You are exactly where you are meant to be. It’s one of the 7 axioms of yoga, or great universal teachings, and when I first heard it in my 200 hour yoga training, I called BS.
The phrase and its connotation felt like sugar-coating the shit of life. It felt like trying too hard to rationalize the unfair things in life — a way for us to feel better about our misfortune and loss. It felt like a nice pat on the back and a dismissive way to make sense of the difficult things.
Six years ago, the phrase, You are exactly where you are meant to be, came across as a silver lining, a sort of spiritual bypassing, some real glitterized shit.
Telling me, you are exactly where you are meant to be, implied that my brother, at 18, was “meant” to die in a car crash. Or that my baby sister at 3 days old was “meant” to die in the hospital. Or that a close friend was “meant” to have lymphoma and go through intense chemotherapy.
You are exactly where you are meant to be seemed like a horrible, cruel truth to digest…and one I could not stomach.
I remember writing this axiom in my journal mechanically — not because I believed it to be true, but because I was sure this content would be on my final exam (spoiler alert…it was).
There was a deep visceral reaction to this concept. My body was tense and my breath held as a quiet anger boiled inside me. No, I told myself, they were not exactly where they were meant to be.
To accept this axiom felt like accepting a gift you didn’t want to get — and one that didn’t come with a receipt. There was no returning this shit. It was yours. And I did’t want to accept that. I didn’t want to accept the “bad” things.
On a self-level, while there was resistance, my mind could at least entertain accepting my own tragedy. Looking back, I could embrace my eating disorder and see how my wounds became wisdom. I could look at my own personal suffering and see how my pain transformed into purpose. From breaking my neck and nearly dying to suffering unspeakable loss, I could accept that I was exactly where I needed to be…for me.
The Glass is Already Broken
Flash forward 6 years later, on the 20th anniversary of breaking my neck — a collision during a soccer match that should have rendered me dead or paraplegic — I find myself sitting with this axiom: you are exactly where you are meant to be.
It feels like trying on an old piece of clothing, one that you’re not quite sure you want to wear. It feels both familiar and foreign, comforting and alarming.
As humans we have aversion to pain and suffering — so much so that we become a slave to our pleasure and a prisoner to our pain. We become attached to the highs of life, the “good” things we experience, and we create ideals of what life should be. The problem with this methodology is life isn’t always “good” and in seeking out ideals that we can’t experience all of the time, we perpetuate the cycle of suffering or duhkha.
There’s a famous zen story that reminds us that the truth of the path — seeing the path, our life as it is, not how we think it should be — is what liberates us from suffering.
A well-known Zen meditation master was once asked, “In this world where everything changes, where nothing remains the same, where loss and grief are inherent in our very existence, how can there be any happiness? How can we find security when we see that we can’t count on anything being the way we want it to be?”
The teacher looked compassionately at his student and held up a drinking glass that had been given to him earlier in the morning and said, “You see this goblet? For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it. I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over, or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious. Every moment is just as it is, and nothing need be otherwise.”
If we can understand that the glass is already broken, we’ll see that life is always in a constant state of change. Everything has a beginning and an end. Life, relationships and things all wear out, crumble and break.
When we recognize that, just like the glass, our body and the bodies of our loved ones are already broken — when we understand that at some point we all will break — life itself becomes more precious and we open to life as it is, the moment as it unfolds.
When we accept the moment for what it is, as it is, fear can no longer impose upon us, doubt can no longer estrange us. Instead our priorities change, the capacity of our heart grows and our mind releases its grip on old holdings and pretendings.
You are exactly where you are meant to be.
There can be peace in this teaching. Yes, it might piss you off at first and your mind will fight for every reason this cannot be true. But, if you can sit with the teaching, you’ll discover liberation.
When we expect something to break, we’re not disappointed when it does. When we understand that nothing in life is permanent, instead of being immobilized with emotion, we can give into grief and find gratitude in the moments we had.
The path out of suffering requires our willing acceptance of it.