LIFE 101
Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life In School -- But Didn't


Open the Mind, Strengthen the Body, Fortify the Emotions

Computers are useless.
They can only
give you answers.


We often let one of The Big Three run the show. What I said earlier of the mind is equally true of the body and emotions--they make great servants, but bad masters.

You probably already know which of The Big Three you identify with most closely; the one you give most influence, the one that most often "leads you into temptation," the one that stops you from doing the things you really want to do--or know it would be best for you to do.

If you let you run the show, you'll probably learn more, and, even if you don't, the show will be a lot more enjoyable. (Wouldn't you rather choose which videos to watch?) Certainly listen to the advice of the mind, body, and emotions, but you make the choice, and move in the direction you choose. How? Here are some suggestions.

Open the Mind. We've probably all met our fair share of Descarteses running around, the ones who think therefore they am. You may have wanted to tell them, as Zorba told his "mental" young friend, "You think too much, that is your trouble. Clever people and grocers, they weigh everything."

These people spend a lot of time in opinions, evaluations, assessments, criticisms, judgments, convictions, laws, rules, procedures, schemes, and making up their minds. Once their mind is made up, however, that's it; there's not much that can change it.

You are a member
of the British royal family.
We are never tired,
and we all love hospitals.


To these folk, one and all, I simply suggest: the mind is like a parachute; it works best when open. The mental amongst us may protest, "California bumper sticker philosophy!" All right, how about this thought from Henry James: "Always keep a window in the attic open; not just cracked: open."

Strengthen the Body. If you're not doing what you want because you're "too tired," or you're worried that some person, germ, or unlucky twist of fate is waiting to do you in, your body's probably got a hold of you.

Some people have a long list of physical reasons why they can't get things done: colds, flus, headaches, pulled this, sprained that, fractured something else. Is that what's troubling you, boobie?

Time to get hold of your body. Get up, get moving, get going. Your body is your vehicle, like your car. If you don't give your body direction, it's about as silly as letting your car choose its own direction. Get it out of the garage, step on the gas, get going.

It's your body: use it or lose it. Providing you give it sufficient rest, your body thrives on activity. Don't let your body stop you from doing what you want. Get up and do it anyway.

Don't wait for the energy before you do something; do and the energy will follow.

Fortify the Emotions. The overly emotional tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves. They act (or, more often, fail to act) because of what they feel. And what do they usually feel? Fear ("What if "), guilt ("If I don't, then "), anger("You didn't "), and disappointment ("Let down, as usual." [Sings] "Alone again, naturally").

These people stay away from events in which their emotions might be aroused--particularly the emotions of fear, guilt, anger, and disappointment ("hurt feelings"). They fear fear, guilt, anger, and disappointment, so they stay away.

To these dear hearts I say: persevere. Press on. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Although the phrase "scared to death" is often used by the emotionals, very few people have actually died from fear. Emotions are not fragile. They are there to be used.

If you do not wish to be prone to anger,
do not feed the habit; give it nothing
which may tend to its increase. At first,
keep quiet and count the days when you
were not angry: "I used to be angry
every day, then every other day: next,
every two, then every three days!" and
if you succeed in passing thirty days,
sacrifice to the gods in thanksgiving.


You strengthen your influence over your emotions by using them. Consciously put yourself in situations you want to avoid because of your feelings. Feel all there is to feel and, later, remind yourself that you survived.

After a while, you'll do more than survive: you'll thrive. Because the other side of fear is excitement. And the other side of doing is the reward of achievement, which leads to the positive feelings you seek.

On the other hand, those who tend to be too often too angry at others need to exercise their feelings less. When we don't exercise something, it grows weaker. If you tend to lean toward resentment when things don't go your way, the next time you're peeved, try this: Rather than exercising your emotions, exercise your body. Run around the block. Do jumping jacks. Put on some music and dance. This may look silly to your friends and/or co-workers, but they'll probably prefer your taking a brief exercise break over the yelling, screaming, and/or pouting so often done by the easily ticked off.

(More on how to "take charge" of the mind, body, and emotions later.)

Did any of these descriptions sound too close for comfort? At some point or other, we all tend to be too mental or too un physical or too emotional. If you've narrowed your specializations down to two and are having trouble choosing between them, maybe you have combined loyalties. This is not uncommon.

