September 19, 2018"Learn to wish that everything should come to pass exactly as it does."
Epictetus said that, and stare as I might at the bold black words on the stark white page, the message is far from black and white in my head.
I know that there is great wisdom in the quote, because if you learn to accept everything for exactly what it is, the desire for alternate outcomes is erased. And when that's erased, you are left with exactly what you have right in front of you, and there is no choice but to accept it.
Still, making the leap from accepting all the random and not-so-random things that come to pass and wishing that those things happen exactly as they do is like crossing M-53 on foot on Friday afternoon in the summertime—unsettling, a little crazy, and definitely not the easiest thing in the world to accomplish.
Over the years I have had many wise, insightful and spiritual people tell me that everything happens for a reason. Through experience, and through paying attention, I have come to believe this is true. Still, learning to wish that everything that happens should happen 'exactly as it does' is another thing entirely.
For example, what do you do when someone really hurts your feelings—wounds you so deeply that you feel temporarily stunned. Paralyzed by a verbal blow that leaves your head spinning and your heart flailing in the dust? Learn to wish that it happened??? Hmmm.
What about when you fail a test? Study the subject as you might, plow through all the available information and embrace it like a lover, commit your entire being to doing well but somehow you just don't cut it? Is it possible to 'learn to wish' that the end result came to pass exactly as it did? To step outside of the
self-blame and be okay with it?
In my struggle for higher wisdom and greater understanding, I intellectually realize that there's a lesson in all things. But digging out that lesson in scenarios like those cited above can be like mining for gold in an arid desert.
I know there's a nugget in there somewhere, and that it all rolls back around to acceptance and desire. I do see and even understand the power that lies with knowing that the things that come to pass—even if they are occasionally disappointing or unexpected—happen because there's something to be learned, to be gained, to be mastered.
I suppose if you accept everything for exactly what it is, it's easier not to desire any alternate outcome. Life—and everything that happens while living it—is just exactly that. Life. And as tough as it may be to 'learn to wish' that all of it passes 'exactly as it does,' the mere act of living is—as they say—far better than the alternative, regardless of what is going on—at least as far as I know.
So, while I might not exactly embrace my next flat tire as an opportunity to climb the ladder to enlightenment, maybe I will just accept it and move on. Sometimes there's just no other choice.
Maybe old Epictetus was on to something after all.
Email Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.