, yesterday, while I was at Costco checking out I heard one woman say to another, "Everything happens for a reason."
This statement seems to be exactly along the lines of what I was hearing from everyone who told me my parasite was some informative visitation from a higher plane.
Now, I do think that everything that happens to us can be turned to our advantage. I learned a great deal from both an inner and outer point of view from this little bug (well, more accurately put, these billions of little bugs) I am hosting. They became a teacher for me. At the same time, I am not sure that we can say "everything happens for a reason" with any degree of confidence when it comes to ordinary explanations.
Those of you who have been following the blog may see that this idea "everything happens for a reason" is closely related to Dogen's examination of cause and effect. From a strictly technical -- not even metaphysical -- point of view, cause and effect dictate that everything does indeed happen for a reason. The reason that things happen is that the thing just before them happened, and so on. As is famously said, "Time is just one damn thing after another," or, "Time is nature's way of making sure that everything doesn't happen all at once."
The law of cause and effect is very much in line with Gurdjieff's observation about people wanting things in life to be different. "For one thing to be different," he said to Ouspensky, "everything would have to be different. And the world does not work that way." (excuse the quotes -- in fact, I am paraphrasing. But that's pretty much what he said.) And we cannot, as is often popular, invoke the uncertainty of the quantum level to sneakily point out that things are inherently random and somehow may work out very differently at any moment. It has been irrevocably proven that quantum uncertainty levels out to a very nicely predictable average once we encounter physical reality. Uncertainty may provide the undercarriage for reality, but only after it balances itself.
So, indeed, viewed from our level -- the one where atoms have, more or less, made up their mind about what's going to happen next --nothing can be different. While we find, in Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson," that the course of the universe, and of man's individual life, may well be set within an irreducible matrix of cause and effect, we also see that from his point of view, man's participation in the experience of that matrix can vary a great deal.
The entire course of a man's life may be inevitable. How he takes it into himself is not.
I've spoken a number of times about the danger of our a priori assumptions -- that is, using a pre-existing formulation to interpret life, instead of using the experience of life to formulate. Hence, attempts to interpret life in any ordinary way using the statement "everything happens for a reason" are nothing more, in the end, than tempting the fates. In a universe of an infinite number of possible reasons, the chances of picking the wrong one are, well, just about infinite.
To me, the phrase ends up sounding more like a pacifier to suck on than a meaningful statement about how we are, and where we are.
I'll tell you a little secret here. It is absolutely true that everything happens for a reason.
However, it is not possible for the ordinary mind to know or even imagine what the reason is.
So when your friends (or even I) begin to explain ordinary things for you using metaphysical hooey--and don't think I won't, because I fall prey to this foolish habit just like the rest of us -- make sure you take it with more than one grain of salt. The reasons for what takes place are more inscrutable than we are capable of scruting.
All of this tends for me to underscore the constant interference of the ordinary mind, which insists on polluting our ability to experience in a more sensitive manner.
And on that note, I need to devote the remainder of my energy on this lunch hour to supporting the many smaller lifeforms that I am currently responsible for, pending the immanent arrival of their chemical eviction notice.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.