Some people, for example, are controlled by a combination of body and emotions. They add emotions to the usual lethargy of the body. These people are often hypochondriacs--and they have all the symptoms to prove it.

Some combine the body with the mind. These people may belong to The Flat Earth Society. They don't do much, and they know precisely why they shouldn't. These people would do well to exercise more, both mentally and physically--work crossword puzzles while jogging, for example.

What we have to do is to be
forever curiously testing
new opinions and
courting new impressions.


Most common, it seems, are those who combine mind and emotions. When mind and emotions combine, it forms what is commonly referred to as "ego"--not necessarily by Freud's clinical definition, but by the more popular usage, as in "He has an ego problem," or "Her ego's out of control." The mind and emotions are a powerful combination. Learning to direct them only toward good--your own and others'--is a challenge of epic proportions, of epic achievements, and of epic rewards.

A great book is Dr. Albert Ellis's How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything-Yes, Anything! Available from Institute for Rational-Emotive Therapy, 45 East 65th Street, New York, New York, 10021.

Practically all human misery
and serious emotional turmoil
are quite unnecessary
-not to mention unethical.
You, unethical?
When you make yourself severely
anxious or depressed,
you are clearly acting against you
and are being unfair and unjust
to yourself.


Try New Things

There are seasons,
in human affairs,
when new depths seem to be
broken up in the soul,
when new wants
are unfolded in multitudes,
and a new and undefined good
is thirsted for.
There are periods when to dare,
is the highest wisdom.


The more we do, the more we learn. Even if we don't do it "right," we have at least learned another way of not doing it. That's learning; that's growth.

So, you don't (yet) know how to do something. So? "For the things we have to learn before we can do them," said Aristotle, "we learn by doing them."

I'm not suggesting you do more of what you already find comfortable. I'm encouraging you to explore the things you find un comfortable--the ones you're afraid to do, the ones you don't think you'd have the energy to do, the ones you're sure you'll be judged harshly by others if you do.

The underlying question in trying new things: Would I hurt myself physically (not emotionally, not mentally) if I did this? Not could (we could hurt ourselves doing almost anything), but would . If the answer is no, then do it.

It may not be comfortable (it's not supposed to be), and you may make a lot of mistakes (count on it), but you'll learn more than if you sat home in "That indolent but agreeable condition of doing nothing," as Pliny (the Younger) put it.


And that's the way it is.


Acceptance is such an important commodity, some have called it "the first law of personal growth."

Acceptance is simply seeing something the way it is and saying, "That's the way it is."

Acceptance is not approval, consent, permission, authorization, sanction, concurrence, agreement, compliance, sympathy, endorsement, confirmation, support, ratification, assistance, advocating, backing, maintaining, authenticating, reinforcing, cultivating, encouraging, furthering, promoting, aiding, abetting, or even liking what is.

Acceptance is saying, "It is what it is, and what is is what is." Philosophers from Gertrude Stein ("A rose is a rose is a rose") to Popeye ("I am what I am") have understood acceptance.

Until we truly accept everything , we can not see clearly. We will always be looking through the filters of "must's," "should's," "ought-to's," "have-to's," and prejudices.

When reality confronts our notion of what reality should be, reality always wins. (Drop something while believing gravity shouldn't make it fall. It falls anyway.) We don't like this (that is, we have trouble accepting this), so we either struggle with reality and become upset, or turn away from it and become unconscious. If you find yourself upset or unconscious--or alternating between the two--about something, you might ask yourself, "What am I not accepting?"

Education is the ability
to listen to almost anything
without losing your temper
or your self-confidence.


Acceptance is not a state of passivity or inaction. I am not saying you can't change the world, right wrongs, or replace evil with good. Acceptance is, in fact, the first step to successful action. If you don't fully accept a situation precisely the way it is, you will have difficulty changing it. Moreover, if you don't fully accept the situation, you will never really know if the situation should be changed.

When you accept, you relax; you let go; you become patient. This is an enjoyable (and effective) place for either participation or departure. To stay and struggle (even for fun things: how many times have you tried really hard to have a good time?), or to run away in disgust and/or fear is not the most fulfilling way to live. One or the other, however, is the inevitable result of nonacceptance.

