Sometimes, finding just the right greeting card can be a challenge. Baby showers and children’s birthdays are easy to find, sugar and spice and everything nice. But the right card for high school and college graduations, or weddings, is a different story.
For high school graduates, I look for Dr. Seuss cards: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.”
For most young people, the check inside gets the most attention. Even so, I want to plant a seed that may (or not) grow with them. Suggesting that life is smooth sailing sends the wrong message. The seeds I send are about hurdles and courage. How we meet challenges in life, a toy poodle or a teeth-baring guard dog, is a telltale moment—who we are at that moment.
Life gives us the experiences most helpful for the evolution of our consciousness, the peace of the soul. We view discomfort in any form as bad news. Who would embrace embarrassment, betrayal, or resentment? But those moments, when we meet our edge, are the perfect teacher. We would do well to welcome them. Instead of paying a therapist to point out our tender spots, life does it free.
Ram Dass said, “If you think you’re enlightened, spend a week with your parents.” We know what he was talking about. If we stay in the present and resist an escape plan, the experience helps us grow. Next time we are less likely to break.
Every day, we are given opportunities to open up or shut down. When our inclination is to back away, we are in a learning moment. Walking early enough to greet the sunrise gets me out of bed. Running into Gladys, I wish I’d stayed in bed. I can’t take her negativity, I tell myself. She’s ruining my morning walking meditation. Life has just nailed me. It’s like looking in the mirror and seeing a gorilla. I don’t like what I see.
Lessons occur with clockwork regularity. What nails me is different for you. For children, it may be the bedroom closet. For another, it may be a spider or running into a girlfriend who dumped you. No matter what it is, it happens to all of us sooner or later. If we can see those occasions as messengers showing us where we’re stuck, we can lean in instead of running. Face it or flee. When we run, the lesson repeats.
Visiting a fourth-grade class, one of the children asked Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan monk, if he’d ever been afraid. He told the children about traveling with his attendants to a monastery he’d never been to before:
(Paraphrased) We saw a large guard dog with huge teeth and red eyes as we neared the gates. It was growling ferociously and struggling to get free from the chain that held it. The dog seemed determined to attack us. We walked past the dog, keeping our distance. Suddenly the chain broke, and the dog rushed at us. My attendant screamed and froze in terror. I turned and ran as fast as I could—straight at the dog. The dog was so surprised that he put his tail between his legs and ran away.Paraphrased from Pema Chodrön’s book, The Places that Scare you
What do we do when we meet our match? We’ve been nailed. If we can remain present, feeling the fear or anger, the experience changes us. Each life lesson mastered cultivates bravery and kindheartedness. Yes, it’s easy to say and hard to do, but it’s a noble way to live.