Sometimes the Universe has a way of teaching us lessons we should have learned a long time ago but didn’t either because we could not or because we refused to learn them. And when the Universe decides we really need to learn a life lesson the Universe can be a harsh task-master. This year the Universe decided to teach me several lessons in a crash course I’m calling Life 101.
Good people make bad decisions: In the anger, betrayal and passion of any given moment of a life, good people make bad decisions that have unforeseen consequences. The outcome of one’s actions can be so far removed from the intent that the intent is no longer recognizable. Sometimes the outcome is as simple as an irrational act; sometimes it’s as complicated as spiraling downwards and imagining one’s death as a way out of the pain. Sometimes the unimaginable happens. But one bad decision doesn’t define a person the way a lifetime of bad decisions can. Everyone makes bad choices in life and we all deserve a second chance to get it right.
We don’t know what we don’t know: How can we? What we know is based on implicit and explicit knowledge, in other words: learned and experiential knowledge. Often we are so close to a situation that we can’t comprehend the meaning and thus we don’t know what is actually occurring. Other people around us are much more likely to see events as they really are and whether they choose to share their knowledge impacts directly on how we assess a situation. If I understood that my ex-husband was mentally ill and suffering from bipolar disease, I am confident that I would have handled his mania differently. But I did not know and so I did not understand and could not ask for the help I desperately needed. We make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the moment.
Live Simply: We have been brainwashed to believe that the more stuff we own, the better off we are and the happier we will be. Like most, I believed I was successful and happy because of all the material things I owned over a lifetime of acquiring ‘stuff’. In April, I lost my home, my husband, my business and access to all personal property. For the last 6 months I have lived between my sister’s house and a friend’s apartment; I have driven a friend’s car; I have worn clothes that were lent to me until I could get some money to buy some; and I’ve learned the power of enjoying a few things immensely rather than many things superficially. Even my diet is simpler these days. I’m happier than I have ever been and enjoy the small things in life more than I ever thought possible.
Be Kind to Yourself: Let people take care of you if you need to be taken care of but remember to be kind to yourself as well. Nothing good comes of beating yourself up (there are plenty of people in the world happy to beat you up, don’t join them!) Take long walks, get massages, read, meditate, eat healthy food, indulge your passions and hug the people you love a lot. And, yes, cry hard if you need to because crying washes away the detritus of our lives and cleans the heart and mind for better things. Most importantly, laugh as much as you can; surround yourself with people who can make you laugh because laughter really is the best medicine.
Detach Yourself from the Outcome of Events: I am a world-class worrier but all the worry in the world doesn’t give me power to effect the outcome of events. By detaching myself from the outcome and focusing only on the things that I are within my control, I free up a lot of time to be kind to myself and enjoy in the present. And most of the time worry never amounts to much more than a waste of time: it never ever changes the outcome and in most cases the outcome isn’t as bad as we imagined it would be.
Live in the present: We’ve all heard this advice and those of us who share our lives with dogs live with sentient creatures that only live in the present. It is a life lesson we should all heartily embrace. We can’t change the past and we can’t know the future; all we have is the here and now and in the present, there are many wonderful things that humans miss because we constantly relive out our pasts and worry about our futures. There is no way I could have predicted the end of my brief marriage and I wouldn’t have wanted to know how it would eventually end. There is nothing I can do about it now and so rehashing the events that led to the end doesn’t buy me anything; rather rehashing takes me out of the present. In the present, I have a multitude of gifts that I intend to enjoy each and every moment.
Forgive: Forgiveness allows us to live in peace not only with others but also with our selves. We don’t have to forget but it is paramount that we forgive and move on. Holding grudges poisons the spirit, forgiveness fertilizes it. Forgiving those who hurt us allows us to live in the present and choose happiness over feelings of hurt and anger.
Choose Happiness: It really does take the same amount of emotional energy to be happy as it does to be sad. I’m not saying never be sad: we are human and sometimes we feel sadness. But in any given situation that we face in our everyday lives, we can choose to be happy rather than irritated, angry, bored, or whatever other emotion we might choose to feel. That is, we can manufacture synthetic happiness which has the power to make us feel…..genuine happiness. Our psyche is amazing in this regard and I’m eternally grateful to Dan Gilbert for his inspiring talk on ted.com entitled “Why Are We Happy” .
Remain Open to Love: The more we remain open to the possibility of love, the more love comes into our lives. Just because we’ve lost one love, doesn’t mean we’ll never experience love again. The human heart has the amazing ability to love over and over and over again and each time we love really is the only time we’ve ever loved. Embrace love, share love, be love. You just might be surprised at where love can be found and how good life can be.