There are people who believe that everything happens for a reason. I think that the universe is ordered, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that everything happens for a reason. Athough this sounds like a paradox now that I’ve said it. Maybe life is a paradox and we are so busy trying to make it appear logical that we don’t notice that it is not, something that the mystics have no trouble recognizing.
I think that things happen and we make sense of the order that we perceive in ways that make sense to us, or not. Life is in a constant state of becoming and we are always trailing a bit behind trying to keep up with what is unfolding. Two years in a row now, I have traveled many miles from home to do a job that did not exist when I got to where I was going. Two years in a row, I muddled through months of what I thought were just cultural differences only to discover that, crossing cultures notwithstanding, I was simply in the middle of something that never was, and never would be, what I was told it was. Two years in a row, decisions made by people whom I would never meet long before I showed up on the scene, were to doom my original mission to utter failure. Not unlike the defect in the construction of the oxygen tank for Apollo 13, which occurred more than two years before it launched, resulted in the explosion that led to the failure of that mission to make it to the moon.
Two years in a row, just as I finally concluded for myself that, despite all appearances, there was no wizard in Oz after all, the curtain opened to confirm my instinct: In both cases, just as I finally accepted that there were circumstances beyond my control that were preventing me from doing what I thought I had come to do , the host country person charged with my oversight resigned from their position of authority in the institution in question and walked away. In both cases, six months was the mark when external reality finally confirmed my intuition that things were not what the people around me were claiming that they were.
For the second year in a row, in my final hours, people are scrambling to find things for me to do. But this time is different from the first. I am not as disturbed by what some might call the fiasco of my appointment this year as I was last year. I also am not expecting much to change in general, although the local specifics of my professional existence might shift with a change in management.
Life is certainly more enjoyable when I sink into what is actually occurring instead of trying to get things to happen the way that I was told they would happen. When did I decide to assume responsibility to make other people’s delusions into reality? I mean, really, I have my hands full trying not to fall prey to my own illusions.
I do not think that all of this has happened to me for a reason, although perhaps it has and I have just not figured out what it is. What I do think is that every community and the institutions within it have their own life, their own movement through space and time, and that falling into a new context for whatever well-meaning international-cultural-exchange-service reason for a short period of time does not make you immune to the effects of the dramas that are unfolding today into tomorrow in the time frame when the powers that be decide to drop you into this new alternate reality. What being an outsider does mean, however, is that no one is under any obligation to tell you what is going on, which is why my experience consistently remains one of feeling like I am stuck in a large vat of molasses whenever things are not what I am expecting.
The truth is that, like Apollo 13, both years have been successful failures, and successful failures in the same way. That is, despite the fact that the job I was promised was non-existent, I have, if their own comments are to be believed, made a difference in the lives of working teachers hanging around the periphery of my two unrealized work assignments. The group involved was small in Rwanda, 50 or so. Here, I have worked with over 600 in-service teachers, mostly at the secondary level. The time I have spent touching teachers’ lives has been brief but meaningful to them and to me. Each context has stretched us all in new ways.
The similarity between these two years does not end here. In both situations, the people who invited me and who were responsible for overseeing my work seemed surprised that the teachers with whom I worked liked our work together as much as they did. I can only conclude that I was not really invited in either case because of my expertise. In both cases, I was a body with the right credentials for the position description, and that is all anyone really cared about. I say this because if I had been chosen for my competence, then people would not express surprise at my accomplishments. I mean they could congratulate me, or thank me. But they would not be surprised that I did what I said I would do.
It is a disquieting experience to realize that I am in a place for reasons of which I had no previous understanding and which diverge from why I think I am in a place. And yet, at the same time, I experience a deep settling into myself as I realize that, for the people around me, what is distinctive about me is not what I think it is. Sliding out of one’s personal worldview into someone else’s frees the ego to simple explore and play with the events and experiences that arise from minute to minute with very little, if any, attachment to outcome. It also underscores the truth of the Dhammapada that with our minds we make the world, and the Buddha’s teachings concerned with impermanence and “no self”.
In point of fact, “I” really do not exist independent of my experiences and my perceptions of them. That is, there can be no permanent autonomous “me” because all that I am depends upon who is looking at me, what they are seeing, and what I am seeing of myself through my perceptions of my experiences and my interactions with them. I construct my reality depending upon who, and what, is in the frame with me at any given moment. And when my context changes, so does my reality. Thus, there is no permanent autonomous “me”, or “you” for that matter. In turn, this means that there is no permanent autonomous “reality”. How could there be if we do not exist as permanent autonomous beings? And… if there is no permanent reality then certainly nothing in the-something-that-does-not-exist can ever really happen for a reason. One might say, in fact, that nothing real is actually happening at all…