Attaining Wisdom

High - Low

High – Low (Photo credit: Najwa Marafie – Free Photographer)

As of two days ago, I have celebrated over 50 birthdays. Typically, I view them as yet another day, but as I’ve written recently in this post, I think that it has something to do with my birthday falling five days before Christmas. As now, when I was growing up, everyone was too stressed and overwhelmed with the preparations for the big day to concern themselves with my birthday. I am not saying that anyone ignored my birthday, but I never felt that it was a particularly special day or that I was the center of attention. As a result, I’ve never treated it as a big deal. I have no doubts that others with a birthday close to Christmas have similar experiences.

So, it comes as no surprise that, as I grew older, I viewed my birthday as yet another day. While those around me tended to freak out, as they reached 30, 40 and 50, it just didn’t faze me. I was older but I didn’t feel older or wiser. This year, I feel differently.

For weeks now, I’ve contemplated my life and I tell you that hindsight is a bitch. It shines a light on the past and in all too many cases, not too favorably. Like everyone else, I’ve made my share of messes (intentionally or unintentionally), blunders, mistakes, poor, and I mean poor, choices, decisions and judgments, that I wish turned out far differently.

You know what I mean, those times that you pray for a ‘do over,’ but it is, what it is. I’ve had more than my share of guilt, fear, insecurity, self-doubt, self-sabotage and all the rest. After days of self-flagellation, I’ve realized that none of that crap matters anyway. In reality, it comes down to one basic question: Am I wiser for all of my experiences over the last 55 years?

It is said:

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. ~ Confucius

Let me tell you, my path to wisdom has been neither noble nor the easiest. As I am wont to do, I make things much harder on my self then necessary. My lessons learned are hard-fought for and I think, as a result more precious.

I think that it is important for me to note that what I am sharing with you are things that I’ve learned through both personal experience, as well as much reading and research. I am still working through all the “lessons” and will most likely be doing so for the rest of my life. For most of us, life lessons are not the stuff of instant enlightenment, but are the result of simply living our lives. Moreover, in my experience, there is a vast difference between learning a life lesson and fully living it.

There is a definite amorphousness to truly incorporating a life lesson into your life. They have that now you see it, now you don’t quality. When we think that we have them figured out, internalized them and put them at play in our lives, something unplanned happens, and all reason and learning goes right out of the window. There is a reason that they are called ‘life’ lessons. It takes a lifetime of living to reach the point where we’ve achieved an A+. For most of us, that never happens, but the beauty is that it keeps us striving to do better. Sometimes, we have to be satisfied with the knowledge that we are at a point in our development where we are able to discern that a life lesson is at play in our lives. All to often the lesson patiently floats in the ether waiting for us to recognize and acknowledge it.

I’ve realized that although I am no sage or font of wisdom, I have learned some lessons during my decades of existence. My past journeys have been peppered with valuable lessons hidden within the peaks and valleys, and if you think about it, they complement one another. Upon some reflection, I concluded that the valleys (i.e., lows) contain more of what I call the “diamonds in the rough.’ The ‘rough’ contains our heart breaks, mistakes, insecurities, wrongdoings, and everything else that we would rather avoid like the plague. The ‘diamond,’ however, is what awaits us should we have the strength and courage to journey through the myriad fears which composes the ‘rough’ outer shell. It contains the valuable truths upon which we can base a rich and happy life — life lessons and wisdom.

I find significant truth in Thomas Carlyle’s quote that “adversity is the diamond dust Heaven polishes its jewels with,” for I’ve learned that it is through adversity that we discover the most valuable truths, and more importantly, opportunities to gain wisdom.

The peaks (i.e., highs) are what we tend to embrace and attempt to hold on to. As human beings, especially in this country, we strive to be happy and savor the successes, such as love, financial security, good health, and other happiness-inducing moments, at all costs. As this article reports, happiness even directly affects our health in a beneficial way. Who in his or her right mind, wouldn’t chose the highs over the lows?

I have yet to meet one person whose life manages to escape some or all of life’s valleys. For instance, a much sought after promotion brings with it less time with family and friends and a lesser degree of happiness that we imagined. A long-planned for new baby, albeit a blessing and happy experience, brings with it long sleepless nights, less quality time as a couple and a decrease in spontaneity. The list goes on and on. In sum, by definition, life is a series of peaks and valleys, or highs and lows, if you will, and there are few who live lives solely experiencing one or the other.

