It surprises me when my friend, Himsa, says to me “You are a very unlucky lucky person.” Himsa (not her real name), is a student on the retreat I’m leading in Tuscany. I nod my head in agreement, “I am lucky,” I say. But when I think about it later, I realize she named me both lucky and unlucky. Which am I? Which do I believe I am? And what makes her see me as both?
Destiny, fate, karma, manifestation — what is it that makes one person’s life seem great and another’s full of woes? What makes us think some people “have all the luck?”
I feel fortunate for all I have. But yes, I have been through some hard things. At age eighteen, my sister died; at twenty-one, I wanted to kill myself; at 30, I got pregnant and married (with fingers crossed) the father; at fifty-two, I was diagnosed with anal cancer; at 60, I was enticed by my then husband, to move away from the community I had built only to find myself in a new city alone and divorced. I have a host of medical issues due to the cancer treatment that could keep me from venturing far from home if I let them.
But wait, don’t feel sorry for me…. I’m “lucky.” I have a fantastic life, or do I?
I have wonderful friends who show up for me, I’ve found a supportive community to live in, I still teach some yoga and retreats around the world by teaming up with other teachers, I am enjoying my independence from marriage, and I continue to learn, grow, change, try out new things, and go out when I can, stay in bed when I must, workout when I can, walk in nature, and try to find joy in the foods that my damaged intestines can still eat.
I still have dreams. I take chances.
So, when Himsa says that I’m an unlucky/lucky person, I wonder what she’s seeing.
Himsa (not her real name) is Muslim and believes that fate or good luck is bestowed solely by God. She believes you cannot change your destiny so, when sometimes “bad” happens, she feels that she has no control over the outcome and simply says, “God’s will,” and doesn’t try to change the outcome. Himsa believes that she has had bad luck in life and that she is an unlucky person. That her fate is fastened to her neck.
I learned a long time ago that people have a right to believe what they believe and that to try to change those beliefs is not possible unless they are open to new ideas. Long-held beliefs — especially those of cultural or religious origin — need to be approached carefully. I nod and say, “I feel fortunate to have such a wonderful life.”
“But,” she says. “You have had some really terrible things happen to you. Just last week, you were in the ER once again.”
I nod. “And today I’m in Tuscany,” I say.
In 1996, I started studying yoga. I had an inner feeling, a hunch, that I would need something to help support me in the years ahead. I learned to meditate and how to make healthy choices with exercise and diet for my body type. I became a yogi. In 2006, ten years later, I was diagnosed with anal cancer. By that time, I had a strong meditation and mantra practice that supported my difficult cancer treatment — I could even argue that it actually saved me from dying. But that’s another story.
In the Tantric philosophy that I studied during those years, there absolutely is a belief that Karma from past lifetimes will determine the events of this lifetime. Was I destined to get cancer? Yes, I think I was. But…and here’s the big difference: I also believed in Tantra's idea of free will. I had a choice as to how I would accept my “fate,” what my future actions would be, and how I would help steer the events of my unlived life. Was it luck that helped me survive the treatment? Or was it the practices, determination, and choices I made during treatment that saved me?
Whatever the answer, I knew I had been given a second chance that would not be wasted. I began changing how I lived and viewed my life and my somewhat unhappy marriage. I changed friends; I changed my reactions to people and events. I made choices about how and where I placed my energy. I developed a practice of gratitude. I looked around at my beautiful home, my husband, and my community that had supported me through the treatment and greeted each morning with the words, “I am blessed.”
So yes, my life had challenges. I am both lucky and unlucky if we choose to use those words. Is good luck solely up to an unseen force? Or what if having a good life is not about luck at all? What if life is about choosing to accept the challenges that come along and deciding to make it great anyway? I believe I have the free will to choose to make my life great, to see it as a blessing.
When we believe we can make a great life for ourselves, it doesn’t mean there will not be challenges, it doesn’t mean that we don’t recognize hardships or our reality. It just means we find the good and spin as much gold out of hardship as possible. We believe in the power of positive thinking, that the universe is on our side, that all will work out one way or another, and that we will put in the time and effort needed to steer our life in a new direction if we don’t like the scenery
When I was eighteen, my eleven old sister died; I remember thinking she was unlucky and that now I was unlucky also. I became depressed until I realized how fortunate I was to have been given more time on earth. Susan, my sister, rarely complained about her illness. Instead, she wrote poems and stories, she made friends with other kids on her ward, she made gifts for her sisters at home.
About a year after her death, I asked myself what Susan would want for me. What I heard was pursue your dreams. I moved to Colorado, took up dance again, and met the man that would become my husband. These decisions to move out of my darkness had a tremendous effect on the rest of my life.
Was it fate? Was it luck that these things lead to a career in dance, a 30-year marriage, a daughter, and a beautiful home and community out west — an overall good, happy life? No, I decided to seek beauty. I took action and moved in a new direction.
Luck does not happen to you. To be unlucky does not happen to you. You really can become the ruler of your destiny. You can create a life that looks more than just fantastic on Facebook. You can create a life worth living. Here’s how:
- Be open to meeting new people and engaging in new experiences with a positive outlook. Smile more and engage in eye contact with others.
2. Practice gratitude for the gifts you already have.
3. Accept that being alive in this body means there will be heartbreak and challenges.
4. Feel all the emotions. Cry, rant, rage when you need to, but refuse to let those things define you. Don’t stay stuck.
5. Look for the good in all people, places, things, and circumstances.
6. Seek out beauty everywhere.
7. Listen to your gut; follow your intuition.
8. Believe in your dreams.
9. Reexamine your dreams if the original dream doesn’t seem to be manifesting.
10. Find a new way if at first you don’t succeed.
11. Reduce stress and anxiety and exposure to anyone or anything toxic to your happiness and success. Surround yourself with positive people.
12. Invite in time for stillness and quiet — discover who you are and what your passions are; what will support you in trying times.
During the dark periods of my life, I’ve tried to remember the things that brought me joy as a child. Reading outside under a tree, hearing the crunch of all leaves underfoot, the ocean dance, music, and poetry. It’s probably true for all of us that what once sparked joy in us still will if we give it a chance. Like everything in life, cultivating joy and believing life is on your side takes desire and practice. Sometimes it takes having a guide.
Santiago, the young sheepherder in the popular book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, is at first only able to see a distant goal. When he meets the alchemist, he begins to see the gifts along the journey. He learns that following his dreams will sometimes lead him right back to where he was all along.
If you are at a crossroads, lost at sea, or maybe just feeling uninspired — now is the time to wake up and remember who you are. Who were you when you were feeling lucky?