Armina Dobrică

When I was a little girl, I used to watch Animal Planet…a lot. Hunting scenes were always part of the program and I would be terrified watching them. I would always hope, in my heart, that the hare, dear, impala, baby…something manages to outrun the big, mean predator. Sometimes they did, but most of the times, the hunter would be victorious. 

A few years ago, watching these tense encounters again, through the eyes of a “grownup”, I wondered how I felt about this “circle of life”. Was it bad that an animal had just lost its life or was it good that another was saved from starvation? I think most people would argue that it’s neither good, nor bad. It’s about the laws of nature, about survival. This is how it’s supposed to happen. One species depends on the other, some sacrifice their lives for the perpetuation of the ecosystem. Sounds even heroic in a sense, humbling.

However, when we happen to be the impala, our perspectives change drastically. I used to feel like a victim all the time. Things would always unfairly happen to me. I didn’t know how to prevent painful experiences, especially in matters of the heart. For an intelligent young woman, I had made some mind-blowingly stupid choices.

Me, myself and I

As human beings, we tend to make everything about ourselves. In fact, we feel the entire Universe revolves around ourselves and our lives. There are people who refuse to watch football or tennis matches because every time they do, their favorite players lose. There are millions of viewers, not to mention the people actually playing, but them standing in front of the TV changes the outcome. If only it were that easy.

Now, we might not be center of the Universe, but the whole world really is constantly conspiring to bring us what we need most, what is towards our highest good. Even if we hate it at first.

Some time ago, I met a friend of mine for coffee. Knowing that I don’t believe in coincidences, he enthusiastically told me this story:

He had just turned in his monthly report. He had worked so hard…in fact he even added ‘sex with girlfriend’ to his weekly calendar at some point. It’s funny cause it’s true. Anyway, he was hoping his boss, who’s actually a pretty nice guy, would be pleased with the numbers. He was actually expecting a bonus. He even went online and picked a pair of new sneakers that morning. Talk about counting your chickens before they hatch.

When he went into his boss’s office, all hell broke loose. Apparently he needed to perform a lot better. Impossibly better, some would say. He went home and the next day he quit his job. He just quit. And after walking like a zombie for a week, he got a call from an old friend of his from college. The company he was working for had an opening for a management position. And guess what? He got the job.

But that’s not all. Meeting a colleague from his old firm, he learned that an investment fund was planning to buy the company and they were hammering his ex boss to increase profits. And the day before he freaked out in that meeting, his wife had filed for divorce.

This story has many more associated to it. The boss, the wife, the colleague, the friend. They all contributed to and were affected by the same event. If I had met my friend two days after he quit his job, we would’ve had an entirely different conversation. Neither of us would’ve known that something better was just around the corner. Just like maybe his boss is going to fall in love with the waitress serving in the restaurant where he’s meeting his divorce lawyer. Who knows?   

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”

The Dalai Lama

It’s a web of connections. And we’re aware of so, so little of what’s going on in the world and how one split second can change the lives of millions. Yet sometimes, if we hit our toe off the foot of the bed in the morning, we think the Universe is out to get us and we’ll have a lousy day. Which we most probably will, but that’s a different conversation and the Universe is not doing it.     

So, what was good and bad in my friend’s story? Was he wrong acting impulsively? Was he bad for quitting after just one disappointment, adding more stress to his boss’ already difficult situation? Was his boss bad for not leaving his personal matters at home? Or is it that because things turned out great for everybody, both of them did good?

How is it that the same situation can be both good and bad depending on associated perceptions?

The eye of the beholder

Pollyanna is a 1913 best-selling novel by Eleanor H. Porter, a classic children’s book, with the main character’s name becoming a popular term for someone who has a very optimistic outlook on life. Here’s a powerful quote from the book:

 That a behavior has a positive intention
in no way implies that the behavior is
the best way of fulfilling the intention.

A positive intention may be only for oneself
or a part of oneself -- not necessarily for others, 
all parts of oneself, or oneself as a whole.

Behaviors include conscious and unconscious
thoughts, emotions, and responses, as well as 
symptoms, words and actions which 
can be observed externally.

During my Neuro-Linguistic Programming training I learned that “behind every behavior there is a positive intention”. NLP is an approach to communication, personal development and therapy based on the connection between thought, language and behavioral patterns. So not only do our thoughts influence the way we express ourselves, but words can actually change our minds and actions.

This idea that every behavior has a positive intention is NLP’s first presupposition. It originated from Virginia Satir, an American author and therapist, widely recognized as the “Mother of Family Therapy”. She allowed Richard Bandler and John Grinder, the creators of NLP (by the way, these two have a wacky story) to observe and model her work. They later adopted her philosophy as one of the generally accepted principles of their work.

It is also probably the most misunderstood and objected to presupposition. But it is not about an exaggerated optimism, a surreal state of being in which you blindly discard unpleasant experiences, nor is it an excuse or lack of responsibility for one’s actions or behaviors. It is the mere sense of awareness of self and others, a nonjudgmental point of view that allows for lessons to emerge kindly in times of torment or distress.    

Jaggi Vasudev, commonly known as Sadhguru, has a gentler, more neutral way of talking about (bad) behaviors. He says that people perform actions. Some actions produce miserable consequences, some produce wonderful consequences. And in pursuit of our happiness we perform so many actions. He once asked: “Do you know what was the highest title for a man in Tamil Nadu[1] in ancient times? The greatest man in Tamil culture was the ‘one who has slain a thousand elephants’. Veerappan got half way there, but we said he was a criminal and we shot him dead.”

(Veerappan is a notorious Indian bandit and gang member, known for killing 900 elephants as part of his ivory smuggling. He was shot dead in 2004 by the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force.) 

This is a very powerful teaching, that has changed the way I experience life.

There is no good or bad, only consequences.

When we don’t like the immediate consequences, we label that experience as bad. When the result meets our expectations, then it’s a good thing. But no matter how hard we try, we’ll never have the full picture. Some actions generate effects ten years later, 100 miles away, for people we don’t even know. That’s because the entire Universe doesn’t revolve solely around one person. Yes, my Universe takes care of me, but I am also a part of the whole. We all contribute to other people’s experiences, and they play a role in our lives.

Acceptance is exactly this. Understanding our own limitations in interpreting the world around us, preventing our subjective perceptions from altering the way we experience life, allowing things to be as they are, without casting judgement, openly embracing the unknown, free from attachments or expectations, and in the end fully embracing each moment, of every day knowing that the outcome will serve us in the most beautiful way possible.