My Top 12 Life Lessons – Spiritual and Otherwise

Lesson Plan
Sometimes small ideas can have a big effect on our lives. Here is a baker’s dozen of lessons I have learned so far. Well, maybe I’m still working on a few all of them. These ideas help me – I hope that others will find them useful too. Here’s the list:
#1. There is no substitute for being content with your own company. You can’t ever escape yourself, regardless of the intricate social life you may construct. Even if your are blessed with a healthy, committed relationship, every night before you go to sleep, it’s you and only you inside the four walls of your head. So as long as we’re stuck with ourselves, why not learn to enjoy being alone? Bubble baths, a walk in nature, an enjoyable book are great ways to invest a little “me” time.
#2. Showing up matters. In order to feel connected with the world, we need to actively engage with it. While joining the Peace Corps or working in a helping profession are ways of engaging the world, the simple stuff counts too:  participating in a home owner’s association, or attending your shul’s annual meeting. Woody Allen would agree.
#3. Unconditional love, especially when accompanied by cold noses, whiskers and tails, is a good thing. Research has been done that indicates people with pets are happier and healthier. Having a pet keeps you from being utterly and completely wrapped up in your own stuff. I know this from personal experience: even if I’m having a bad day, my dog Charlie still needs to go for a walk. Of course, that means I get a walk too. Along the way I will often see a neighbor, and we might stop and talk for a few moments. Charlie helps me stay connected with my environment neighborhood. And his coal-black eyes and wagging tail force me to smile, even when I don’t want to.

#3A. Fun Jewish Fact About Pets. At least one interpretation of Jewish law states that pet owners are obligated to provide for their animal companions’ rest on Shabbat. Perhaps this encourages us to rest too.
#4 Jerry Maguire had it wrong. The character played by Tom Cruise may really have needed to be with Renée Zellweger, but I think he was setting himself for a big disappointment at some point. Being human comes with the challenge of incompleteness: no other person or religious belief can ever take this away (see #1). A more positive way of looking at this is that we were created with the means to achieve satisfaction on our own, and when we decide that things are good they often begin to feel that way.
#5. Keeping it simple. Affirming the existence of G-d without needing to contain G-d inside a definition can help a thinking person stay connected to his or her spirituality. And to keep it simple, I’ll stop there.
#6. We gain from being kind. Being truly kind to another person can bring unimagined richness into your life. One of the most loving things you can do for another person is to wholly accept them just as they are. While compassion and acceptance provide a benefit to other people, they also open our heart to our own needs and help us to not be so hard on ourselves.
#7. Over-thinking and under-knowing. Intelligence can get in the way of wisdom. Important decisions should be made not only in your head, but also in your gut, and your heart.
#8. One reason “silence is golden.” Sometimes the most effective next step in resolving a conflict with another person is to say nothing. Try this out the next time you’re buying a car.
#9. This probably doesn’t belong on this list, but it’s good to know anyway. Whipped cream cheese is a great way to administer a pill to your dog. So is peanut butter. Cat fanciers, you’re on your own.
#10. L’Dor V’Dor (Generation to Generation). Spending time with older adults is a great way to be reminded of what is really important to you. Listening to their stories, the lessons they learned over a lifetime, can be enormously enriching. That’s why age is honored in so many cultures, yet oddly enough not always in our own.
#11 I wish someone had told me this sooner. It’s never too early to begin using moisturizer.
#12. Coming Full Circle. A wise man I know, San Francisco psychologist Jonathan Berkeley, PhD, taught me: “If you stick around long enough, you’ll see everything.” Thanks, Jeb!
Like these? Hate these? Have your own lessons to share? Please share your ideas with the TCJewfolk community in the comments.
Photos: Chalkboard — imnicholas; Charlie the Wonder Dog — Christopher Bargeron