The key is to find balance between the two. I am sure that you’ve heard the saying that one cannot know the highs without the lows and vice versa. In my experience this is true. The wisdom comes in recognizing this fact and employing it in our lives. In most cases, with our new-found wisdom comes the acceptance that one cannot escape the valleys and that the key is to use that wisdom to uncover the lesson(s) concealed within those times.

In a later post, I will discuss the life lessons that I’ve managed to glean up to this point in my life.

Blessings, Lydia

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Dorothy, We’re Not In Oz Anymore.

The Yellow Brick Road To Emeral City of Pennises

The Yellow Brick Road To Emeral City of Pennises (Photo credit: Sick Sad M!kE)

As I write this post, I am sitting in my cardiologist’s office awaiting a nuclear stress test. There is no particular
urgency, except for the fact that I am blessed with an overly cautious doctor who believes in preventive medicine. The appointment would not be notable except for the fact that tomorrow at 12:01 A.M., I turn 55 years old.

In the past, birthdays have not been a big thing for me. It was simply another day. Perhaps the fact that I was born five days before Christmas, and rarely received a gift without the disclaimer, “This present is for your birthday and Christmas”, has something to do with it. I really don’t know, but it was always just another day.
Unlike friends who freaked out when they turned 30, 40, or even 50, I took them in stride. I just couldn’t be bothered to care. Why then, does turning 55 cause me such angst?

During the last five years, I had a major health scare. My doctor sent me to the emergency room for what I thought was at worse bronchitis or pneumonia, only to find that I had a blood clot in each of my lungs. I remember thinking that I’d been walking around with not one, but two potential killers in my lungs. Of course, the ER doctor, who’d obviously missed the med school class on tact and bedside manners, said, “You could have dropped dead at any moment.” “Duh,” I thought, thank you very much for stating the freaking obvious.

Anyway, God, the Angels and Saints and my Guardian angels were looking after me, so they caught the offending emboli in time. After four days In the hospital, The hospital released me and sent home on daily blood thinners. Because of the risks caused by the blood thinners, I became very familiar with the techs at the blood lab.

I suppose that it goes without saying that this was a huge scare for me. For weeks, I would go to bed, but I couldn’t sleep because I was terrified that if I did, I wouldn’t wake up. At some point, it dawned on me that the risk of a reoccurrence was remote because I was on blood thinners, but still, the event got my attention. I mean, I’d lived with migraines forever, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and more for years, and most recently fibromyalgia. The difference was that none of them confronted me with the inevitable fragility of this thing that we call life.

Of course, I knew that my life could end at any moment, but when you are young, you hold on to the notion that ‘any moment’ is not now or in the foreseeable future. The young live in an alternate universe where death happens to others but curiously, not to them. Like the rest of us, sooner or later they succumb to reality. Perhaps it is the increasing aches and pains that don’t magically disappear, or the one minute mile that turns into 2, or the fact that staying out “late” unconsciously becomes 10 P.M., instead of midnight or later, or any number of not so subtle hints. In any event, as we age, the ‘merry old land of oz’ dissipates and we are dumped on our behinds in Kansas. The fantasy becomes our wicked reality.

Whatever, the reason for my ‘awakening,” during the last five years, the impossible or remote has become a reality and it scares the hell out of me. I find that facing this hard cold reality sucks the big one! I’d rather live in denial with my head merrily stuck in the clouds. Well, not really.

Getting older is not a bad thing and why we fight it, I don’t know. The fact remains that it is going to happen whether you want it or not. You can go in fighting against it, or you can use that acquired wisdom to fashion a life that is not dependent upon age. What I am saying is that one is funny because they are funny human being, not because of their age; one is kind because they are kind, not because of their age, not because of their age; one is compassionate because they are compassionate human beings, not because of their age. Age is a number, not a sentence. As George Burns stated, “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” Wisdom is a gift of aging, but I am going to  kick and scream to maintain the sense of awe, fun and curiosity of the young.

Blessing, Lydia

P.S. I intended this post for yesterday. I am happy to post that my stress test was perfect and showed no problems.

Quote Tuesday

gratitude

gratitude (Photo credit: nathalie booth)

For all that was … Thanks.
For all that is yet to come … Yes.  

~Suzie Jennings, Source: Yoga Journal (Nov. 09)

It’s “Courage” in 2014

Stones on a Rocky Ocean Beach

Stones on a Rocky Ocean Beach (Photo credit: epSos.de)

WOW! As I’m sure that many of you will agree, 2013 has flown by. In truth, as I get older, each year appears to compress such that time appears more and more fleeting. As one year closes and a new one begins, I’ve begun to experience that all too inevitable march towards the end.

