the issue of fairness ~mark nepo

As long as we see what has come to pass as
being unfair, we’ll be a prisoner of
what might have been.

This is a very painful issue to discuss for most of us, because so much of how we see the world hinges on a sense of fairness and justice, those truly noble human concepts that govern how we treat each other.

But the laws of experience in the natural world, in which we have no choice but to live, do not work this way. Rather, the larger Universe, of which humankind is a small part, is a world of endless possibility and endless cycle, a world in which life forms come and go, a world itself that has erupted and reformed countless times.

This is why the Hindu tradition has a deity known as Vishnu, who both destroys and bestows life, often in that order. Although fairness and justice are beautiful gravities by which we as human creatures try to live with one another, the storm and the germ, the termites eating the foundation of your house, the errant stone breaking your windshield, the wave swamping your little boat—these molecules of experience do not understand what is fair. They just bombard us in the endless cosmic dance of life that just keeps happening.

When I was struggling with cancer, I was asked repeatedly to release my anger at the injustice of having cancer. Quite honestly, I felt a great many things—fear, pain, anxiety, frustration, uncertainty, exhaustion—but I did not feel that having cancer was unjust. When was I or anyone promised perfect health? An ant can struggle for yards with food in its mouth only to have a dead limb tired of hanging on crush it. What makes human beings presume to be exempt from such things?

I know now that, over the years, my own cries that life is unfair, have come from the inescapable pain of living, and these cries, while understandable, have always diverted me from feeling my way through the pain of my breakage into the re-formation of my life. Somehow, crying “Unfair” has always kept me stuck in what hurts.

I offer what has surprised me in my pain: that life is not fair, but unending in its capacity to change us; that compassion is fair and feeling is just: and that we are not responsible for all that befalls us, only for how we receive it and for how we hold each other up along the way.

  • Sit outside, if possible, and watch the pollen carried on the wind. Meditate on how some of these pollen grains will become flowers, and how those flowers will wilt and see other flowers yet to be.
  • Meditate on how the human drama with all its unknown turn of events unfolds in much the same way.
  • Breathe deeply and look at the many dreams and mistakes and joys and pains of your life as pollen on a larger wind. Some will grow. Some will not.
  • Do not deny your pain in experiencing life, but try not to heighten the hurt by labeling it tragic or unfair.
  • Try to hold the pain of your changes with compassion rather than justice.

~Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

4 thoughts on “the issue of fairness ~mark nepo

  1. I believe that we are not promised a life free from pain or hurt or tragedy….but that we are promised that God will be beside us each step of the way and for me that has been true.

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