Thirty years ago, in a particularly rocky time of my life, I was seeing a local psychotherapist who was bright, articulate and annoying in more ways than you would think possible.
It annoyed me that she expressed faith- for no discernible reason- in my essential goodness, when I had none. It annoyed me that she reframed many of my actions, for which I would mercilessly castigate myself, as harmless or even intentionally benign. What annoyed me most, though, was her inevitable response, whenever I tried to cast myself in the role of Helpless Victim- a role in which I was deeply, defensively invested. Twinkling her sweetest, most annoying smile at me, she would say, “What we manifest is what we intend”.
My response would usually be tooth grinding, barely controllable rage. How DARE she question my cherished victimhood? In what twisted world did I bear even a smidgeon of responsibility for the mess my life had become? Amazingly, she seemed to see through my tooth baring, Primate display ( annoyingly, seeming to approve even of that), and in time, as I struggled with her ridiculous, frightening assertion, I came to see that (although I would never accept the statement at face value), in my case there was more truth in it than not. Something shifted, under the weight of its uncompromising load, and I came to realize that she was, at least partially, right.
“At least partially right”. Yes. But this is not a “partial” statement; it is a sweeping generalization, and thirty years later, I still wrestle with the question: Can this be true? Did I not really get it? Is whatever we manifest intentional?
On the face of it, the answer has to be “of course not”. The assertion is not just absurd, (as are all general statements, including this one), it is heartless. An infant does not “intend” to be abused. A child in a war-torn, drought ridden country does not choose to starve. Clearly, in greater and lesser ways, part of the Human Experience is the fact that Shit Happens, unless you want to go all metaphysical on me and say that “on some higher level we seek the experiences that will lead to our growth, and therefore we bring these, sometimes terrible events into our lives”. Generally, I’m fine with this kind of thinking; it’s comforting, at first blush- until I start thinking about the abused infant, and then this kind of “It’s all for the best” paradigm starts to scare the hell out of me: if terrible suffering and damage can be seen as, somehow, for the “victim’s” ultimate good, what right have we to interfere? For that matter, why not actively inflict damage on others, to help them grow- and so on, the path leading inevitably to some theory of New Age/Calvinistic predestination, where I find myself beginning to sink over my boot tops.
So, no. That’s not a place I’m willing to go- but there remains the dilemma: why would this intelligent, compassionate person say such a thing? I’ll tell you: I don’t know. What I do know is what I do with the statement, which has become a sort of personal mantra: I treat is as a sort of koan, a mystery who’s solution I may never fathom. The very extremity of the statement forces me to examine the extent to which it is true, in any given situation. Like the old sensei, breaking a stick across my back in the dojo, I’m forced to wrestle with the, frequently unacceptable, possibility that I’m far more responsible for my present situation than I’ve been willing to admit. I’m forced to ask, “Is that statement true in this situation?” Whenever I do that, with as much integrity as I can muster, I become a little more like the person I want to be. That seems a good thing. Your results may vary.
So, here you are. I offer, as the song says, this little phrase, for you to reject, ignore, get pissed off about, or accept in some way all your own. I would be interested to know what you think about it. Please feel free to “comment”, and I’ll respond. I’ve been going round and round with this one for thirty years. I could use some company.