Over the weekend, my partner and I talked about having another baby. For us, right now is an exceptionally difficult time to intentionally disrupt the balance. But talking through future plans drew my attention to the notion of control. That is, what we are and aren’t in control of.

Deepak Chopra, whose many books I’ve read over and over, says that while we cannot control this moment, what we can do is influence the future. Vedanta teaches that reality is as much our own creation as it is everyone else’s. One analogy Chopra uses is that when candles are kindled from one fire, it is the same flame that burns in many candles, and so we’re all making up reality together from the illusion of our multiple vantage points, even though we are all of the same spirit, or the same flame. In understanding this, the perspective begins to shift.

When I was in the undergraduate years of college, just emerging from a sheltered and very innocent childhood, I fell for an abusive, wealthy, dangerously cunning narcissist. Whenever I complained to him of the way he treated me, he would tell me that I was not a victim but a volunteer, because in spite of my unhappiness, I strung along with him. Those words coming from him in such a situation made them difficult to absorb. But eventually I did. It isn’t that I was causing the abuse, but he had a valid point, in that I was choosing to stay with him, allowing him to disrupt my balance.

Later, after I had split with him and married an heroic angel of a man, when bad things would happen to me, I would ask myself if I had volunteered for it. It certainly is easier to ask “why me?” and declare war against the world, when something goes wrong. And to some degree it’s normal, too. But the stronger choice, the choice that is going to lead you back out of hell, is choosing to see the course that has resulted from your choices, all along the way. Even when my husband died, I realized one day that, in a way, I had indeed volunteered. Of course when I fell in love with him, the likelihood of him dying in his 30’s was very low. But I did volunteer to spend my life with him, come what may. I even pledged it in my wedding vows. I volunteered to suffer anything for love, and even signed on for the 50/50 chance that I would be the one to outlive the other.

Buy from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Google Books

There is nothing that disrupts balance more than losing a spouse. You lose a partner; the one who helped maintain the house chores and the meals and the bills, you lose the social connection of your spouse’s friends, as well as many of your own friends who are no longer comfortable being around your vulnerability. You lose your confidence in the world and in yourself, you lose your identity because part of it had congealed in that spouse. You lose your dreams of the future, you lose your best friend, you may even lose your faith while you try to understand how this could have happened. You may lose your health, lose your job, lose your income and general sense of security. You lose your support system and intimacy, you lose the sense of home. Many people suffer a loss of functional memory for years. But again, while it may be very frustrating to admit that we raised our hands for this assignment of dragging ourselves through the rest of our lives without that person – we did, because allowing ourselves to love so deeply means allowing for the chance of getting hurt.

So now here we are. Hurting so deeply as a result of loving so deeply. Not everyone on this earth gets as lucky in love as we were. You know what? In spite of all the hurt that is still in my heart after all these years without him, I wouldn’t take back a single second of it. Losing him almost killed me, yet loving him was still the right choice. I’m a much stronger, much better person for having the whole experience; the yin and the yang of it.

We make choices constantly in life, with an expected result. Sometimes it goes how we thought and sometimes not. I don’t believe that “everything happens for a reason” is true, at least not in the explanation that there’s a bearded guy in the clouds who burns your life to the ground so that he can build you an alabaster mansion. But I do believe that the choices we make when things don’t result in the expected way, are very important. And perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind through the hard times is that you are making choices, as a participant – as a volunteer.

This to me is really empowering. Congratulate yourself on the small victory of choosing to get out of bed, whenever you choose to do so. Congratulate yourself on choking down your meals, brushing your teeth, keeping some of your routine. It may not exactly feel like superhero activity, but eventually the fact that you survived this disaster is going to inspire someone else, and it won’t feel like it was all for naught anymore. You will be the ear who listens when someone else goes through their own hell, and you will have real advice, true empathy, and yes – heroism – to someone who is at their own crossroads of being a victim or a volunteer.

One day, although it may seem very difficult to believe right now, you may even bless the entire journey.