The Basic Truth of Life

Embrace this one thing and be free.

Denise Vitola

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Photo by Anastasiya Yilmaz on Unsplash

Many years ago I was leafing through a magazine and came across a really funny piece called A Short Guide to Comparative Religions. Nobody seems to know the original creator, but you might have seen it circulating on posters and T-shirts. It’s a genius list of variations on “Shit Happens” organized by religion:

Taoism: Shit happens.
Buddhism: If shit happens, is it really shit?
Zen: What is the sound of shit happening?
Hinduism: This shit happened before.
Jehovah’s Witness: Knock knock, shit happens.

And so on, you get the idea. I remember laughing so hard that day because it was hilarious but it was also true. At the time, I was in my twenties and considered myself an atheist (there is no shit). I had been raised Catholic (if shit happens, we deserve it) but by that time I thought all religions were pretty much…well, bullshit.

It was only years later, after a spiritual awakening and a few shitstorms in my own life that I realized just how much truth there is in this list, irreverent though it may be. For so many years, I believed that religion was just a security blanket for people who couldn’t cope with life as it really is. Now I realize that it’s a way for people to come together and try to understand life as it really is, to try and find some kind of meaning and beauty in all the senselessness and randomness. They’re all different ways of approaching a common kernel of truth about the human condition.

What is that truth? What is the one thing they can all agree on? Well, for that we go back to the very first item on the list:

Shit happens.

Does this mean that at heart we’re all Taoists? It does seem that when you strip away all the other trappings of religion (and leave out the question of whether or not there’s a higher power) this is what we’re left with, the one basic truth on which we can all agree. I’ll say it again:

Shit happens.

I’ve read the Tao Te Ching and there’s no passage that can be distilled down to this exact essence, but the entire work could be read as a handbook for dealing with…

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Denise Vitola

Writer, reader, lifelong rebel. Learning things the hard way since 1963.