The other day I had an eye-opening moment. The moment was what I would typically refer to as an ah-ha, but this particular instance wasn’t just a gentle realization, it was more of a slap-me-in-the-face awakening.
I realized this: life is a series of lessons.
It’s almost laughable how obvious this is. I’ve read all about it. In theory, I understand it. But in theory, I understand a lot of things. With this particular realization, it’s like I finally get it. And I get it as a feeling opposed to a mental concept, one which speaks to me at a cellular level.
Allow me to explain:
We start out with life lessons in basic education - how to survive and how to take care of ourselves and others. Then we move onto learning how to be kind and compassionate and how to love ourselves. Some people have difficulty moving past that part. We can continue to move on, or we can choose to stay in elementary school. Wherever we are, if we don’t learn the lesson, the same scenarios will continue to haunt us. We get stuck in the same relationships, the same work scenarios, and the same situations will continue to appear in our lives again and again, that is, until we learn the lesson.
Once we pass the basic hurdles, we can move on to more in-depth and subtler challenges, such as breaking down the ego and surrendering to the present moment. When we dive deeper, we are shown glimpses of the mysterious workings of the universe and the interconnectedness of everything around us. People appear in our lives just when we need them. A stranger’s words will have profound meaning. Events unfold to help us on our path. We begin to find a sense of purpose.
We can convince ourselves that a lot of our life problems are inherited, that we have a family curse, or it just “is what it is.” Or we can open our eyes and try to fix these problems by learning the lessons and healing the wounds.
Looking back over the course of my life, I am able to trace some obvious lessons. I’ll share a few them so you might be able to begin to understand how clear it can be. Then you might take a look at some of the challenges within your own life and find clarity on what they have taught you or what they are currently trying to teach you. These lessons can run the gamut, ranging from courage, humbleness, compassion, kindness or anger management. Mine are self-care, letting go, patience and acceptance.
Life Lesson #1: Self-Care
I grew up witnessing my mom battle with chronic digestive problems and when I was in my early 20’s I began to develop my own stomach issues. Metamucil was always household staple, the extra large container was ever-present on the window sill above the kitchen sink, silently warning us to maintain our fiber levels else running the risk of plugging ourselves up. I still remember the orange flavor being the most palatable, as the gritty, gelatinous substance slid down the back of my throat and globbed into my belly. I assumed I was following in the inevitable genetic footsteps of my mom, eventually resorting to dinners of probiotic yogurt because my intestines would be so blocked up that nothing else would sound appetizing. I started to get so bogged down on a daily basis that I’d have to take periodic doses of Ex-Lax to clear my digestive tract. A painful experience, but I knew no other way.
After getting prodded with white-glove service, my doctor diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome with constipation and prescribed me with a daily dose of Miralax. Don’t get me started on the fact that she didn’t bother to ask me about my diet. After an agonizing few years, I finally deducted that when I ate green vegetables, the darker green the better, I didn’t have digestive issues. It was trial and error until I fixed my problem.
My reality was irregular gut issues. The simple lesson I needed most to learn: eat more vegetables. Because I hadn’t been listening, I was plagued with problems until I finally figured it out. When I started listening to what I needed in order to function optimally, my body settled into balance and I’ve rarely had stomach issues to this day.
This was a very basic “primary school” lesson in self-care.
Life Lesson #2: Letting Go
But then life has given me new lessons. A few years back I was living in picturesque Harbour Island. It was an island girl’s dream - breathtaking expanses of sandy beach, doll-house colorful cottages, and golf carts as transportation. But was I in heaven? No. Why? Because, among other nuances, the power went out. All. The. Time. It drove me insane. It would go out when I was in the middle of cooking dinner (on an electric stove), with absolutely no telling as to when it might come back on. Each time it went out, I went into a complete meltdown. I’d curse and throw a tantrum. It was pretty pathetic really. It was most embarrassing when I’d get myself into a rage and then the power would flick back on shortly thereafter. My reality was showing me my affinity to flip out if anything was out of the ordinary, which, of course, happens all the time in life. When I finally let go of my need to freak out about power outages, I realized that it could open an opportunity for something wonderful to happen. I’d ditch my pot-roast in the oven and go out for dinner, and instead of being in a foul mood and bringing down the entire energy of the restaurant, I’d enter with a smile, which would perhaps lead me to meet an interesting person offering delightful conversation that I might not otherwise would have met.
