Meditations: Three Mantras I Like
Lucky are the people who cross your path.
I’ve decided to share more of my personal journey again. I relate to many ideas through personal experience, stories, and metaphors. I believe they lose much of their meaning and stickiness when shared in isolation, like food that has been processed heavily and lost its nutritional value.
I will create a separate category for these meditations on my own journey and add the label to the headline such that you know whether a post is personal or ‘business’.
If an idea resonates, feel free to reflect and share in the comments.
Thank you for reading,
It’s my last day in the Bahamas and I’m crying in the shower. Not how I imagined my trip was going to end. Not what I planned on writing either. I used to push my emotions down and away, but now I let it all wash over me like the steaming stream of water.
Some of it is sadness. I’m leaving behind a precious soul that I met so unexpectedly. There is gratitude, too. Gratitude for having been here, for the moments that were granted to me. There are tears of relief. Relief that I get to return to a life I’ve just recently learned to love. And there is gratitude for having another beautiful patch to add to the quilt of my unfolding journey. As I dry myself off, I stare at the open suitcase. What a trip it has been, short yet filled with lessons.
My mother likes to say that ‘everything happens for a reason’ and, honestly, that used to trigger me.
What about things that happen for bad reasons? I understood the idea: everything that had happened, good and bad, had shaped me. But I was at war with myself. I was not happy with who I was. All I could see were wasted years, opportunities not taken, twists and turns leading nowhere. I was stuck in regret.
In another timeline of my life, another version of me made better decisions (like, for example, he’d kissed my teenage crush when invited to her house to “share notes to study for the SAT.” How curious, I’d thought, my writing was barely legible. How could she possibly study with my notebooks? Imagine her disappointment when I gave her my binders and left). That version of myself would also look back at their life and say that it all happened for a reason. And they’d be just as right.
‘Everything happens for a reason’ just seemed like an excuse to make poor decisions and wave off the responsibility.
Last year, a mentor introduced me to a simple phrase: ‘everything is connected.’ More specifically:
Everything I experience is connected. There are no coincidences in the universe.
I wrote it on a piece of paper and taped it to my bathroom door. Many other notes have come and gone since but this one, curiously, has remained in place. I walk past it all the time. It seemed like an interesting idea, but did I believe it? Did I know it to be true? Where was the evidence?
When two friends of mine asked whether I wanted to house sit their place in the Bahamas for a few days, I said yes. I didn’t quite know why. Sure, I’d never been to the islands, and why not? What I mean is that I knew the real reason for my trip had yet to be revealed to me.
I kept my schedule completely open. Every time I started making plans, I felt an inner resistance. It was as if my body was telling me to forget about the boat trips, the snorkeling, the frozen Daiquiris. Just be there and be open to whatever happens. With all that time available, I was open to ideas and connections as soon as I stepped off the plane.
In the row behind me I’d noticed a gorgeous woman, very much my type. A slender brunette with a bright smile, tan and well dressed in a cream-colored outfit. By the time we made it to Bahamian customs, I’d mustered up the courage to speak to her. We chatted on the way out until I bumped into my friend who was waiting to pick me up. And that was that. Should have asked for her number! Clearly not the reason I was here (but could it have been?).
Before leaving, my hosts took me out to dinner and introduced me to some local friends, including a woman. Let’s call her Jennifer.
Life had been throwing the kitchen sink at her lately: a health scare with coin flip chances of survival followed by the loss of a longtime companion. A serious relationship from which she had to extract herself in a remarkable display of courage and defiance of expectations. Things had been piling up.
And yet there she was, showing up for everyone around her. For her loved ones, for her friends, for her neighbors. She was hosting, conjuring up incredible meals, and pushing forward with determination and strength.
Because my schedule was open, I got to spend more time with her. Suddenly, my reason for visiting was obvious.
I like to think that there is something to learn from everyone we meet. I’m not talking about information, though it can be that. Every interaction holds the potential for a lesson: about the other person, about us, about our relationship, about the world, about the human condition. Like the other two mantras, this one can require some distance and reflection.
