How often are we going about our lives, thinking things are possibly going according to plan, when we are met with disruption? Disruption. Even the word sounds violent. Rupture–to break open. In the face of disruption, most of us fight back. Our sense of justice rallies and we wage war against the unfairness of the situation. We think of the “could of-would of-should of-s” of the situation–if we had just done that one thing differently, this dreaded outcome wouldn’t have happened. With egos operating under the illusion (delusion?) of control, we really don’t like these disruptions.
I will spare you the minute details of one of my bigger disruptions in recent times, but share the major gist of it: a car accident, caused by someone else, leaving my car a total loss, myself and one of my small people needing treatment for (thankfully minor) injuries for five months, having to purchase a car on very short notice, and grieving the injustice of “I didn’t do anything to cause this.” As I said, thankfully the injuries will not be life altering and for the most part cleared up, the car was replaced, and the distress and general stress caused by managing the accident have begun to fade from my consciousness.
But man, don’t go back in time and tell me that it will all be ok. I was M-A-D. And guess what? I allowed that emotion to inform my thoughts and actions. I moved into the madness and sense of injustice, and I lived there for a good chunk of time. I felt sorry for myself, exploded at those around me who “didn’t get it” and tried to make me feel better, and, legitimately, was in physical pain (likely worsened by my overall high stress level).
You’ve got your own stories of disruption, we all do, and many of them are far more serious and permanent than my most recent one. Jobs lost, relationships damaged and ended, illness, change, death, grief. Not to mention the infinite number of minor disruptions–the child home sick changing our plans for the day, the interruption of a work task by an unexpected crisis, the household appliance that breaks down and sucks up our “fun money” to fix or replace it. Why do we fight disruption so much when it seems to be the norm?
In western, Judeo-Christian culture, we hold tight to what cognitive psychologists refer to as the “just world belief.” This is easily summed up as “bad things happen to bad people, good things happen to good people.” This is at the crux of our court system and deeply entrenched in our sense of justice. It propels the American Dream that by working hard we can pull ourselves up by our boot straps, and it allows us to turn a blind eye to those who are marginalized, victimized, and otherwise damaged by society–consciously or subconsciously, if something bad happened to them, they must have done something bad to cause it, our brain reasons. In a sick way it is protective–our psyche can say “well that won’t happen to me, I’m safe, because I don’t (insert assumed transgression here… I don’t drink and drive, I don’t hang out in places like that, I don’t wear skirts that are too short, I don’t drive a red sports car… whatever rationalization is needed).”
But when the truly bad happens for no reason at all, this just world belief falls apart. We may still cling to it and try to find reasons why the bad thing happened–maybe we didn’t do something quite right and this is our payback, maybe what happened isn’t “all bad” and we try to find some good in it. Because letting go of the just world belief means we have to accept that random crappy things happen, and you and I have absolutely no control over them. The car accident. The lost job. The failed relationship. The cancer diagnosis. The unthinkable loss of a dear one.
In Buddhism, impermanence is a central concept. Accepting that everything changes allows one to let go of earthly attachments. When we hold tight to what is no longer, we hold onto a pain that does not necessarily serve us in the moment, and we “write our future” with our past loss. While this sounds good to me in theory, it isn’t so easy for me to practice. I readily admit, I fight it. I’m getting better at recognizing it though, and I think a lot of that has to do with turning towards the disruption and not away from it.
The idea for this article was spurred by something I read about moving into disruption and allowing yourself to inhabit that space. The disruptions referred to were small–the interruption by a child who wants to play while you work, the interruption of a work call while you are trying to relax–not the big disruptions I’m referring to. But, really, is there a difference aside from magnitude? All of these things are the disruptions of life… and these disruptions ARE LIFE. Turning away from them is denying what truly is right in front of us, fighting the experience that our senses scream at us is true.
Acceptance. Radical acceptance. It all happens, it has happened, and we can’t change it once it has. But we are not powerless. We have the power to control our reactions to these events. Do we manage them with grace and equanimity, informed by both emotion and wisdom, or do we cling to what “should be” and respond solely from a place of emotional reactivity? We have the ability to move into these disruptions, to live powerfully and meaningfully within disruption, and to allow our own true selves and values to shine brightly even when we are in pain.
I could tell you stories of lives that I have witnessed transformed by disruption. I’m sure the owners of these lives likely wish these disruptions had never been, but I have seen first hand how they have allowed people to transform their personal pain into support, kindness, and advocacy for others. The acceptance of the disruption and the acknowledgment of the deep and lasting impact upon one’s life allowed these transformations to happen. Like a body scarred: the wound no longer bleeds, but the silvery scar tissue stands as a reminder of both our fragility and our strength.
Life, disrupted. In other words, life–the whole, sloppy, happy-sad-angry-scared-greiving mess of it. I’d like to tie this up in a neat bow for you, but I am struggling to do so. And maybe that is because this isn’t something to be tied up in a pretty package. It is something to be experienced, fully, and accepted, so that through the suffering we can move into a place of wisdom and live this one, true, messy-chaotic-loving-wise-precious life.