Things Happen

“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”
Alan Watts

“To a dog, there are no good or bad smells, there are only smells.”
Someone who can apparently speak with dogs

Things happen.

That’s it, basically. Words can be strung together in an infinite number of ways to tell the story of life, to flesh out the details or glean the lesson, but what it boils down to is just that – things happen. Label it what you want – incidents, phenomena, cosmic flow, predetermination, chaos or, as the bumper sticker philosophers do, shit – life is just a series of events stewed together. Things that you have witnessed and participated in make up your life. The things I have seen make up mine. We are born, a bunch of stuff happens, and we die. Things happened before we were here and things will continue to happen long after we have ceased to be housed by this fleshy shell.

These things may sometimes cause you to scream, laugh, curse, run, cry, eat, smile, drink, sleep or begin scrapbooking, none of which, though, will have the slightest effect on whether or not they happen because those are simply reactions. Things happen and we react and that becomes our experience. This is how we define our existence. We paint the moments of our lives with emotions, thoughts and actions, creating our reality all the while as reality is wholly our creation. How we react to the events that unfold around us is the most important factor in determining the narrative of our lives.

This is not to say we can’t influence how things play out around us because I think we can. I believe that our energy and intention have, in fact, more to do with the course of future events in our lives than most of us (me included) can possibly understand. But that is concerning what is yet to come, not what has happened or is happening now. The last lines in our stories are always the ones we are writing in this moment. We don’t know yet what the next moment will be nor should we – that would take a lot of the fun out of it.

What we are left with is a canvas covered with all of these things – these moments – outlined in pencil, just waiting for us to paint them. We alone, then, determine if we will paint them with our fury or our repose, our sorrow or our joy. We dictate what that moment will forever be to us. We give each moment its vibration and its resonance in our lives. Good or bad, hot or cold, naughty or nice.

Of course, it isn’t all as simple as just choosing different colored paint. Our palettes are hugely influenced by societal norms, cultural beliefs and individual fears, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be changed. Revolutions fail, spouses cheat, dogs bite and dinners are burnt – all of which can at first look like a paint-by-numbers picture, leaving little for us to interpret. But maybe the revolution was misguided, the spouse was an anchor, the dog had a thorn in its paw and dinner sucked to begin with. Maybe more was to gain by such seemingly negative events than could first be seen. Maybe the angry red brush can be traded for a softer tone.

The same can be said for events that first appear to be nothing but positive. The winning lottery ticket does not always become a painting of happy little trees, as it were.

How we choose to process these things that keep on happening, then, becomes our experience, our reality, our life. How we learn from all of these things is also a product of this choice. If we label some moment as good or bad we have already limited our own ability to digest all of the possibilities. If we instead choose to just process the moment as it is without attaching an emotional judgment to that moment, then we can free ourselves from the constraints of our visceral reactions.

Things happen. A bunch of stuff happened today and I expect tomorrow will look about the same. I will continue to try to process the things that swirl around me without attachment, not looking for the good or the bad, but for the lesson. And using all of my colors.


About Mitchell Brown

I am a stay at home dad with my two daughters who are a lot stronger than they look. When I'm not cooking, cleaning, dancing, reading, teaching, playing or protecting my eyes and groin, I am writing about this whole experience in all of its ridiculousness.
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18 Responses to Things Happen

  1. Brother David says:

    Brother Father,
    I am going to have to think about this one a little before suggesting my philosophical response or reply. It is good to stimulate thought and consideration. Thank you again, for now. More later. OK, I think and agree that we can affect or influence the way things play out around us, but we often think we can control such outcomes, and I think that is where we make our mistakes. Let us have an effect but give up control over outcomes and I think we could be happier at the end of the day. I accept the concept that sh.. happens, but find comfort that we can have input or reaction, but not necessarily control of outcome, due to the input of other forces or people.

    • Glad to have gotten the ol’ machine working (though yours always is). I agree that it is that issue of control that handicaps us so frequently. While I certainly think we have influence, control in and of itself is well beyond our reach, or understanding for that matter. A friend of mine has this great mantra “float more, steer less”. I try to edge ever closer to letting go of the steering wheel all the time and find that the more I let go the more in control of myself I feel. I guess it all boils down to what or who you are trying to control.

