How to end 2022? I will ask you to do something counterintuitive, even uncomfortable: end the year with a question. But what should we ask?
I invite you to ask the question which has led my life journey: “what can I learn from it?” That question has comforted me in challenging moments. When all seemed absurd, asking, “what can I learn from it?” reduced my anxiety and uncertainty.
This call for learning may feel unrealistic and naïve. Facing a chronic illness, financial struggle, or shattered relationships, who would ask, “what can I learn?” In states of deep crisis, life and pain overlap. The only valid questions seem to be, “how can I get out of this!” “How to survive!”
My Sedated Teacher
Like you, I have experienced pain. The day after, I struggled to forget, barely functioning. However, my mistake was to believe that learning must come only from pleasant experiences. I applied the faulty logic that good derives only from good. That changed at the least expected place, a mental health partial hospital program. At Saint Vincent hospital, I sat beside a short, obese guy who seemed sedated. I feared him. He incarnated what I dreaded I could become. The social worker asked the group, “has anybody helped you in your life.” And then, coming out of his stupor, he opened his eyes wide, sat straight, and offered the most touching, emotional, and profound testimony on the love and support from his family.” Until that moment, I discounted him. I did not contemplate “what can I learn from him?” He taught me that wisdom lies in the most unexpected places. We just need to offer an opportunity for it to flourish.
Where is My Wisdom?
The key to learning is to realize that wisdom fills the universe. Some may offer the wisdom of endurance. Others, the wisdom of hope. Wisdom may also flourish from depression and despair. If you have a chronic illness or enduring pain, think about yourself as the explorer of an enigmatic dark cave. A cave so challenging, mysterious, and awesome that very few can scout it. As you submerge in your internal cave, you become a daring explorer of deep sensations and perspectives, many uncomfortable but all pregnant with wisdom. You can bring that unique wisdom to the surface, opening new gates of understanding and meaning for those in need. Who are you, then? You are the Marco Polo, Nellie Bly, Roald Amundsen, Neil Armstrong, or Buzz Aldrin of the mind and soul. So many people face a world fragmented, depressing, and cruel. Be their explorer. Learn. Imagine all you can teach!
Where is my Entrance to Wisdom?
But where is the entrance to that cave? The cave is so close; it is within you. Embrace the mystery that the depths of yourself are larger and deeper than the cosmos. Your inside is replete with precious wisdom.
My dear friend Mark asked me, “Alfredo, what have you learned this year?” I paused and said, “that people are more interesting than books.” For most of my life, I have devoured books. I found refuge and protection in texts. As I collected philosophies and theories, I felt empowered. Like Moses, I was more enamored with my Torah than with people. I had to work very hard on myself to discover others. My study of Positive Psychology, therapy, and, more than anything else, the love of family rescued me from a solitary life of the ego. I found profound lessons in my Mixed Martial Arts class. On the mat, I am the oldest, weakest, and slowest. My trainer once told me, ” Alfredo, I think you have spatial dyslexia.” It was then that I relinquished my pursuit of winning for a path of humble learning. The other fighters became my teachers. Another opportunity for learning in an unexpected place.
Explore Your Cave
Each of us is a cave. We are all divers of the soul. Help others articulate their life wisdom. Depression is rampant. People feel like they are sleepwalking through a meaningless journey. Think of those you encounter as the most interesting people in the world. Ask them what this year has taught them. And if they vent or react negatively, learn through the power of compassion. Give them the freedom to be. No matter if you ask, “what did you like, the mashed potatoes or string beans?” For that instant, make the other person the most interesting being in the universe.
I still carry my Kindle with hundreds of books. But my selection has changed. I have added novels, autobiographies, and coaching to my books on philosophy and psychology. They shine side by side with Aristotle, Maimonides, and Moses de Leon.