The Gentlest Lessons Teach Us the Most

What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner.

All of us know about learning life's lessons through pain, struggle, and loss. But few of us realize that it is often the gentlest lessons that teach us most.

Seven years ago our family went to a political convention held at a beach resort. While my husband attended workshops, Katie and I played on the beach. One afternoon there was a surprise activity for the children: a ride on an elephant around the hotel parking lot. Katie was delirious with excitement. That night, as my husband and I tucked her into bed, I said, "Life is always full of wonderful surprises if we're open to them. Some mornings you wake up not knowing what will happen during the day and you get to ride an elephant!"

A couple of days later we returned home and awaiting me was an invitation to join a group of American journalists on an all-expenses-paid week-long junket to Ireland to cover Dublin's celebration of its millennium.

The group was departing in ten days. Now there are many things that I am, but spontaneous is not one of them. After I had come up with every conceivable reason to turn down a free trip to my favorite country in the world - my passport was out of date, who would look after Katie, I'd have to juggle my work schedule, I'd just returned from vacation - my husband said quietly, "So you're not going to ride the elephant?" I smiled at him, gently learned the important lesson about being open to receive, and enjoyed one of the most delightful weeks of my life.

If we are willing to learn our lessons gently, they patiently await us in countless ways. Today, try listening to the wisdom of children; accepting the loving kindness of a friend; reaching out to those in need; asking a colleague for advice; acting on your intuition; laughing at your foibles and frailties and accepting them with love; observing how your pets live so contentedly in the present moment; rediscovering the surprising healing power of spontaneity; focusing on the good in any situation you are now encountering; expecting the best of every day; and realizing what a wonderful life you're living - sooner rather than later.

Of course, the unexpected often catches us by surprise. But if we are open to and grateful for gentle lessons, new teachers will appear in our path. Serendipity can instruct us as much as sorrow.

-Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance - A Daybook of Comfort and Joy ©1995

There have been many lessons that life has taught me. Some of them were gentle, and some were so subtle as to be missed due to inattention. Approaching life with a clear head and a firm purpose helps me to pay attention to these lessons and learn from them, but things have not always been that way.

My children seem so grown up sometimes. I raised them to know what behavior is appropriate when they are around adults, and when it was appropriate to just be kids and enjoy themselves. Not that the two things are incompatible, but their behavior should be different in those respective situations. Yes, they are all young adults now, but yearn to be kids again. I don't think any of us got enough of being kids. It was over too soon. And when we were kids, most of the time we were too impatient to grow up, and didn't have time to pay attention to life's lessons.

So we are taken back to school some later time in our life, likely as not. If we are awake and paying attention in our day-to-day experiences, we can learn from others mistakes, we can see some difficulties coming along and work hard to head them off, or we can learn from our mistakes and move on with a fresh and educated perspective. Sometimes we must just stand there and take what is coming to us. And many times we are too busy to notice the little things that are there for us to learn. Sometimes we have to be the object of other's lessons.

A while back I was in a grocery store, and came up short of money. Not a large amount, just enough to be difficult. The woman in front of me offered a dollar to help cover the shortage, which was more than enough. Much more, really. I offered to leave the groceries and go to my car for the change, and she said not to bother with that. She explained that someone had done a nice thing for her that day, and this was an opportunity for her to send the blessing on to someone else. I thanked her for her generosity, and she quickly left. I paid the bill in full and walked away with a lump in my throat. It was not that I was in need of charity, but that she was in need of passing it on. It was difficult to be the object of that gentle lesson, but I learned it well, and it comes back to me often.



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