A lesson of the heart, mind and funny bone

By: J. Marlando

One of the most wonderful things about our early childhood is our absolute vulnerability—we are in awe of everything. After all, there are lights that go off and on, nobs that turn, lids that open and shut, wheels that turn, clocks that tick and so many other magical things; things like leaves and rain, like mud and clouds and grass! There are also birds that sing and dogs that howl, flowers that bloom, stars that twinkle and…people. We see fat ones and skinny ones poor ones and rich ones, nice ones and cranky ones, tall ones and short ones—they are all so interesting and intriguing but of course, we are just in awe of everything!

One of the most magical things when we are children is the mirror. No matter how quick we peek into it, we’re always there. And yet, what is just about as magic as mirrors is our shadows. After all, we can make them do whatever we want them to—even dance—and no matter what we do, they are always with us. A great lesson in life is that you can’t outrun your shadow self no matter how hard you try.

As children we are vulnerable:  Everything impresses us and we tend to love all that we are impressed by; we simply love the world and all that’s in it. Well, there are so many things to love like kisses and hugs and holding hands; like being cuddled and snuggling up. And there’s all the fun stuff too like running and jumping and flying off things, like chairs…like climbing and hiding under things. When you’re very young, you just live life to the fullest and that’s all there is to it.

So what happens?

What happens is that your socialization begins and one of the first things that you learn is never…never ever be vulnerable. After all what if someone lies to you or cheats you or isn’t your friend, what if you love somebody that doesn’t love you back, then what?  So you learn to be on the lookout for impostors, liars and thieves and that love has to be reciprocal so you always have to be careful not to love the wrong person. There are just so many rules to remember like you should never go outside without your clothes on, never laugh out loud at others, be especially nice to people who might give you something and, beyond all else…mind.

Your next big step in life is school and learning the art of being with others and to interact with them which is pretty difficult at first. One of the first big lessons of socializing is remembering not to scratch certain places no matter how much they itch and never pick your nose while standing in line. The important thing is to pay attention in school. After all, the whole reason you are there is to learn stuff that you didn’t know before like the importance of recess and that you can’t always do what you want to do. You also learn that you have to compete in this world so how you’re graded is important. After all, if you’re a “C” you’re probably destined to work for one of the “As” someday or at least that’s what you’re led to believe.

Another thing you learn when you first start going to school is that not everyone likes you and that you don’t like everyone. Before school you loved the world and everyone in it but, once in school, a new power comes into play—discrimination. Some of the other kids just rub you the wrong way so you don’t associate with them outside the classroom. For one thing, you find out that you get judged by who you hang out with and somewhere along your journey some adult reminds you that birds of a feather, stick together. There’s a lesson in that but, at the time, you have no real idea what it is.

Something else you learn is that you always have to wait your turn and if you want someone to pay attention to you, you have to raise your hand. You also have to raise your hand to go to the bathroom and that when you learn one of those things you never thought about before, the difference between “may I” and “can I…”  It is during those times that your teacher reminds you that there’s a proper way to do and say things and an improper way to do and say them. By then you know how to look like you’re interested even when you’re not. And so that’s what you do, stand there and look interested even though all you really care about is getting out of there before you wet your pants. But of course, by then, you’ve already figured out that what is most important to your teacher is for you to be obedient and to mind.

By middle school you already know what you’re doing and all the tricks. Well, at least you think that you do. Anyway, that’s a time when boy’s voices drop and girls start filling out; the pimple age; a time when you start dating or want to and a time that you really get into a hurry to grow up. In fact, you tend to believe you are grown up, just not fully grown. And, there’s one thing you know for sure—what you want most in the world is a car…a car is freedom and independence and for the rest of your life you don’t have to ask your mom to drive you everywhere.

A car however is at least two years away so you learn that you can’t have everything you want when you want it. Actually you’ve been in training for this realization since you were really little. You know, dinner first and cookies afterwards and not the other way around. That, by the way, is also a metaphor for all kinds of disappointments in life like you can’t you can’t watch television and you can’t play computer games until you’ve done your homework. You can’t leave the house until you’ve cleaned your room…you know what I’m getting at, all those things you can’t do until you do something else. That’s a big lesson in life but you don’t realize it then!

There’s a strange irony that comes out of all these conflicts, however. That is you figure out that the only way to get your way is to mind. When you mind, they call you good and who doesn’t like being told how good they are?

Finally high school! By then you’re what older people call, feeling your oats. That’s a time when you really start developing a persona; a time when you try to be the way that you think others see you and how you want others to see you. In other words, by high school you get into self-image and so a lot of role-playing. Well, after all, you have an idea of how you want to present yourself to the world from your center.  Every high school student lives in his or her own center. When you were very young you were part of the whole but by high school you’ve withdrawn into your own reality wherein everything and everyone else revolves around you.

Secretly you know that you’re not as self-assured as you let on but of course you bury that acknowledgment so very deep beneath the mask your wearing that you can actually begin believing that you really are who you pretend to be: Cool, Hot, Comical, Serious, Tough, Quiet. Loud, Wild, Shy, Aggressive, Unpretentious, All Knowing and well, you name it. In any case and truth be told, high school is a kind of testing ground where you are more lost than found; a time for wondering about your place in the world from a middle-ground upon which you’re no longer a child and not yet an adult; you can really screw up in your teens because you’re impulsive!

