1. Without risk, there cannot be life.
During youth and the years of building educational, professional and personal lives it is necessary to reach out and try new things, sometimes facing deep obstacles. Perhaps we yearn to follow a path that our parents object to, either personally or in other ways. Perhaps we need to move on when rejected by one we loved. This is the time of life when we learn how necessary it is to face our choices and our defeats with as much courage as we can. This is the time when we can luxuriate in the joy of success, as well as deal with the painful aftermaths of those risks that have not, cannot, or will not be productive -- finding solace that at least we entered the circle of life and tried.
2. Risk is not a guarantee to fulfillment. Learning what is important is.
When I was a young therapist in my early 30s, I heard it said by those who were my seniors that the only therapists who really understood life had lived it fully for decades. I did not like this perception, and I surely did not believe it. I had a thriving practice, clients of all ages, and still do. But now, I am able to see the truths of my mentors.
As the years pass, we can see clearly what is important and what is not. Life becomes a kaleidoscope of events that can be visited through the lens of each decade, each with a different perspective. Viewing life progression in this way is an opportunity for reflection and new understanding.
3. Work hard, but know that money brings no guarantee of happiness.
Yes, we need a society that offers opportunities to care for ourselves and our families. However, those who live only for money and power are usually miserable in all aspects of their lives and bring deep unhappiness to all those who rely on them.
4. Fulfillment comes with self and mutual respect and the capacity to care for others.
As we grow older and continue to grow and learn, we understand that to accomplish and cope and deal we may have inadvertently hurt others. And we realize the gifts of those families, communities and societies that stress respect, care and patience, never treating others with rude indifference.
I can think of many examples of my lack of understanding and sensitivity toward others. I remember well when a beloved aunt from my home town, Baltimore, visited me in Philadelphia during a very busy time when my children were young. She wanted to see the legendary Wannamakers department store, which she had heard so much about. Although I planned this for her, I also had a list of things I wanted to do in this wondrous space, where one could find just about anything under the sun. My aunt had great difficulty keeping up with me and my determination, with such limited time, to cross things off of my list.
5. Self-respect is earned when we can look at our own lives, including our selfish behaviors toward others.
My aunt never returned to Philadelphia. A tragic medical error led to her death not long after. If I had known then what I know now I would have torn my list into little pieces and asked her what she wanted to do, following her lead, and also making sure we had a lovely, relaxed lunch or tea in Wannamaker's exquisite Crystal Room.
There is another event that I will always remember, one that occurred during the years that I was a single parent and wrote a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Each week I would respond to one letter in as much depth as my word limit allowed, hoping my thoughts and examples gave readers something to help them decide for themselves how to proceed. I tried to answer all letters not printed personally.
One day I received a letter from a very young girl haunted by the death of a loved one, for which she felt responsible. I always kept these letters in very private places, but in responding to this letter, I was interrupted by something in my personal life, and I never could find the letter again. If I received such a vital letter now, only an emergency, and surely not an interruption, would have caused me to be so careless. I have often hoped that somehow my path and the writer's path could cross; I could hear how she is, and I could apologize.
6. A sure way to learn about what is important and avoid the pitfalls in life that can be avoided is to talk to or read about the lives of those who have lived, learned and endured.
The wisdom of my teachers and mentors is finally something I can grasp. These thoughts are echoed by Rainer Maria Rilke: "If it were possible to see further than our knowledge extends and out a little over the outworks of our surmising, perhaps we should then bear our sorrows with greater confidence than our joys." And learn from them how to find sustaining fulfillment and joy.
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