Two Ways to Live Your Life

As a freshman in college back in 1995, I heard a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that stuck with me:
[EDIT: I was informed that this attribution is incorrect, and there’s no accurate idea of who it came from.]

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Granted, back then I was super optimistic and also naive in many ways. Seventeen years old and just barely becoming aware of myself, I had fashioned a personality based on exuberance and playfulness that I now identify as an overcompensation for what was missing in my life. But we’re not really going to go into that right now.

When I heard this quote, my initial reaction was to scoff at the first statement and align with the second one. “Of course everything is a miracle! It would be so boring to live any other way.” Now, however, I see deep wisdom in both.

Everything is a Miracle

We’ll start with the second one because it was easy for me to grasp. It aligned with how I viewed life at the time. I suspect because it’s reinforced by messages in American culture over and over:

  • be grateful that you’re even here,
  • recognize the opportunity right in front of you and take it because it probably won’t happen again.

How it lived in my mind was:

  • Of all the possible combinations of genes, cells, molecules, and atoms, it just so happens that I appeared. And then of all the possible combinations of genes, cells, molecules, and atoms, you appeared. And now here we are, both of us, in front of each other! What are the chances?
  • We are all billions and billions of years in the making. It could have gone so many different ways at so many different points, and yet here we are, against all odds. It’s a miracle!

This perspective filled me with wonder and awe at how things actually turned out. I appreciated the present moment for what it was: a one in a billion billion chance. It also meant that the future was uncertain, and it was up to me to determine what it was.

Nothing is a Miracle

I want to spend a little more time with this second one. My initial reaction upon hearing this was that living with this perspective must be really boring. There’s no possibility and no appreciation of how things actually turned out. Who would want to live this way?

And then I unlocked its wisdom.

What this statement offered was the perspective of:

  • I’m meant to be here. You’re meant to be here. We’re meant to be here together.
  • This is no coincidence, this is not chance or happenstance. Things are meant to be this way.
  • I’m right where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, and so are you.

When I consider this, all of my struggling tends to stop. I’m not trying to make things different. I’m not trying to be more than I am. I’m not trying to make you be more than you are. It brings a powerful sense of calm, clairvoyance, groundedness, purpose, and belonging. I stop trying to be, and I accept everything and everyone exactly as it is.

Be careful here, though. Just because you’re meant to be here does not mean you can just sit still. Included in the present moment is a vector, a velocity, a direction and speed that you’re travelling. Don’t forget that where you are includes where you’re going.

The Best Part

The best part of this entire quote is that these two perspectives are not mutually exclusive of each other. It’s not a statement of absolute truth, or about the fabric of reality. It’s a statement about the power of perspective, and the impact that it can have on our actions and reactions. The point here is:

You get to choose.

At any given moment, you get to choose which perspective gives you power. You get to choose which perspective brings you calm and clarity. You get to choose which perspective adds more love, joy, wonder, and awe into your life. Sometimes it will be that everything is a miracle. Sometimes it will be that nothing is a miracle. But also, if you want,

You can choose both.

It’s not a contradiction to choose both. Or neither. You can choose something completely different than either of these. Make something up that gives you calm and clarity. You will know it’s right for you when it settles in your gut like a mossy stone. It’s a visceral feeling of deep calm and wisdom. It’s the feeling that I identify as the distinguishing characteristic of joy from happiness. Happiness is an emotion. Joy is a deep appreciation for whatever else is happening, be it happiness, sadness, anger, laughter, or anything else.

While the perspective of “everything is a miracle” provided a lot of enthusiasm, excitement, and appreciation in my earlier years, as I grow older and I have deeper, longer-term commitments, the perspective of “nothing is a miracle” provides much more for me.

For example, with my mom, it has helped me see that I am, in fact, a product of what she did to raise me. It still remains that I didn’t like some or many of the things she did, but it’s indisputable that I would not be who I am today without her. I am also able to see her as the human being that she is: fallible and trying her best with what she was given, the same as me. Life wasn’t easy on her, and she deserves some respite from the fury and judgment of life.

And not just with my mom, but everyone else in my life too. When there’s a disagreement or an argument, the idea that it’s meant to happen helps stop the struggle, the denial that it’s even happening, and helps me accept it as it is. Then I can think clearly and act according to what I’m actually committed to, rather than from my protective, defensive instincts and reflexes.

Reader Reflection

What did this bring up for you?
Is there something in your life that you’ve been struggling with?
Did one, the other, or both of these perspectives provide something for you?
Do you see new actions to take?

Please tell me, I’d love to know!
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