One of your real problems, however, is that you have been indoctrinated with concepts. A major concept is one taught you by your well-intended parents by example; a response that will assure your unhappiness or at least your anxiety for a lifetime. That is “to judge yourself by others and others by yourself.”  This means that you live in a world stranded between those with more and those with less, those who have nicer things than you have and those who don’t have as much as you have. Because of this single concept you will seldom feel at peace in your world. And more, you will tend to look up at those with more and down at those with less. As you can see, you’re not even out of high school yet and you’ve already been destined to frustration.

Another concept you’ve been indoctrinated with is that happiness is at the end of achievement. Your teachers as well as your parents are both behind this road to more frustration—this instructs you that no matter what you’re doing in the present the real joy of it will not occur until sometime in the future.  It’s like studying, most probably no one ever suggested to you that there’s a joy or (even) fun in learning, only that your reward will occur after you graduate and have your diploma in hand. In other words, you’ve been taught to keep your mind on the peak you’re climbing and not on the journey that’s getting you there. When you were young you found joy in stacking the blocks but by the time you’re in high school you have been trained that the only joy arrives after the blocks have been stacked. The anxiety that accompanies this is that once you reach one peak, the next one is always a little higher. There’s an old song that describes the feeling that arrives with this dilemma. The lyric howls, I don’t get no satisfaction.

Another concept that you were probably indoctrinated with is that nothing worthwhile is easy. It comes from the old Puritan ethic that dictates work before play; that suffering precedes salvation and that pleasure leads to sin. So by the time you’re getting ready to go to college you have a mindset that if it’s not difficult, it isn’t worth the effort; it is only at the end of struggle that success arises. What arrives from this grim news is the declaration that if you want to reach your destination you have to sacrifice to get there. And so, somewhere bouncing around in your unconscious is that suffering, struggle and sacrifice are the ingredients for success. In this view your mom and dad have probably told you all the sacrifices they have made to raise you. To sacrifice is of course impossible so there’s paradox to conceive—since no one does anything they don’t want to do (if you don’t believe me try doing something that you don’t want to do) so the term sacrifice becomes the mumble jumble of verbiage. Indeed, if you want (or choose) to do something, you are selecting one choice over another—for example, if it gives you feelings of pleasure to give to the poor as opposed to not giving to the poor where’s the sacrifice?

Anyway, the bottom line is that by the time you’re ready for college you’re taking all these rather ludicrous ideas with you as serious life lessons. Indeed, you have been brainwashed into believing that nothing is easy until you’ve achieved whatever you want to achieve. Indeed, social memes and mores have prepared you for unhappiness as a way of life. Happiness after all is always a future event like graduating, then finding a job, then retiring. Then when you’re on the downhill slope, you’re finally free to start enjoying life.

So off to college you go.

You choose a major, you choose a minor but mostly you choose romance and mirth. Well, this is probably the first time in your life that you’re on your own…kind of. If your among the majority your parents are probably footing the bill but if not you’ve managed to get loans to see you through. This gives you a kind of false start in life because your genesis of being a full grown adult begins with debt. This means your behind before you ever really get started. But that’s okay because of the suffering-struggle-sacrifice factor.

College feels good, however. It is an isolated island somewhere off the coast of reality. It’s a place where you can be the smartest person in the world, without proving it; where good grades become your capital and popularity your success. In college you quickly become a political intellectual and expert critic of…well of just about everything. You, in fact, begin to believe that you’re on top of the world but actually you’re merely one more wide-eyed student of the island’s subculture

After graduation you enter society with a positive reach-the-peaks attitude; you feel like the adult that you always wanted to be and you’re finally ready to try your treasures. One thing for sure, the diploma in your back pocket is going to help you spread your ambitious wings. The problem is that you discover that fewer the 40% of the largest job classification require four year diplomas and fewer than 30% of all jobs require them. And so with all that wonderful knowledge bouncing about in your head you decide to put off your immediate success and deliver pizzas for a living until your real break comes.

Then, when you least expect it, you meet someone and fall in love; the wedding bells ring and the honeymoon is on. In the interim you’ve found a better job…but not much better yet the credit cards company think you’re a great risk because they keep making you offers. Well, you want stuff that you can’t afford like nice furniture and a 70 inch screen TV; stuff that you simply can’t live without. In the meantime, you have a couple of children and that is far more expensive than you ever thought it would be so in the end (or is it in the beginning) you land in over debt and can barely make ends meet even with your two incomes. But at last you’ve made it. You belong to the status quo as a full-fledged grown up.

What’s important of course is that you have learned from life and you pass down your wisdom to your children. You tell them that life’s a struggle but if they work hard enough and are willing to sacrifice they’ll eventually be rewarded and live happily ever after. In the meantime never go outside to play without any clothes on, never pick their noses while standing in line, never laugh at people out loud, be nice to people who might give you something and above all else…learn to mind.