January 14, 2013

Wisdom Anywhere

When the list of bite-sized wisdom below reached my email inbox last week, the authors age had been inaccurately advanced from 50 to 90. Advice from a 90-year-old would be more quaint and compelling in a way, but alas, it just isn’t so. Nothing’s lost. A 50-year-old can be as wise as the sages (as no doubt many of you already know):

Regina Brett’s 45 life lessons and 5 to grow on

To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me.

It is the most-requested column I’ve ever written. My odometer rolls over to 50 this week, so here’s an update:

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

4. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month.

6. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.

8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.

12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don’t compare your life to others’. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry; God never blinks.

16. Life is too short for long pity parties. Get busy living, or get busy dying.

17. You can get through anything if you stay put in today.

18. A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.

19. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

22. Overprepare, then go with the flow.

23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.

24. The most important sex organ is the brain.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: “In five years, will this matter?”

27. Always choose life.

28. Forgive everyone everything.

29. What other people think of you is none of your business.

30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.

31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

32. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.

33. Believe in miracles.

34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.

35. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.

36. Growing old beats the alternative – dying young.

37. Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.

38. Read the Psalms. They cover every human emotion.

39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.

41. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

42. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.

43. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

44. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

45. The best is yet to come.

46. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

47. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

48. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

49. Yield.

50. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

Originally published in The Plain Dealer on Sunday, May 28, 2006

These popped into my head all week. Particularly numbers 3, 13, 18 (ugh), 21, 29, 39, 42, 43. I sent the list on to a few friends, my husband, and my mom, prefaced with an almost-apology. “This might be silly,” I wrote, “but I love it.” I felt like it was 1997 and I was encouraging an internet forward––even with its mild threats and cornucopia of fonts and colors––to flourish. My mom wrote back. “What’s silly about wisdom?”

I called her Thursday night as I walked home from the subway. My older brother was there for dinner, and they were all sitting down to a feast of pico de gallo, wild salmon and jambalya. We were having rice and beans at my house, and I wished then to teleport my body to their kitchen table. My mom thanked me for sending me the email, and added in her breezy, insightful way, just before hanging up, that wisdom could be found anywhere. Even in internet forwards and The Plain-Dealer? “Anywhere,” she answered.

You know when the same lesson keeps popping up in your life, over and over, hitting you on the head until you’ll get it? All week I’d been escaping into runaway reveries. I was in a house in the woods with a french press and no internet connection. At night, when my head sunk into the pillow, I walked myself through the morning details of such a life. I imagined what I wore (a striped t-shirt, jeans, clogs), what the space was like (bright with subdued, gray morning light), and what I did (made coffee, wrote). I never got far past these details before falling asleep.

A few days later, wouldn’t you know it, Tara Brach’s podcast slapped me upside the head in her sweet, meditative way. She told a story about a man who had reached his edge. The birth of his second child made life entirely too nutty, and he longed to escape to the quiet peace of a monastery. Once there, as test of his readiness to enter the monastery, the abbess asks him to meditate for seven days in solitude. When he completes this assignment, the abbess greets him and says that she’s ready to introduce him to the ideal teachers who can guide him on his spiritual path to freedom. She leads him out the front gates of the monastery and there waiting, overjoyed to see him, are his wife and two children.

Maybe you imagine the mountains of Montana, or the hot, dry desert, or like me, a little house tucked in the woods. We dream of escapes that are free from the stresses of worldly life, and really, is it any wonder? Our days can crowd with pounding  stress, worry, deadlines, and the business of making and spending money. It’s called a grind for a reason. Who wouldn’t want to close their laptop and call it quits? To escape to somewhere we can psychically and physically spread our arms into clear blue expansiveness.

This week my ultimate teachers (Tara Brach and my mom) pointed out that the escape–into a deeper pool of wisdom, into a place of peace–is right here. Not there, but here. Damnit, that is hard.

So Friday morning, after a week of the same lesson cropping up in different forms–I don’t know what came over me–I pulled a number 46. I put on my jeans and a striped shirt. I made coffee. I came here. It didn’t feel quite as good as that bedtime vision. It was missing a sense of freedom, the woods weren’t right outside my door, and absent was a longed-for, grounding sense of peace. But it was a start. Especially since today I got up, put on a striped shirt, and did it again.

photo on Etsy

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  • chanelle: that was lovely. and so are you. namaste, sweet girl.5 years ago

  • Lana: The ones that got me were #6, #18, #38 and #44. Well, and all the rest, too.. LOL! #6-I just put a sticky note on my laptap that says, “Would you rather be right than happy?” #18-On New Year’s Day, I promised myself I would wake up each day an hour earlier than normal and write. So far, so good. #38-I’m reading The Bible for the first time ever. I’m not religious, really, but with all the chaos going on it the world I thought it might help me feel grounded. So far I’ve fallen asleep with my Kindle Bible (doesn’t that seem nuts?!) in my hands. #44-still working on that, but aren’t we all?
    Thanks for sharing this, oh wise one. 🙂5 years ago

  • Lana: Oh! I forgot #48. I’m trying to muster up the courage to apply for free lance (or any!) writing jobs. Any sage advice is welcome!! 🙂5 years ago

  • Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams: I’ve been having those escape dreams too. It’s hard to keep going when the daily grind is a grind, and so mundane. But yes, wisdom does show up from unlikely quarters. Thanks for this, Sarah. Here’s to striped shirts (I’m wearing one today) and being where we are.5 years ago

  • Amy: Wow. Needed to read this today as I fight some feelings of nostalgia and discontent. Thank you.

