...or until you've (finally) learned your lesson. Many years ago I was in a chiropractor's office and saw a paper on the bulletin board titled "10 Rules for Being Human." As I read the rules, I felt a dawning in my soul. These were truths I had always perceived, but had yet to bring to full consciousness, to express in language. The author of this list, Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott, had gone beyond reading my mind; she had read my soul.
All of the rules (you can read the full list here) resonated with me, but I was particularly drawn to the ones about lessons. Though I was only in my 20s, I'd already begun to sense that our main purpose in life was to learn, and that we each had our own lessons. When I read the following words, so many patterns in my own life and that I had observed in the lives of others suddenly made sense. The realization was so strong that it literally blew me sideways, like a strong wind had suddenly entered the office. Here are the rules that staggered me so:
2. You will be presented with lessons.
You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called “life.” Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or hate them, but you have designed them as part of your curriculum.
3. There are no mistakes, only lessons.
Growth is a process of trial and error: experimentation. The “failed” experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately “works.”
4. A lesson is repeated until learned.
A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can then go to the next lesson.
5. Learning does not end.
There is no part of life that does not contain lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.
It all made sense. The kind of sense that vibrates down in the deepest regions of your soul. But the part that made blew my proverbial skirts up, that sent the winds of revelation searing through the chiropractor's office that day, was this: "a lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it...learning does not end. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned."
Oof. That does explain it. And by "it," I mean pretty much everything.
I re-read this very sentiment yesterday, as I was finishing the final pages of The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. In his words, "the universe will teach us our lessons with the tickle of a feather or the whomp of a sledgehammer, depending on how open we are to learning the particular lesson."
Show me a human who can't relate to getting sledgehammered and I'll show you a Buddha. The beautiful secret that's embedded here is that the sledgehammer isn't necessary. You only need to be sledgehammered when you aren't open to learning the lesson from the initial tickle of the feather. Or the poke in the ribs. Or the slap in the face. The beatings will continue, and they will escalate in force, until you finally get the picture.
When you feel most beaten down in life, rest assured that there's a lesson at hand that you've staunchly refused to learn. Don't be hard on yourself. In all likelihood, you didn't know it was there. No one chooses the sledgehammer intentionally. But there are conscious and unconscious choices in this life. When you choose to remain closed, to feign ignorance, to deny growth and transition, you're choosing the beating.
The secret to ending beatings? Look for the lesson. Get conscious, get curious. Recognize and wonder about the patterns in your life. Ask what they could be here to teach you. As Hendricks says, "getting stubborn and defensive invites the sledgehammer; getting open and curious invites the feather." Honestly answer the question: how have I been inviting the sledgehammer and denying the feather?
Like most, I've shifted a few things following a tickle, but often required a beating. I knew my husband was not happy in our relationship, but allowed him to brush off my knowing with excuses like "it's work stuff," or "I'm just tired." After more than a year of this, he came home one night and announced that he was leaving. He then insisted that it had nothing to do with another woman. I knew better; I even had hard evidence that this was a lie. But I chose to believe it anyway. Which is to say, I chose the sledgehammer. It was applied directly between my eyes six months later when I could no longer lie to myself or accept any more lies from him. The lesson? I already know. What my inner voice says is true, whether it's what I want to hear or not.
In the end we rescued our marriage (you can read more about THAT lesson here), but I still wasn't done with the sledgehammer. A couple of years later I reached the pinnacle one of my greatest life lessons: slow down and pay attention. I brought into this existence a tendency to work in order to avoid feeling. This pattern has been evident throughout my life. I busted my ass to receive straight A's in college, which conveniently helped me avoid processing what it felt like to be bullied and ostracized in high school. When I got a divorce in my late 20s, I quickly drew up an aggressive plan to get out of debt. Paying off student loans is SO much easier than mourning a marriage. During my 30s, one of my best friends committed suicide. My boss gently suggested that I should take some time off. No thanks, I replied, working will keep me from getting too depressed. And after the above incident with my spouse, I conveniently added a new arm to my business and began working 60+ hours a week. Busy, busy! No time for doubt or fear around here.
In my defense, this tactic worked. Very well! Hustle is a reliable antidote to feelings. And being busy is second nature to me. I'm a Libra rising--I move fast, getting shit done is written in my stars. I was certainly not cut off from my emotions. I just kept them tightly controlled (along with everything else) with a killer schedule. But, in order to continue with my lessons, I needed to slow down. I needed full access to #allthefeels, even the ones I didn't want to acknowledge.
Enter the sledgehammer. In 2017, my hair started falling out. In 2018 I started having pain in my left hip and low back. It took me until 2019 to admit that I was experiencing fatigue, as well. By the end of that year, the pain in my hip and back were crippling and I had to seek medical care for my symptoms (which, for the record, I am still healing). I was faced with the very real truth that I could no longer keep going the way that I had been. Literally. I was physically and mentally unable to maintain the hectic pace that had kept me comfortably distanced from my emotions. I was left with nothing else to do but slow down.
And once I slowed down, there was nothing left to do but pay attention. The emerging pandemic in the spring of 2020 put the final touches on this process. COVID was something like my final exam. I passed slowing down, though I still have to monitor myself to prevent backsliding into old habits. I'm continuing to learn about paying attention, but because I'm open to the lesson, I get away with the feather most of the time. I continually improve at honoring that inner knowing, and allowing all of my emotions as much space as they need. My body and mind are healing, and some day I'll be capable of racing through life with as much manic energy as ever. Between you and me and the Universe, I suspect this day will coincide directly with the moment when manic energy no longer seems appealing.
In the meantime, I work to invite the feather. I remain open: to myself, to my lessons, to observation. I work to apply curiosity with as much vigor as I once applied hustle. I meditate, spend quiet time outdoors, and check in with my mind when my body says something is off. I can feel this shifting me, in large and small ways. It's increasingly easy for me to talk about my emotions without feeling defensive. I prefer the radio off in the car. I don't feel compelled to know why I'm feeling something, I can just accept that I do.
Through deep study and with the help of powerful healers, I believe I know my truest life lessons, the ones I came here to master. I am deeply connected to my life's purpose, and I allow that purpose to guide me as a traveler might use the North Star. It is my true and genuine hope that I've evolved beyond the sledgehammer, that a tickle is all I'll need now to realize there's a lesson waiting to be learned. But, there's no evolving beyond humanity. Ego remains a part of me, and with it a drive to remain small and safe, to maintain myself within my comfort zone. Which means I may turn away from my lessons, which are always geared towards growth. I may, once again, invite the sledgehammer.
Still, morale is good here. Perhaps the beatings may be discontinued. I've always been a good student. If anyone can follow the Rules for Being Human, it's this girl.