07 December 2006

The Universe Provides?

I received an interesting e-mail the other morning. Here are excerpts from the letter, and the full text of my response. I welcome additional ideas!

The Letter:
I have a question, and hope that you will answer it for me. Several times in your book, you refer to the concept that "the universe provides" and encourage a positive outlook based on clinging to that hopeful assumption.

You are correct, usually we do have "what we need in the moment."

But, all my life I have been troubled and disturbed by the fact that for many people, in many situations, that is literally not the case… I have read a tiny bit of Buddhist literature, etc, but I am really curious how literally people can believe in the "universe providing," when only a portion of the people on earth have much provided… and, some of them have lives that are so very marginal… NO abundance!

I have done some world travel, and I know that people can be quite happy in very humble circumstances, so that is part of the answer, but when I see the effects of situations like the tsnuami, the earthquake in Pakistan, AIDS in Africa (especially) war-torn regions where survival is not certain and daily life is hell, regions of extreme poverty where daily life is trudging to haul water and gather fuel… or, existing with putrid filthy river water as one's only source... *sigh*

How can we trust that the universe "provides" what we need? At any moment, such peace and safety as we enjoy could disappear.

Now, I know that is very unlikely for US. And, I have had 55 years of not one day seriously hungry or without water, clothing, friends and shelter. But, isn't that just my incredible luck in this life?

… I still can't reconcile the notion that "the universe" can be trusted to provide what we NEED. … [S]ometimes nature just does a whammy on us.

I am really, really curious about how you frame the belief that "the universe provides" and what that literally might mean. I just can't gloss it over as "positive thinking" although maybe that is all it is? Just a choice to look forward with hope, rather than fear, despite everything? Acceptance of fate, after all… what choice do we have & what good does complaining do? I am wondering if there is more to it than that, and how you know.

[M]aybe "the universe provides" is some kind of code for "things are as they are meant to be, whether or not you perceive it right now!"


My Response:

Dear S. --

You ask a hard question.

Truth is, S., I DON'T know for absolute certain that the universe provides for my/our needs. Spiritual seekers and masters have always struggled with the apparent contradiction of a loving god and earthly suffering, of good vs. evil, of have and have not. I don't have a hard and fast answer for the pain and suffering in the world, and I have no certainty in my beliefs.

Here's what I do have: I figure none of us will know what lies beyond life until we get there. Until we die and see what's beyond death (if anything), we can only believe. I choose to believe in goodness. Frankly, choosing a positive attitude makes life a heck of a lot more enjoyable. So, as long as there's no way to know for sure what's true, I may as well pick a belief system that I like. It's like you said: a choice to look forward with hope, rather than fear, despite everything.

When I look at my life (and the lives of everyone I know), I see that my basic needs have always been met. I also acknowledge that I live in a privileged time and place, and that many people in the world do not have their basic needs met. (They also probably aren't worried about clearing their clutter!) Two thoughts here. First is that my book is written for those of us who are trying to emerge from the influence of materialism, who are struggling for meaning in a consumer culture. My second thought drifts into Buddhist teachings: pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Shit happens. How we deal with it is what matters.

Yes, there is ugliness in the world. I don't know why, and I don't know that anyone else really knows why, either. Like I said, great spiritual masters have tried to answer this question. There are different theories as to why tragedy exists. I guess we all settle on the explanation that works best for us.

And there are no guarantees. You are right, at any moment, the peace and safety that we enjoy could disappear. (As you said, sometimes nature just does a whammy on us.) But it might not, too. So why spend one's life anticipating disaster, meanwhile missing out on beauty and joy?

So, what do I literally mean by "the universe provides"? I mean that, when I look at my life, I find that I have everything I need, and then some. And that there is something bigger than just me — something I call "the universe" because I am uncomfortable with the biblical concept of God, something the nature of which I'm unsure, but sense is there, probably more as a connectedness between all beings, an amorphous unnamed (and unnamable) something — that I (and everyone) am a part of. Something along the lines of Carl Jung's synchronicity.

I do not believe there is a master puppeteer manipulating our lives, giving us "what we need." I do believe that it is up to us to take responsibility for our lives, to "do the footwork and turn over the results." I have no idea to whom or what I am turning over the results. I only believe that, when I do, what is meant to happen, happens. What or who determines what is meant to happen? I dunno. I like to think that we are all souls, on this earth to evolve into better souls, and that we have lessons along the way and that we have agreements with other souls to help us learn those lessons. But this may be total b.s. -- I won't know until I die, if then.

No one's ever asked me to articulate my beliefs before. I hope that this has been helpful. Although I think you wanted something definite to hold on to, and I can't give that to you.



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