Take a few moments and consider a situation you are not happy with--not your greatest burden in life, just a simple event about which you feel peeved. Now accept everything about the situation. Let it be the way it is. Because, after all, it is that way, is it not? Also, if you accept it, you will feel better about it.

After accepting it, and everything about it, you probably still won't like it, but you may stop hating and/or fearing it. At least you will hate it or fear it a little less.

That's the true value of acceptance: you feel better about life, and about yourself. Everything I've said about acceptance also applies to things you have done (or failed to do). In fact, everything I've said about acceptance applies especially to your judgments of you.

All the things you think you should have done, and all the things you think you shouldn't have done, accept them. You did (or didn't) do them. That's reality. That's what happened. No changing the past. You can struggle with the past or pretend it didn't happen or you can accept it. I suggest the latter.

Even a prime-time disciplinarian such as Paul admitted,

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:19)

And that was a man who knew his should's. The next time you find yourself doing something you "shouldn't," or not doing something you "should," you might as well accept it. "If it was good enough for Paul, it's good enough for me."

When you make a mistake,
admit it.
If you don't,
you only
make matters worse.


While you're at it, you might as well accept all your future transgressions against the "should's," "must's," and "have-to's." You will transgress. Not that I necessarily endorse transgression--I simply accept the fact that human beings do do such things. Accept your humanity--with all the magnificence and folly inherent in it.

When you're in a state of nonacceptance, it's difficult to learn. A clenched fist cannot receive a gift, and a clenched psyche--grasped tightly against the reality of what must not be accepted--cannot easily receive a lesson.

Relax. Accept what's already taken place--whether done by you or something outside of you. Then look for the lesson. You might not enjoy everything that happens in life, but you can enjoy the fact that no matter what happens, "there's a lesson in here someplace."

And don't forget: It's mostly genetic.

The Mirror

I bid him look into
the lives of men
as though into a mirror,
and from others to take
an example for himself.

190-159 B.C.

When we look outside ourselves, we tend to evaluate. These evaluations tell us about the people and things around us.

These evaluations also tell us about ourselves.

Whatever we find "true" about the people and things around us, is also true about ourselves. When we evaluate anything outside ourselves, what we are doing is looking into a mirror; the mirror reflects back to us information about ourselves.

You may not always like what you see in the mirror; you may not always be comfortable with it; but, if you want to learn about yourself more quickly (and that's what the techniques in this section of the book will help you do), looking at yourself in the mirror of people and things is a valuable tool.

Remember the first time you heard your voice on a tape recorder, or saw yourself on videotape? "I don't sound like that!" "I don't behave that way!" Meanwhile, all your friends are saying, "Yes, that's what you sound like. Yes, that's precisely how you behave."

The first time I saw myself on videotape, I wondered how I had any friends at all. In time, with repeated viewings, I learned to accept the images of myself on the tape, and from that point of acceptance, I could begin making changes. (I like to think of them as improvements.)

And so it is with the mirror of life. You may not like all you see in the mirror, but until you look into the mirror and accept all that you see about yourself, you will not be able to make the changes (improvements) you'd like.

When we see men
of a contrary character,
we should turn inwards
and examine ourselves.


Let's say you look at someone and think, "She is angry, and I don't like that." Could it be you don't like being angry? If you look at someone and say, "He's scared to act. I wish he'd just do it." Could there be something you're scared about; something you wish you would "just do"?

To evaluate and blame others does little good. What do we learn? That we can evaluate and blame? We probably already know we can do that.

Using the mirror, we see that we judge and blame ourselves. This is information we can do something about. We can, for example, stop judging and blaming ourselves, or accept the fact that we do judge and blame ourselves.

Sometimes, we have to shift our focus a bit to see what it is about ourselves that's being reflected by others. For example, you may look at someone smoking and not like it. If you looked in that mirror, you might say, "I don't smoke, how does that apply to me?"

What is it you don't like about the other person's smoking? "It's unhealthy." Then, the question is: What do you do that's not healthy? "Smoking is inconsiderate." What do you do that's inconsiderate? "Smoking is a bad habit." What's your worst habit? "It's a waste of money." How do you waste money? "It shows no self-control." Where would you like more self-control?

Get the idea? There are other people's actions, and then there are the judgments we place on those actions. If we move from the action we judge, and look at the judgment, we usually find a similar judgment we make about ourselves.