      Thanks again for playing, Brother Father. Happy day.

  2. Adam Sancic says:

    I couldn’t agree more senor pickle.. As usual you have expressed what many feel, but few can put into words..After our trip to the Santa Cruz redwoods this summer, I came to terms with the fact that life is both too short, and we are way to insignificant to let those daily “stressors” get in the way of enjoying life, and those around us. I’m amazed at how many people think their agenda takes precedence over the general well being of others…thanks for the perspective !

    • I would think being in the presence of the Redwoods goes a long way toward reminding us of our significance in the grand scheme. While feeling insignificant can truly be a hindrance to some, it can also be incredibly liberating.

      Thank you, brother.

  3. Mitchell…great post! This is very similar to some of the teachings by Landmark Education. Things happen, and then we make those things mean something, good, bad, etc, about ourselves, or the world, or “how it is”. We interpret happenings in a particular way, usually because we are predisposed to “look for evidence” that life is the way we think it is, even if that interpretation makes us unhappy (which is more often the case then not). So, there is “what happened”, and then there is “our story about what happened”. These 2 things are quite distinct. Yet, we relate to our stories as though they are the truth, which often puts us in conflict with others, and generally makes us unhappy. Learning to separate “what happened” from “our story about what happened” can be very emotionally freeing by allowing us to start to see from a different vantage point.

    • How valuable those changes in perspective and perception can be, no? I am not familiar with Landmark Education, but I certainly do agree with those ideas. I particularly like phrasing this issue as “what happened” vs. “our story about what happened” – that really resonates with me. It seems that when we only see our own story as truth that we are closing off so many doors to understanding – understanding both ourselves and the world (and people) around us.

      Thank you again, Dawn, for sharing your time and your thoughts with me.

  4. Wolf Pascoe says:

    Well said. Control an illusion, but one hell of an illusion.

  5. Carla Peak says:

    I’ve always been a big believer that we chose how to react to things, and the choices that we make make all the difference in the world to not only ourselves, but the people around us. I’ve just never had the talent to put it into words like you do Mitch. Go job! Again.

    • Thanks so much, Carla. It is fascinating just how influential those choices you speak of are on ourselves and the people around us. We not only create our own reality through those choices, I think, but we go far in shaping the reality of all of those near us. It is like our own gravitational pull.

  6. Meka says:

    There are so many choices in this path of life it makes me ask why not always choose the one that is the happiest. Problem is(for me) that expectations get in the way of how I take in the situation.It seems they are subconsciously there. I find that the times that we get frustrated or angry or upset is when we have an expectation that the situation should be something that it’s not. Then the result is that we react instead of acting. Reacting is the knee jerk action and acting would mean that we had to really evaluate things for what they are or what we want them to be, before we make any actions. I spent a long long time reacting then regretting my actions of that choice. Now I react where no one can hear the four letter words and then sit and think about how I would like to act on the situation. I do believe that everything happens for a reason and that we can influence how we are affected by things. Sometimes those things just seems to happen so fast we can’t keep up. So today some sh.. happened and maybe it happened so I’m better prepared for tomorrow’s sh…!

    Thanks for letting me ramble and making me think more about how I am going to let things affect my life story and the imprint I make on others life stories.

  7. Jackie M says:

    This is lovely. Very Zen-like. Oh so very Buddhism-ish. Thank you.

  8. Jared Karol says:

    When my dad was in the last stages of his battle w/ AIDS, I remember he quoted a Buddhist line to me: “Learn to observe without judging or reacting.” I’m not sure if that’s exactly what you were trying to say, but this piece reminded me of it. And, it reminded me that although I haven’t “done” anything with my philosophy degree, what I have done with it – and what your post exemplified – is I have learned to look at the world through a less orthodox and mainstream lens, but one that is so much more interesting and profound. . . and ultimately, useful and pertinent. Thank you for that.

    • That was the basic premise I was working from. A couple of things had happened that brought me to some pretty dark places and those feelings were greatly affecting my ability to be positive and light with my girls, as I want to be. They don’t need my heaviness and are so negatively affected by it. So, I was trying to process it all and, as your father said, just observe. There is, indeed, nothing to be done about what has happened. The learning continues…..

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