Most of the stuff I’ve been taught over the years hasn’t stuck especially well. Key among the useful and meaningful skills and knowledge that have been handed down to me are the remarkably applicable ones wherein I ought to spend most of my energy on keeping my mind open and my mouth shut. Many a disaster can be averted, I know, and many a mountain scaled, if one only practices this simple-sounding combination. But I also know from long experience that the person able to perform this remarkably magical duo of acts on a consistent basis is all too rare, and I am hardly the best practitioner of them.
Other people’s shortcomings, of course, are neither my excuse nor my problem: it’s I alone who need to iron out the kinks in this skill set. Along with these, there are a huge number of additional talents I ought to have cultivated better by now, knowing as I do through experience and example how significantly they can and should improve my life and the lives of those around me. For example, what if I stuck to the demonstrably excellent principle I’ve been taught, in which one stays focused and present in the now, the moment being lived, rather than entangled in mistakes past or muddled by the ever-impossible-to-read future? I can only imagine I’d waste a whole lot less time, energy, and worry, and spend it much more profitably and pleasurably.
I have learned a lot of things that, on their own and at face value, seem quite minute and insignificant but can actually be useful, if I pay attention to them. And if I bother to consider their inverses, their hidden sides, they may all the more inform and improve my existence. Life isn’t all clover and strawberries. Yet, as it happens, the occasional, if less-adorable, onions and garlic can season delicious dishes that even the most sensitive palates can love. A weedy dandelion brings provocative beauty, sometimes by its mere contrast, to the most refined and orderly of gardens. At times, the best company is oneself alone. Bigger, newer, louder, faster, stronger, and prettier are not always better. Cuddly looking creatures can bite. Long, heavy books can be well worth reading, but “Classics” aren’t always so.
Does hearing, knowing, practicing, or appreciating any of these tidbits really make me a better or more righteous person? Nope. But a longtime practice of attempting to find and test such little specks of potential goodness in the chaos of life might—could—help.
I’ve learned a lot of brilliant and useful things in my lifetime thus far. It’s too bad I’m not always good at putting them into practice. But I’m working on it, really I am.