It is no use to blame
the looking glass
if your face is awry.


It's fun to extend this idea beyond people and include things: "This car never works when I want it to." What about you never works when you want it to? "It always rains at the worst possible time." What do you do at the worst possible time? "This steak is too tough." What about you could use a little tenderizing?

The mirror gives you lots of material on which to practice acceptance. You can learn to accept everything you already know about yourself, as well as everything you learn by looking into the mirror of other people's behavior. Your harshest judgments of others are the very ones that will benefit you most if you accept them about yourself.

The mirror also focuses you back on something (that is, someone) you can do something about. (Ever notice how little effect your judgments have on others?) Which brings us to our first Pop Quiz.

To continually have "good advice" for a world that, for the most part, is completely disinterested in (and sometimes hostile to) advice of any kind:

  1. is a waste of time
  2. is a waste of good advice
  3. tends to alienate self from others
  4. tends to alienate others from self
  5. promotes self-righteousness in the giver
  6. promotes resentment in the receiver
  7. all of the above

Guess who could really use all that good advice? For the answer, I quote from Michael Jackson's song "Man in the Mirror": "If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change." All that good advice you've been giving to others (or would gladly give them if they only had the intelligence to ask) finally has a home. You.

And, as you're the only one you can really change, the only one who can really use all your good advice is you. Isn't it wonderful that the advice giver and the best user of the advice are the same person? (If you're thinking, "I have to tell so-and-so this. She needs to take some more of her own advice," remember the mirror. It's probably you who needs to take more of your own advice.)

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.


Again, sometimes we must shift the focus and ask ourselves the larger question in order to see how the advice we give another would fit ourselves.

If your advice to someone is to be more careful with his money, and you don't need that advice, what do you need to be more careful about? If your advice to another is to exercise more, and you already exercise a lot, what part of yourself (other than your body) could do with a bit more exercise?

When we look into the mirror of life and see all there is within ourselves that needs improvement, we know we're going to be at it for some time: changing what we can, doing our best with what we can't, accepting and forgiving it all--whenever we remember to do so. (I know, for example, that I'm really writing this book for myself, and if you care to look over my shoulder as I learn from my own "good advice," you are most welcome.)

We also see that whenever we lash out at another, we are really lashing out at ourselves. In this context, to strike another is as silly as striking the bathroom mirror because it's giving us a reflection we don't like. We can only pray that in our striking out, we don't hurt the mirror (especially when that mirror is another person). Could that be where the superstition, "If you break a mirror, it's seven years bad luck," comes from?

Thus far, I've only been talking about the "glass darkly" side of the mirror concept. It does have a lighter side--mirrors also reflect what's good about us.

All the people and things that you find loving, affectionate, caring, devoted, tender, wonderful, compassionate, beautiful, adorable, magnificent, and sacred are simply mirroring to you the loving, affectionate, caring, devoted, tender, wonderful, compassionate, beautiful, adorable, magnificent, and sacred parts of yourself.

The lighter side of the mirror is sometimes more difficult for people to accept than the darker side. "I can see that I'm impatient when I judge someone else for being impatient," you may say, "but when I see the majesty of a mountain, what does that have to do with me?" Everything. That purple mountain majesty is in you, too.

CENTER>Mirrors should reflect a little before throwing back images.


In fact, it's not really in the mountain at all. What's in the mountain is rock. What we, as humans, project onto the mountain is majesty. That's one of the reasons the mirror concept works. Most of the time we are projecting something onto almost everything. When the projection returns to us, we can see it as a reflection--which it is--or we can pretend it is emanating from the thing we projected the reflection onto.

The illusion that what we projected is coming from the thing we projected it onto is deceptive. We tend to get lost in the illusion, just as we tend to get lost in the illusion of images projected on a movie screen. It is, nonetheless, an illusion, and the source of the projection at the movie theater is the projector. The source of the things we think and feel about others is ourselves.

Using the mirror concept, we can begin to recognize the true source of the projections we send out. We begin to see that this person wasn't so bad after all. It was, in fact, what we were projecting onto him. We see that this other person wasn't so wonderful after all. We were merely projecting our wonderfulness upon her.

The more you use it, the more you will probably find the mirror concept works. This is an advanced tool for learning. There is, however, an advanced advanced version of this. It's called relationships.


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