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



The best mirror is an old friend.


Most people seek relationships to get away from themselves. But not eager learners! We use everything for our upliftment, learning, and growth--including relationships.

Relationships can be among the most amazing mirrors around. Some relationships are like fun-house mirrors: they reflect an image back to you, but it's liable to be distorted. Other relationships are like magnifying or reducing mirrors: they make everything seem larger or smaller.

Some relationships are accurate mirrors of the darkness inside us; others accurately reflect the light. Occasionally, we find one that reflects both. That's the relationship we either flee from, or "grapple to our hearts with hoops of steel."

I'm using the term relationship in the broadest sense. Relationships truly take place inside ourselves. We have a relationship with anyone or anything we encounter. Have you ever read a book by an author you never met and still felt a relationship? Or felt close to a movie character, knowing the character never even existed?

What we do inside ourselves about the people (and things) we choose to be in relationship with can be one of the greatest learning tools we can use--especially when combined with the mirror. This lays the foundation for not just learning, but for enjoyable, productive relationships with others.

Inner Voices

What the inner voice says Will not disappoint the hoping soul.


It doesn't take much inner listening to know that "in there" there are many voices: speaking, singing, shouting, and whispering. At times, I'm sure I have an entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Some of the "voices" speak; others flash images. Some communicate by feelings, while others communicate through a sense of "knowing." When I say "voices," I include all of these--and any forms of communication I failed to mention.

These voices have information--all of it useful. Some you can use by acting on; some you can use by doing precisely the opposite. It's a matter of knowing whether or not a given voice is on your side.

How do you know? Listen. Listen might not be the best word. Perceive might be a better word, or look within, or be aware of your inner process. I'll use listen, because it goes along with the analogy of "voices," but know that when I say "listen" I also mean watch, sense, perceive, and be aware of what's going on inside.

Start by listening and keeping track of which voice says what. You can assign them characters, if you like. Here are four of my inner favorites:

The critic. I see this voice as a vulture. Pick, pick, pick, nag, nag, nag. Nothing anyone does is good enough. (Except occasionally when somebody else does something undeniably outstanding, then the vulture says, "Well, you'll never do anything that good.") Doom and gloom fly with the vulture. It feeds on unworthiness, and its droppings are the doubts, fears, and judgments that keep us from moving toward our goals.

I will neither yield to the song of the siren nor the voice of the hyena, the tears of the crocodile nor the howling of the wolf.


The praiser. The praiser I see as an eagle. It proudly tells us all the wonderful things we are, have, and do. It generously praises the being, accomplishments, and activities of others. It's the one that lets us know we are worthy no matter what, and that our worth does not need to be proven, earned, or defended. We are worthy just because we are. All that we are is fine just the way it is. It flies on the wings of grace and gratitude. It nurtures our very soul.

The dummy. The dummy is a turkey. It's the one who answers quickly and loudly, "I don't know," to almost any question. The turkey is the one that keeps us doing all those stupid things we do, and then say, "Darn! I knew better!" We may know better, but no one told the turkey. Turkeys do not fly. If you leave them out in the rain they will drown. They have nothing to be thankful for on Thanksgiving.

The grower. The grower is like an egg. An egg? Yes, as W. S. Gilbert said, "As innocent as a new-laid egg." That's one of the attributes of growth--each moment is new, fresh, and innocent. An egg also contains all the potential for future growth. As Hans Christian Andersen pointed out, "His own image was no longer the reflection of a clumsy, dirty, gray bird, ugly and offensive. He himself was a swan! Being born in a duck yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan's egg." Our grower knows who we are and the kind of bird in the egg (HINT: It's no vulture). It has sufficient self-love to keep itself warm and cozy while gestating. It knows the hatching will take place at precisely the right moment. It is content and divinely patient until then. As Robert Burns wrote of his egg, "The voice of Nature loudly cries, / And many a message from the skies, / That something in us never dies."

The voice of the turtledove speaks out. It says: Day breaks, which way are you going? Lay off, little bird, must you so scold me? I found my lover on his bed, and my heart was sweet to excess.

1550-1080 B.C.

It's a good idea to listen to what the voices say, not to how they say it. As Lord Byron reminds us, "The Devil hath not, / in all his quiver's choice, / An arrow for the heart like a sweet voice." And Freud, a century later, wrote, "The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing. Ultimately, after endlessly repeated rebuffs, it succeeds. This is one of the few points in which one may be optimistic about the future of mankind, but in itself it signifies not a little."

If all these birds in our brains are too much for you, perhaps you could use the metaphor of tuning a radio, or changing channels on a television. Once you tune into your own network of wisdom, you'll have guidance that's sure, clear, and direct.

I thank you for your voices, thank you, Your most sweet voices.



More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

Woody Allen

To the degree the events of the world happen to us, we are powerless pawns in a game of chance. The most we can do is hope, have lots of insurance, and buy emergency food supplies.

To the degree we know that we have something to do with what happens to us, we gain authority, influence, and control over our lives. We see that by changing our attitudes and actions, we can change what happens to us.

In a word, we become accountable.

When something happens to you, you can explore it and probably see that you had something to do with its taking place. You either created it, promoted it, or--at the very least--allowed it. (To remember the words create, promote, and allow, just remember C.P.A. = accountant = accountability.)

When looking for areas of accountability, please don't start with the biggest disaster of your life. Start with the daily slings and arrows that flesh is heir to. Looking for accountability is like exercise--don't try to run a marathon if, like me, you've been sedentary for twenty years (and supine the twenty years before that).

