A visiting teacher who had come to a weekly yoga class I attended shared his personal mantra: “I know nothing, I want to learn.” At the time this seemed a negative way to approach life. I now understand this to mean what the Buddhists intend by “beginner’s mind.” If I think or believe I know all about something, my mind will be closed to learning more. I have learned much from the many spiritual paths I have studied, and I appreciate what I have gained. I’ve stored up the most helpful teachings and incorporated them into my life, using them to live by.
Stephen and I were celebrating my birthday with my daughter and her fiancé. “Can you share some wisdom,” she asked, “things you have learned over the years?” I thought about it, and nothing came to mind just then. Later that evening I realized she had given me a fine theme for my latest love note. I told her and she agreed. I began to think what I wanted to share with my readers. As I went to bed that night my mind continued to whirl with thoughts.
What might be my best place to start? What might be the most important lesson I had learned in my long life? Many possibilities occurred. The more I thought, the harder it became to choose from them. Finally I decided on several. My first is that life has been my best and most important teacher. I have had many wonderful teachers. Some have been helpful by providing an example not to follow. Others have provided guidance and support as I grew through their teachings. Yet life itself as I live it every day has helped me the most to learn and grew.
One example: Many years ago, when I was active as a folk singer, I was asked to perform a song in my church. I didn’t know it. Fearful of having to learn it and perhaps do it badly, I said no. Another performed it and I realized I ought to have said yes. The song wasn’t that difficult, and I would have done just fine. I learned from that not to let fear or vanity hold me back. Because I experienced the effect of my ill-advised decision first hand, I never turned down a request like that again. The reason life is such a good teacher is that personal experience always beats simply being told something. Also, if I don’t learn my lesson at the first opportunity, life gives me more chances.
Something else I’ve learned has been to not offer advice unless asked. No matter how well-meaning my suggestions, or how perfectly I think I can solve someone’s problem, I do best to offer my sympathy and my support, not my advice. The third and final thought I have to share is that eventually everything–every experience and every relationship—good bad or indifferent, comes to an end. Once my life as I was living it took an unexpected turn, ending abruptly. I made a new life. I now know enough to enjoy whatever I have and whomever I am with at the time, because one day they will pass out of my life. What wisdom I possess has helped me greatly over the years, and I hope to continue to accumulate more as I learn and grow.