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 Artwork by Samuel Barnard
Artwork by Samuel Barnard

The warm May sun beats down on my black gown as I make my way across the stage. For the third time in a decade I am accepting a diploma, validation for years of formal learning. With a handshake and my master’s degree in hand I descend from the platform, catching a glimpse of the graduate faculty with whom I have grown close. The classroom is behind me, and I assume my days of tutelage are through.

I couldn’t have been more wrong! Nearly twenty years later I am still being schooled in myriad ways. These “faculty” come in all stripes and my only responsibility is to be open and receptive to their insight. Here are a few of the most memorable lessons from recent months.

“You don’t create balance, you find it”—Mike Morris, singer/songwriter/yoga instructor.

This message was delivered as I tried in vain to execute a yoga pose, perched on one leg. “Find it?” I thought with frustration, “I am looking, I am looking!” As my body conceded and I toppled to the ground, I had to accept that I was trying too hard to force equilibrium in my practice and my life. His message: that we are better served to be curious about finding balance instead of fabricating it, as true balance is a process not an outcome.

“It is not a question of whether you will make a difference, it is a question of what difference you will make?”—David Mochel, Applied Attention

Dave is a mindfulness educator who works with schools and individuals to refocus attention on that which is important in life. He shared this lesson in the context of the inseparability and interconnectedness of our world. It is a sensible reminder that everything in our life is a choice, including what we choose to pay attention to. Inherently our decisions make a difference and we must continually explore how we want to effect change in our lives and environment.

“Stay the tree, let them be the squirrels”—An old friend and colleague

My friend and mentor shared this thought with me as a reminder to stay centered. Despite the chaos, anxiety, and pain that others may bring to the world, if we can stay rooted in our lives and provide stability and growth, not only will we be more joyful and resilient, but we will also allow others to feel safe and at ease.

“I let her do it the way she wanted”—Tim Barnard

Just this summer, my two children and I vacationed with my father, a man who seems to have a lesson for the right way to do everything, from cooking toast to changing a tire. “Let me teach you a trick,” he will say as code for, “do it my way.” Like him, I have the reflexive urge to turn every activity into a teachable moment. Ironically the greatest lesson that my dad has provided is that we are never too old to change. Even in his seventies, he is willing to examine his approach to life and relationships and to admit that he doesn’t always have the right answer. Instead he increasingly allows his grandchildren and his sons to make our own choices and mistakes.

“To love someone is to pay attention with total acceptance”—Jessica Morey, Executive Director of Inward Bound Mindfulness Education.

It is such a simple but powerful definition of love. Jobs, children, responsibilities, technology and discomfort can all demand our attention, drawing us away from the people that we love. Total acceptance is equally as challenging to live, as it is easy and natural to want to assign judgment—especially when we are distracted and on autopilot. Love is an intentional and complicated emotion to hold and practice.

“Will you play?”—The Barnard children

My children are my master teachers. They are constant reminders of what is truly important and valuable in my life: family. They also hold me accountable to what Elisha Goldstein, author of Uncovering Happiness calls “unstructured, purposeless play.” Whether a new card game, splashing in the water or silly adventure, their creativity, innocence and presence of mind is an inspiration. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, defines creative living as “choosing the path of curiosity over the path of fear.” This is the lesson I absorb every day from watching and listening to my children’s antics.

Who are your teachers?

Whether we are on summer break or permanent vacation from traditional schooling, let us ask ourselves, “who are our teachers?” Maybe they are the wise leaders of our times, like Thich Nhat Hanh, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Theresa. Then again it is equally as likely that our neighbor, mechanic or a complete stranger becomes our guru. Sometimes their messages are hard to hear and often the impact is delayed, but the lessons we learn are lasting and invaluable. Whether in the moment or years down the road, we must be sure to thank these educators for their willingness to impart their wisdom and make a difference in our lives.

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