Pick a simple "it happened to me" event--misplacing your keys, the plumber not showing up, running out of gas--and see how you might have had something to do with creating, promoting, or allowing it to happen. Helpful hints:

1. Go back in time. We love to begin our "victim stories" at the point "it" starts happening to us--when the you-know-what hits the fan, and the fan is running. If you start at an earlier point, however, you see that you promised yourself to always put your keys in the same place but didn't, the plumber was not known for his reliability, and the low-gas indicator light on your car had been on for so long you thought your car was solar-powered.

Well, if you've got work to do, Wallace, I don't want to interfere. I was reading an article in the paper the other day where a certain amount of responsibility around the home was good character training. Good-bye, Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver.

Leave It To Beaver

2. What was I pretending not to know? What intuitive flashes did you ignore? "I'd better get some spare keys made," as you passed the hardware store a month ago? "This guy's not going to show," when you first spoke to the plumber? "I'd better get some gas," as you passed the thirty-fifth station since the gas-indicator light came on? We all pretend to know less than we really know.

Into all this comes a perfectly good word that has been given a bad rap--responsibility. Responsibility simply means the ability to respond. Most people, however, use it to mean blame: "Who's responsible for this!"

In any situation, we have the ability to respond, and our response will make the situation either better or worse. Whichever way it goes, we have the ability to respond again. And again. And again. By exercising our ability to respond, and watching the results closely, we can, if we choose, lift almost any situation.

One ability to respond we always have is how we react inside to what's going on outside. The world can be falling apart around us; that doesn't mean we have to fall apart ourselves. It's okay to feel good when things go bad. (See the chapter "Taking Charge.")

Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.


True accountability has three parts. First, acknowledge that you have something to do with what's happened. Even if you're not sure what that might be, ask yourself, "How might I have created, promoted, or allowed this?" The answer may surprise you.

Second, explore your response options. In other words, become response-able.

Third, take a corrective action. The more accountability you found at the first step, the more corrective action you may want to take. On the other hand, your corrective action might be getting out of the way and letting those who are more accountable than you take care of things--if you spilt the glass of milk, clean up the milk; if a milk truck spills milk all over the highway, get off the highway.

And remember: you create, promote, or allow all the good things that happen to you, too.

There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.


Good Mourning

When an emotional injury takes place, the body begins a process as natural as the healing of a physical wound. Let the process happen. Trust that nature will do the healing. Know that the pain will pass and, when it passes, you will be stronger, happier, more sensitive and aware.


This is a lifetime of good-byes. In our time, we will say good-bye to cherished people, things, and ideas. Eventually, we say good-bye to life itself with our death. Learn to say a good good-bye. Allow yourself to mourn each loss. As with a physical wound, the body has its own schedule for healing. It will tell you when it has healed.

Understanding the process of recovering from an emotional wound is valuable--not necessarily as a technique for accelerating the healing process--but more as an assurance that, no matter what stage of recovery you are in, all is well.

There are three distinct, yet overlapping, phases of recovery. We go through each phase no matter what the loss. The only difference is duration and intensity of feeling. In a minor loss, we can experience all three stages in a few minutes. In a major loss, the recovery process can take years.

The first stage is shock/denial/numbness. Our body and emotions numb themselves to the pain. The mind denies the loss. Often, the first words we utter after hearing of a loss are "Oh, no," or "This can't be."

The second stage is fear/anger/depression. We are angry at whatever or whoever caused the loss (including the person who left). We often turn the anger against ourselves and feel guilt over something we did or did not do. (This assignment of blame, either outer or inner, is not always rational.) The depression stage of recovery is the sadness often associated with loss: the tears, the hurt, the desolation. We fear the pain will never end; that we will never love or be loved again.

In the darkest hour the soul is replenished and given strength to continue and endure.


The third stage is understanding/acceptance/moving on. We realize that life goes on, that loss is a part of life, and that our life can and will be complete without the presence of what was lost. We also realize, by going through the first two stages of recovery, we have learned a great deal about ourselves, and we are a better person for the experience.

If we don't allow ourselves the time to heal, some of our ability to experience life is frozen--locked away--and is unavailable for the "up" experiences we enjoy: happiness, contentment, love. The part of us that feels the anger and depression is the same part that feels peace and love. If you refuse to feel the anger and the pain of a loss, you will not be able to feel anything else until that area heals.

In other words, stay out of your own way. Let yourself feel bad if you want to feel bad. Feel joy, too. Healing is taking place.

Give yourself the gift of healing.

You might want to read How to Survive the Loss of a Love (by Melba Colgrove, Ph.D., Harold Bloomfield, M.D., and me. Please click here or call 1-800-LIFE-101).

Learn to Let Go

I don't want the cheese, I just want to get out of the trap.


How does one avoid loss in the first place? Contrary to popular belief, it's not attachment that causes loss--attachment feels fine. It's detachment that hurts. Learn to let go.

Some suggest that to avoid loss, one should never be attached to anything. They give the example of a hand in water: when the hand is removed from the water, the hand leaves no impression. These people say the reason the hand leaves no trace in the water is because the water is not attached to the hand.

On the contrary, while the hand is in the water, it is very attached to the hand--surrounding, enfolding, and embracing it. Allow yourself to experience life as fully as water experiences the hand; then, as completely, let go.

Yes, the water leaves a little of itself on the departing hand, as we leave a little of ourselves with the people and things we touch. For the most part, however, when it comes time to go, let go.

The hand can no more hold the water than the water can hold the hand. As soon as one "wants" to leave, there is no attachment. Hand and water both accept the inevitability, and part "clean."

There is a title for a book on raising children I've always liked: Hold Them Very Close, and Let Them Go. This I find good advice for all experiences:

Hold them very close, and let them go.


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