Do you believe in luck? I grew up in a family with a mother steeped in superstition and she was forever on the prowl for lucky chances. Perhaps because she believed her life was so luck-less or maybe it was linked to her alleged gypsy heritage. Knock over the salt and she was flicking three pinches over her left shoulder. Walk past a statue of a Buddha and you had to rub its belly and make sure it was facing East. God help the child that put new shoes on the kitchen counter and may your forsaken soul find redemption if you opened an umbrella inside the house. Broken mirrors are unmentionable.
To this day I have to stop myself from passing on this generational neurosis to my children (I have passed on other paranoia and dysfunction quite unconsciously I am sure). Obsessing over black cats, walking under ladders and making wishes on falling stars are not my practice even if the ghosts of these archaic traditions haunt me. However, I do believe in a version of luck that I call ‘spiritual magic’ – it’s a kind of inevitable karmic reciprocity.
When I first moved to South Africa some 25 years ago I started work as an English teacher at a prestigious high school. I was relatively happy there but I didn’t feel like I belonged. The English teachers were what I call ‘hard core’, reciting quotes from Blake’s Paradise Lost and out-witting one another with humorous anecdotes from literary evenings they had attended of book launches and soirees with jazz musicians and retired opera singers. I wasn’t really running in those kinds of packs and, I suspected I didn’t really have any desire to do so. I had chortled my way through a couple of these sorts of activities and it just wasn’t my thing.
One night I received a call from someone who had been given my name through one of the staff I worked with at the school. She asked me to help out training adult English classes on Saturday mornings for a group of illiterate adult workers at a biscuit factory. Saying yes to that opportunity opened up a whole new trajectory for my work and my life. I discovered the great pleasure that exists in adult education, I learned about how adult brains operate and like to learn, I made new friends who were more like my ‘tribe’ and discovered the type of work for which I had both a passion and a talent.
Nearly 30 years ago I first saw my wife in a communal university residence dining hall. I am not sure that I fell in love across a crowed room (and indeed it was very crowded), but I do know that my senses locked into an awareness that I would get to know this person. Little did I know then that I would embark on this mysterious journey of marriage and hitch my life with her life and together we would discover the new depths and heights of who we are. Sharing your life with another is one of the great acts of living. I know both of us have had to cast off many old versions of ourselves as we yielded to the new version of ourselves that life and our partnership constantly requires. And if I had never seen her what path might my life have taken?
Just the other day I was coaching someone who has chosen to cast aside all sage advice given to her by her friends and family and select a different path for her life. Nearly everyone is giving her the ‘you’re mad’ feedback. And she is deeply aware of their wisdom and their concern for her. She knows that the path she wants is not the safe one or potentially even the one that will provide the obvious boon of wealth, success and prestige. Somewhere inside her is this desire to embark on this alternative path – the one no one else believes is the right one for her. She is walking past the danger signs and just following her path.
Who know what dangers lurk on that path, but I suspect there are dangers on every path – the ones others want us travel as well as the paths we are asked to avoid. So too are there treasures and demons and princes and princesses residing on these paths. I guess the key here is that the path needs to be the one we choose for ourselves. The career we embark on, the love interest with whom we become fascinated – whatever magnetises our attention must have a meaning that is unique to each of us. It is up to us to grab those learnings and accept the beauties and challenges we find along the way.
The philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, talks about the idea that if you look back on life you will see how happenchance will bring people and events into your life that make no sense at the time, but with hindsight indicate there was a sort of magical master plan at work. Had I not failed first year university, had I not changed degrees, moved to South Africa, answered that phone call – had but for a million chance events occurring and not occurring I would have missed certain portals into the steam of life that is now mine.
Here’s what I am learning: don’t underestimate the process of life.
Trust that there are small and large workings underway bringing to you exactly what your life needs for you to incubate the dynamic force of your potential. We are all in our rightful trajectory. One of the burdens of youth is this enormous pressure you feel that every decision you make must somehow move you towards a future that you may or may not sense is within your grasp. The older you get you realise that there is a sort of beautiful syncopation to the song of your life. There are unexpected surprises that compose this opera that is our lives. Yes there are tears and tragedy, but there is this beautiful mystery unfolding for you too. And it is of our making. We get exactly what we need.