I’m writing this column minutes after finishing wrapping a cheese sandwich and some oatmeal raisin cookies in preparation for my daughter’s first day of grade three. As I wrote in last week’s column, there is something about the prospect of autumn rapidly coming upon us that seems to put a charge of energy and excitement in the air. I think a big part of this has to do with the ritual of children going back to school. I also think there is a symbol or metaphor in this well-established cycle for each of us. Whether we are attending an academic institution, fulfilling the role of parent and/or partner, or out slaying dragons in the work force to provide for our families, each of us is, in some sense, a student of life. Every day of our lives we attempt to decipher the mysterious curriculum that allows us to better understand others and ourselves.
For many of us, unfortunately, the institution we spend most of our time in is the proverbial “school of hard knocks.” Time and again, we find ourselves fighting the same exhausting battles over and over again. We find ourselves losing patience with our loved ones, running into financial problems, taking on unwanted responsibilities because we don’t know how to say “no,” fighting futile battles, and taking unnecessary blame upon ourselves. Many of the unhealthy behaviours that lead us into destructive situations are ingrained habits that have been with us for most of our lives, negative ways of thinking and doing that we have picked up in childhood and carried with us into adulthood.
As any scientist, economist or historian would tell you, the most effective path towards understanding is to look for repetitive patterns. Are people perpetually letting you down, betraying you, trying your patience, lying to you, and generally giving you the short end of the stick? Do you frequently find yourself writing off friendships? Do you habitually bring stress onto yourself by procrastinating? Perhaps you find yourself blaming others for things that you know, somewhere deep down, you are truly responsible for. On the other hand, perhaps you blame yourself for things that are really out of your control. If so, welcome to the human race! As far as I can tell from my conversations with the people I’m close to, these are the sorts of things that most of us are prone to, day in and day out.
The thing is, it doesn’t have to be that way. I know, from personal experience, how difficult it is to break the habits of a lifetime, and find healthier and more effective ways of dealing with situations. The problem is, we are so used to being and thinking a certain way. We are so sure of our own limitations and weaknesses. There is this voice inside us that tells us that we are not capable of transformation.
As any truly successful and enlightened person will tell you, this negativity is utter nonsense. As sentient, creative creatures, we human beings are capable of the most amazing things once we unleash our full potential. In order to do this, though, we must first reconnect with ourselves. We must achieve a state of self-understanding, and gain some awareness as to the ways in which our actions create our destiny. We must take full responsibility for all of the things, both good and bad, that have happened to us. We must use our voice to communicate with others. We must avoid blame of any kind. We must learn forgiveness, especially with respect to ourselves. We must use the wisdom and insight we have gained from our life experiences to create a better future for ourselves, our families and our planet. Above all, we must seek out those teachers who can help us progress in our quest for understanding. I believe that they surround us all of the time. They are everyone that we come into contact with. Sometimes they offer us insight into better ways of doing things and thinking about things. At other times, their negative behaviours offer us clues about things to avoid.
When my daughter goes to class tomorrow morning, she will be receptive and attentive to what her teacher has to say. She does not believe that she knows everything there is to know. Like the other children in her class, she is willing to listen and to learn. She is not afraid of making mistakes. Mistakes, for a child, are an inextricable part of the learning process. I believe it is up to all of us to bring the same wide-eyed, open-hearted, and fearless approach to the daily lessons of our lives.