I learned a lot from Jennifer in just a few days.
I learned about resilience and vulnerability. I learned that one can find their way back to dance from great pain. Opening up after being hurt takes courage. But it is exactly that courage which transforms suffering into a brilliant blossoming. The more difficult it is for a heart to open up, the more radiant its glow when finally allowed to shine.
I also learned about the value of presence. I’m a writer, I like my words. But silence can be golden. Sometimes, the most valuable thing we can do is to just be present, to be there for someone, to listen quietly and to try our best to truly see them.
Finally, I learned more about those special moments of connection that are so good for us, that leave such deep grooves of memory, but that fade as quickly as a pink sunset. No words or pictures do them justice. Should we try to extend them, repeat them, attempt to relive their magic? I wonder if some moments are like precious little pearls, meant to be treasured and collected in an ornate box, but too fragile to be pierced and made into a necklace of connection.
Returning to New York was like waking up from an intense dream. The images faded only slowly, reality re-appeared in layers and fragments. As the taxi passed by the jumble of buildings, some gorgeous, some ugly, I felt my body hungrily absorbing the city’s energy. I felt at home in the stimulating buzz that had been lacking on the island. At times, the Bahamas had felt lifeless, as if the energy had been drained when a natural paradise had to make room for carefully manicured amenities.
I feel more at peace with my path now. For all its defects, New York remains a place that offers a lot of potential for ‘meaningful randomness’ and connections. It happened on this trip too, but I consider myself lucky that it did.
And I can see now that my mother was right. My resistance to her mantra was a result of wanting things to be different. My attachment to a different life kept me closed to the gift that was the life in front of me.
Everything happens for a reason.
Everything is connected.
There is something to be learned from everyone we meet.
The point is not to take these mantras too literally. Consider them a suggestion, an idea to weigh. What if this was true? How would it change your perspective on life, on yourself, on others?
Nor should they be used as an excuse for selfishness or poor behavior. Rather, I see them as a way of framing life experiences and cultivating openness, curiosity, and love.
I believe these mantras can lead us to more openness to connection and a deeper interest in the experience of others. They can allow us to move forward with fewer regrets and to wear the scars of our mistakes with pride. I believe they can help us appreciate who we have become and develop gratitude for all of our experiences, including the challenging and painful ones.
Every day presents an opportunity to make peace with the past, to be fully present, to show up for ourselves and for whoever is sharing our life.
The inverse of these three mantras may also be interesting to contemplate:
If ‘everything happens for a reason’ then we may meet others for a reason.
If ‘everything is connected’ then we may act as the connection.
If ‘there is something to be learned from everyone we meet,’ then we can be the teachers.
Our stepping into someone else's life, even for a short moment, may have meaning. By this I don’t mean to elevate our sense of self-importance. This may have nothing to do with our conscious actions. It may be our mere presence, a word or name we introduce into their world, an emotion we lead them to. Meaning can beam from our grace or arise from our faults. We may never know what our encounter meant to them, and it is not important that we do. Trying to figure out what it means to us is enough.
So, don’t overthink it. Don’t get stuck in analysis. Trust that things happen for a reason, even if you can’t see the whole picture yet. And be open, present, and curious for the next encounter. Steve Jobs once said that one ‘can only connect the dots looking backwards.’ But who said life was about connecting all the dots?
I don’t know if everything is connected. But I am starting to see enough of it to be very intrigued. In fact, I would encourage you to keep track of meaningful connections and coincidences. Start paying attention to the mysterious ways in which things in your life connect and unfold.
Consider journaling: revisit who you’ve met over the past year and who acted as a connector or teacher. Have you shared your gratitude with them? In what ways have you made connections for others? When do you show up as a teacher, either explicitly or by example? What opportunities exist in your life right now to connect someone with another person or idea?
On the night before my departure, Jennifer and I kept talking, wrapping the unspoken heaviness of an ending in a blanket of laughter.
“They are lucky who will cross your path,” she said with an earnestness that left me stunned.
Lucky are the ones who cross hers.