“Whenever anything negative happens to you, there is a deep lesson concealed within it, although you may not see it at the time.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
With all due respect, Mr. Tolle – bullshit.
Sometimes, negative things happen, and there is no lesson. Things happen beyond our control, out of the blue, beyond our wildest imagination – and it’s just the universal forces in motion. There is no lesson, no higher message – things happen, and sometimes what happens really sucks.
One of my HR colleagues had a sign in her office that read, “What’s great about this?” Whenever an employee came to her with a problem, she’d point to the sign and require them to give an answer before she’d continue the discussion. If she’d done that to me (I was not an employee there, thank the gods), my response would have been, “What’s great about this is that I realize what an utterly useless way of managing internal issues this is, and I quit so I can work somewhere that isn’t run by idiots.”
Sometimes, there is a lesson. You drink too much alcohol one night, make an idiot of yourself, get sick, anger your friends, and lose two days to a miserable hangover. The lesson is pretty clear – don’t drink to excess.
Sometimes, there is no lesson. My mother died in an accident during my last week of classes in my final semester of college. I took four “Incompletes”, and it took me three months to finish my course week and my honors thesis, in between settling her estate, dealing with the lawsuit against the other driver who caused the accident, and moving myself to California. What was the lesson there? Be sure to ask your parents to schedule their untimely deaths around your academic obligations and moving schedule?
Apophenia (as defined on Wikipedia: “the experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data”) can a real problem. How do we know when something is a real pattern, or when we are imposing meaning that isn’t there? (I encourage you to read the entire article – the origin of the term “apophany” in psychiatric research dealing with schizophrenia will keep you up for a night or two.)
The counterpoint experience is “epiphany”, which our friends at Dictionary.com define as “a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something” – seeing based on patterns that are actually present. Yes, we all see things differently, and what is “real” for one person might not be “real” for another. But at the point we wish so hard for something to be “real” – despite our own knowledge that it is not – we have crossed from epiphany to apophany.
As Tarot readers, we look for patterns in the cards. How many Major Arcana cards are in the spread? Court cards? How many of each minor suit? Are there repeating numbers? Repeating symbols?
Someone who has a large number of Major Arcana cards in the spread is probably in or heading for one or more life transitions. Someone with lots of Pentacle cards may be dealing with work or housing issues. Someone with lots of Cups cards probably has relationship work to do, in one form or another. The pattern can help the client focus on the issues and devise creative approaches to managing them.
But sometimes, there is no pattern. The cards are randomly and evenly distributed among the suits. There are no number patterns. There are no repeating symbols. There’s no big epiphany, no flashing neon message – just disparate pieces of information for the client to apply to their life as they are able.
When bad things happen (we lose a job, a valued possession breaks, or someone close to us dies), we feel an emotional void, and we want to ascribe meaning to the event as a way to manage our emotions. This is a classic left brain coping mechanism – “if I can understand it, I can manage it”.
Sometimes, there is no meaning – our employer decides to cut costs, and we’re laid off; the tectonic plates shift, and a treasured piece of porcelain falls to the floor and smashes; we’re all human, and we will all shuffle off this mortal coil at some point.
Sometimes, it’s just random, and stuff just happens. Sometimes, there is no meaning, no understanding – sometimes, there is only acceptance.