My reality was constant power outages. The lesson was about letting go and riding the waves of life. We can’t control the external circumstances, so our best bet is to go with the flow and see where it takes us. We can fight and resist, but it will only make us miserable. It may sound crazy, but almost as soon as I learned the lesson, my reality shifted and now the power rarely goes out. And when it does, I simply turn on my headlamp and settle into my book. I may still deal with power outages from time to time, but it doesn’t mean the knives have to come out when it does.
“Your current reality is nothing more than a complete reflection of the lessons you most need to learn” - Robin Sharma
Life Lesson #3: Patience & Acceptance
Now my reality is my half-built house. If you have had a conversation with me in the past several years, perhaps you may have even asked me about my half-built house that my husband and I have been living in and chipping away at (all the while watching our funds trickle away as we pay for materials and labor out of pocket at prices double or triple than you would in the U.S.)
“How’s the house coming along?” is a standard question. A harmless question I’m sure, to those asking it. But a question that I now realize sparks instant anxiety in me. “I don’t know!!!!” I want to scream. “It may never be finished!!!” “Well it’s going to be pretty amazing when it is finished” will be the response, in attempts to rationalize that everything will be alright with my situation, eventually. But what I’ve finally come to realize after all these years…everything is alright right now.
I realize that this house has a barrage of lessons to teach me. It’s difficult to say, since I’m right in the midst of it, but I believe one of the biggest lessons is patience. At times the construction of our house feels like a neverending story, like I’m trapped in this timeless warp of being surrounded by chaos. I have anxiety and a sense of urgency about finishing it. I feel trapped. It feels like an anchor, slowly drowning me. All of our hard earned income goes into this house, and we don’t ever seem to be getting anywhere. But, like the coconut palms that have slowly grown from tiny saplings into mature trees since I planted them, our house slowly comes along. Patience allows things to unfold in their own time. Nothing happens overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day right? Neither was our house. Nor will it be built in ten years. I remind myself that some of the most important structures in the world have taken hundreds of years to complete. St. Peter’s Basilica took 144 years to finish. Chichen Itza took 400 years. So we aren’t doing too bad…
The second biggest lesson is letting go of what other people think about our situation, and accepting and being grateful for what I have. I never believed I was one to get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses, but when people look at us questioningly as to why we live in an unfinished house, it makes me insecure. Why do I care about other people’s reactions to my living space? Because as part of our Westernized nature, most of us do care what other people think, and it was reinforced by what my mom subconsciously taught me. My mom always oozed the appearance of being picture-perfect on the outside, with fresh pressed clothes and a spotless house, but was tumultuous on the inside. Perhaps I’m creating the reverse. I’m healing on the inside, and it’s manifesting into chaos around me.
In this way, it’s a firm reminder to be grateful for all that I have. As I type this, I am sitting on my breezy balcony overlooking the expansive ocean. The house is a hurricane rated structure built by my amazing project manager husband, and we have a garden that provides us with bountiful fruits & veggies. I feel rich inside. So what if it’s not finished? It will be one day. In the meantime, it’s an awesome space with good energy, so I’m not going to get caught up with what other people think about it. They aren’t the ones living in it anyways.
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So what lessons can you think of in your life? I’m sure it’s easy to come up with problems, the hard part is figuring out what they are trying to teach you. It might not be so clear. Is there a reoccurring theme in your life? Does the same type of person or situation continually haunt you? Why are they there? What are they trying to teach you?
Once you start to catch onto it, you might notice you’ll start to enjoy this “lesson game.” You’ll start to question each and every situation in your life, wondering why it appeared, and what it’s trying to teach you.
“When you replace why is this happening to me?” with “what is this trying to teach me?” everything shifts.