Archives for October, 2011
The unnamed author of my favorite essay on what it means to be human, "Rules for Being Human," pulled no punches when composing rule #1, which says: You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period this time around. Just speaking for myself, I spent about two decades thoroughly hating mine before these "rules" crossed my path. At which time rule #1 immediately caught my eye, so much so that I didn't even pay much attention to the other nine rules for the first several years this treatise was in my possession. It wasn't until I began writing the book about mentoring and eating disorders recovery which was to become Beating Ana that I really started to dive more deeply into rules two through nine. This was because rule #1 had me simply transfixed by the idea that I wasn't the only person on the planet who railed against a fate which had delivered me a body I wasn't entirely happy with, and that I was going to have to find a way to make peace with it, because I wasn't allowed to exchange it out for a different one.
Oh boy. At some point, we wake up, whether early on, midway through, or late into life, and realize what we've signed up for. In this singular (and at times singularly unpleasant) "aha" moment, we realize that "life", regardless of whatever definition or outcome we may have attached to it, is really nothing more than a lifelong chance to learn lessons. This is probably why - almost certainly why - the anonymous author of "Rules for Being Human" devotes nearly one-half of the 10 short rules that make up the treatise to the process of learning lessons. The author examines learning lessons from every angle - from liking them to not liking them, from learning them to not learning them, and everything in between. Rule #2 states: You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time information school called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think they are irrelevant or stupid. Talk about telling it like it is.
This statement may strike you as contrary to a whole host of possible mentoring scenarios that have "mistake" written all over them. And yet the anonymous author of "Rules for Being Human" very clearly writes, in rule #3: There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error, of experimentation. The "failed experiments" are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately works. We may not like it, we may not accept it, but that doesn't change the truth of this statement one little bit. Wasn't it Thomas Edison, the inventor of something none of us can imagine living without - the light bulb - who stated, "I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that do not work." Fantastic.
In rule #4 in "Rules for Being Human", the author writes: 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 on to the next lesson. Sometimes in my own life, I rather suspect I am still stuck on Lesson One. I am the world's oldest kindergartner. But my teachers just won't give up. The key here is to change my attitude towards repetition, a task I still sometimes struggle to do. In our culture, we view repetition as a waste of time. We think we need to "get it right the first time". How many times were you subjected as a child (or as an adult for that matter) to the admonition that "anything worth doing right is worth doing right the first time?" But what happens when we don't KNOW how to do it right the first time? It actually doesn't make much sense when you think about - that somehow we are supposed to know without instruction how to do something that we've never done before.
We are now up to rule #5 in my all-time favorite short essay on what it means to live a human life, "Rules for Being Human". The author, who has wisely kept his or her identity well-hidden, has nevertheless achieved a sort of anonymous immortality as the 10 short so-called "rules" in this treatise continue to circulate, passed along again and again as a sort of eternal favor we aren't sure who to thank for. Rule #5 states: Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned. I don't know about you, but I generally feel happiest and most content when I feel like I have gotten everything to stay "just so" for just long enough to breathe a sigh of relief.
Today is World Mental Health Day 2011. It is a great day to remember that we live in what I like to call the salt water taffy generation. It is quite possibly the most difficult generation to inhabit, at least for those of us in the mental health field, because we are caught right in the middle between where we’re coming from and where we’re going. What I mean by this is that we are coming from a past that treated mental health patients with about as much gentleness as a wrecking ball treats a condemned building. Where we are headed is what I often term “the age of enlightenment”, when conversation about our mental health issues becomes as open, accepting and even casual as our discussions of physical health ailments such as cancer, the flu, or even the common cold. Where we are now is right in the middle, being pulled and yanked by both our past and our future, stretched and reconfigured to create out of what hasn’t worked a new way that truly will.
As we continue our exploration of "Rules for Being Human," a short treatise by an anonymous author on the perils and promises of life itself, we come to Rule #6, which reads: There is not better than here. When your there has become a here, you simply will obtain another there that will again look better than here. When I first read this rule, my first thought was, "I don't know this author, but they sure know me!" I wasn't too thrilled about it either. None of us want to think (or at least I personally don't want to think) that the "there" I am busting my butt to work towards today will become tomorrow's discarded afterthought. Frankly, just the thought of it makes my couch and that stack of unwatched DVDs look pretty darned good. But this is the truth - at least for most of us having the human experience today.
I have spent the last two posts talking about my all-time favorite "mentoring manual," as I like to call it. This short piece, composed by an author whose name remains unknown, and entitled simply, "Rules for Being Human," has done more to reassure and strengthen me for the journey yet ahead than probably any other single piece of literature I have ever read (and I LOVE to read). For some reason, I started the discussion going backwards, so after reviewing and discussing rules 10, 9, and 8 in previous posts, respectively, in this post we now arrive at Rule #7, which states: Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something unless it reflects to you something you love or hate about yourself. Ouch. Right? OUCH.