    Also, Sarah, thank you for bringing Tara Brach into my life. It’s changing me. I can’t thank you enough. In my dream fantasy, you and I steal away to Bethesda for some cocktails and Real Life Tara Brach class. xx5 years ago

  • Bekah: Thank you so much for sharing this list and the story from Tara Brach. It’s so hard to keep from living an imaginary life, but there always comes a day when we wake up to realize that our dreams have kept us from really living. (Or hopefully there does.) May 2013 be the year we really live instead of retreating to fantasy lives. Cheers, darling!5 years ago

  • katy: This is just what I needed to hear. Thank you.5 years ago

  • Cadi: Playing the cards I’m dealt and being present in my life (without the constant need for ‘more’ or ‘what else should I/could I/do I need for the perfect life?’) are resonant themes in keeping my reality in check and trying to live my best life. I love your mom’s aside about finding wisdom anywhere, she and my mom sound like kindred spirits.

    I’m printing this post and the great list and hanging it on my bathroom mirror, which is my collection plate of reflections and ruminations and lists of mindful meanderings (I have a very large mirror that I share with no one but me, Lucky Girl). Thanks for this!5 years ago

  • Tami -- Teacher Goes Back to School: this podcast has been on constant play for the last couple weeks. so much to take away. i really liked the story of the diamond thief missing what had been there all along. not so subtle, just like i like it.5 years ago

  • Arwen: This is so weird. When I read this post this morning, I read that you pulled a number 39. then I read it tonight and it was a 46. 😀 Either way, it’s a great thing to do. I really appreciate your sharing this.5 years ago

  • Anne-Liesse @ Bulle & Blog: Thanks so much for those words of wisdom, Sarah ! I’ve just forwarded them to a bunch of my friends as my wishes for 2013 – even the French-speaking friends, who’re going to have to work on their English if they want to grow wiser ;-))

    And just like Cadi, I printed them out and am putting them up… in my toilet, where everyone will be able to enjoy them !5 years ago

  • Amy C: “Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.”

    I learned this lesson in a really fantastic way. I once took lessons from this famous pianist who had toured the world. When he played for the emperor of Japan, the emperor was so moved that he gifted him a priceless bowl.

    So one day, my piano teacher pulls out the bowl and tells me the story of how he received it.

    “And do you know what I do with it?” He asked. I nodded.

    “I eat noodles out of it!” He said, and grinned. “Life is too short not to eat noodles out of a priceless bowl.”5 years ago

  • Art & Lemons: I don’t know your mom, but I like her. I like what she said and she’s right, what’s silly about wisdom?! It’s always useful no matter how old we grow! I’ve been thinking about this post since I read it this morning. I, too, showed up and wrote. Thanks for the reminders!5 years ago

  • Alisha: Amazingly insightful post. Loved it.5 years ago

  • Amy and Tami, I’m so, so glad you’re loving Tara Brach! She’s really brought so much juicy goodness into my life, I’m so happy to spread it around!

    Arwen, You caught me! I changed it! It was definitely a 46 I pulled–no small feat for me–but over the weekend I had my 39. Eagle eye!

    Cadi and Anne-Liesse, So glad you’re enjoying and passing on/printing out!

    Amy C, I absolutely love that story to pieces.

    Art & Lemons, You would like her if you met her. Like you, she’s a pretty rad lady.5 years ago

  • Good Things… | Coffee & Sunshine: […] My friend Sarah wrote about finding wisdom anywhere. I think it’s the best thing I’ve read this week. […]5 years ago

  • Arwen: Whew! I thought my brain was skipping channels again.5 years ago

  • Amanda: Oh my word, I just found this through Amy Estes and I’m so glad I did! 19, 23, and 29 REALLY spoke to me. Thank you for sharing the wisdom 🙂5 years ago

  • Deborah: Good morning from chilly Canada Sarah…….you are most definitely a writer…no worries, and a wisdom sharer which is such a wonderful gift too. Don’t ever doubt that you have so much to impart as you go. Thank you for such an insightful essay. Your comments are very helpful and as I reread your great post, I realized I have turned to your writing so often over the years as a starting point for some of my own ‘work’. And now I am going to Internet forward your post to a good friend for her benefit! Have a wonderful Sunday, whether you are in a striped t-shirt, or not, Deborah5 years ago

  • Lauren Caselli: I live in Montana after 5 years in New York City and I have to be honest…that life of reverie that you dream of when thinking of the mountain west? It’s real.5 years ago

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