Casting morbidity aside, lately, I’ve been thinking about 2014. As I am sure most of you are aware, the annual list of resolutions is fast being replaced by the word for the year. As described by this blog, the endless lists of resolutions that are typically tossed aside within a couple of months or so, require us ‘to do’ something. On the other hand, choosing a specific word of the year requires us to aspire ‘to be’ for the year. The choices are limitless. For instance, our word may be creativity, surrender, determination, stillness, or lovingkindness, you get the picture. This year, my word is “courage.” I intend to be courageous, and this post explains how I arrived at that choice.

This morning, I listened to a Brené Brown‘s Ted talk on “The Power of Vulnerability.”  Although I have yet to read any of her books (I have one ‘to read’ on my Kindle.), I already know that she is a phenomenon, trained in social work, and a dedicated researcher who studies human connection. Everyone who has either read her books or worked with her, speaks highly of her wisdom. As an initial matter, I need to say that although I will discuss some details of the talk, I cannot do it justice, so I urge you to listen to it for yourself here. My focus is on her discussion of the words ‘courage’ and ‘vulnerability.’ She literally had me at the words ‘courage ‘ and ‘vulnerability.’ Both are words that vex me, directly or indirectly, on a daily basis, even as I write this post.

A brief summary of the talk is that she began her research asking people about connection and what she received were stories about disconnection and ultimately, shame–the fear of disconnection. Her research led her to focus on shame and resulted in a wealth of data in the form of stories, interviews, focus groups and more. As she sifted through the data, she concluded that it could be separated into two categories, those who had a sense of worthiness and a sense of love and belonging, and  those who cast themselves as unworthy and lacking a sense of disconnection.

Those with a sense of worthiness and connection shared the following four qualities:

  1. The courage to be imperfect.
  2. The compassion to be kind to themselves first, then to others. (i.e., We can’t share what we don’t have.)
  3. A connection as a result of authenticity, and
  4. They fully embraced vulnerability, in all its forms.

It is important to note here that as Brown’s talk discussed, although vulnerability has its foundation in fear, shame and most other “negative” emotions, it is also the “birthplace” of creativity, love, joy, happiness, courage, and those emotions that we strive for.  Vulnerability is not an option that we chose, it is a fact of life.

If truth be told, there is not one among us who does not have a laundry list of vulnerabilities that affect how we feel about and live our lives. In my case, when I created this blog, I did so as another way to document my journey (or more accurately, my non-journey) after my health forced me to stop working as a trial attorney. I needed a healthy outlet for releasing my thoughts and feelings. Yet, as I write posts for this blog, I am often confronting various vulnerabilities, which based on Brown’s talk is the ability to be really and fully seen — in both the good ways and the bad.

Every time that I write a post, my self-talk goes something like this,

  • Are you sure that you want anyone to know this or that about you?
  • What if I disclose this and they won’t like me?
  • What gives me the idea that I think that I can write?
  • What do I have to say that anyone wants to hear?
  • Why do I have the audacity to think that my opinions matter?
  • What will people think of me?

I could go on, but I am sure that you get the idea. All of my fears, shame, insecurities, uncertainties and the rest take over and I end up thinking, “Do I really want to put myself out there risking ridicule or worse?”

As I listened to the talk, I was surprised to learn that the original definition of the word “courage” was “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart” — to be vulnerable. It hit me that what my self-talk boiled down to was that I lacked the courage to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable meant admitting that I wasn’t perfect, that I don’t have it all together, that sometimes I feel lost, and that sometimes I need, among other things, love, help, support, a shoulder to cry on, to vent, that sometimes, I just don’t know, and need help finding the answers. I realize that I need the courage to be imperfect, thus, the courage to be vulnerable.

This is why I choose to focus on courage. In 2014, I will continue the task of telling the story of who I am, but in a more open and honest way. I seek the courage to tell it all, the good, the bad and the ugly. In all honesty, I feel overwhelmed with fear, doubts about failure, and questions about my sanity, but every day I vow that I will imbue each interaction, each post, each encounter with the courage to be true to myself and others. I will pray for the courage to be vulnerable, whatever the result, and to be compassionate with myself when I inevitably fall, which I surely will. Yet, I will also pray for the courage to get up, and simply, begin again. By practicing “courage” I hope to make “vulnerability” a way of life, a way of acknowledging that I am enough.

Blessings, Lydia

P.S. See, I am really getting into the ‘word of the year’ state of mind. This post is littered with the words ‘to be.’