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I have a friend in my life who’s going through a really hard time and they’re always so giving and kind to everyone. It doesn’t make sense, why do bad things happen to good people?
This is a question many people have asked throughout my practice. My answer may sound trite, but here it is: For the most part, life just happens and sometimes it doesn’t unfold the way we would hope. One of my key teachings is suffering is an inseparable aspect of being human. When we learn to accept this natural condition of life, we can go through the tough times without feeling victimized. It’s not personal, everyone suffers, even celebrities, even spiritual leaders.
Instead of polarizing people as good or bad, let’s consider that some people are more skillful at life than others. Most of us grow up in our western culture with very few strategies for coping with the challenges and uncertainties of today’s world. The most common way we attempt to deal with life is by seeking to control it, believing if we can only fix this or that problem, we’ll finally be able to rest in comfort. But we never quite achieve the peace we seek because new challenges continue to arise, such is the nature of life.
The following are four unchanging principles of life I’m sharing from our mindfulness manual. We find these principles help us to make peace with the moment (a practice that is within our control) instead of trying to make the moment peaceful (which can be out of our control):
- Everything changes and ends. Everything in life has a cycle of arising, sustaining and falling away. Everything.
- Things don’t always go according to plan. We don’t have the control we like to think we have.
- Life is not always fair or comfortable. We all have our own life lessons to learn so fairness is an unreasonable expectation. If you’re too comfortable you’re likely not growing.
- People are not always loving, honest, loyal or generous and yes, that can include you.
Bad things don’t happen to good people, they happen to all people. What’s important is that we let each life experience teach us how to become better human beings. As Ruben (Hurricane) Carter said when he was wrongfully committed of murder, “Hate put me in prison. Love’s gonna bust me out.”
I often think about this too, especially when I see some cruel people living a life of ease, and affluence while innocent children are fighting for their lives. I was brought up to live by the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” After pursuing the practice of yoga, I noticed philosophical similarities, as this tradition advises we “Focus on right conduct and treat others as you treat yourself.” This approach to life is said to contribute to the wellbeing of others and also bring goodness into our own lives.
I’m sure you’d agree that there’s an undeniable feeling of joy and connection that’s created when we act with kindness and compassion. Quantum physics would call this the law of cause and effect, which claims our behaviour is like a boomerang. What we put out into the world swings back around to affect our lives in a very real and direct way. I’ve personally been on the receiving end of both my positive and negative choices and noticed the corresponding effects in my life. Positive gestures tend to generate positive ripples and poor decisions tend to negatively impact our lives.
However, the whole idea of positive and negative behaviours is dependent on our subjective judgements. What might be positive to one person, might not be to another. Instead of categorizing each experience as either positive or negative and adding a good or bad meaning to everything, we could understand that life is filled with a broad spectrum of experiences and there’s something to learn from everything. Even in the most blissful experiences, there are still elements of imperfection and even within our darkest hours, there are moments of tenderness.
But that doesn’t explain why some people who focus on doing good are struck by hardship and why people who bring strife to the world seemingly slide through without consequence. Did you notice I used the world seemingly? I did because even though they may seem unaffected on the outside, doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing deep inner struggle. And even the kindest, most generous people in the world live in bodies that will one day break down and die. Life is filled with struggle, and often it’s in the suffering when we grow the most as people.
Although you’re a caring friend to be asking “Why them?” the more important question might be “What can I do to make their life a little easier while they go through this difficult time?” Hugs to both of you!
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Blair Abbass and Jenny Kierstead are certified therapists, award winning educators and partners in life and business. They are the co-founders of Breathing Space Yoga Studio/Teacher Training, Yoga in Schools and Girl on Fire. They have been married for 17 years, but who’s counting.