On being ... words of wisdom

By Ingrid Sapona

I’ve been meaning to follow up on the column I wrote in mid-July called: On being … a good (if unoriginal) idea. That column was about wisdom I found in Katie Couric’s book: The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons from Extraordinary Lives. At the end of that column I invited readers to share advice they’ve gotten, or wisdom they’ve gained in their life. A few readers shared stories with me that I thought I’d share with all of you.

One reader wrote about advice she got from a 93-year-old woman. The younger woman, who was in her 20s at the time, asked the senior: “How you get to be 93?” In response, the woman looked her square in the eye and said, “Do everything in moderation and learn to accept and adjust to whatever life gives you.” The reader commented on how many times in her life she’s thought of that remarkable woman (who, by the way, lived to be 101) and of her advice about not reacting to what is happening but, rather, to accept and adjust.

Another wrote about a comment his father said to him just weeks before he passed away. The two were sitting in a bank and three children were playing nearby, making lots of noise and not listening. The reader said he thought sure his “stern old dad” would find the children more than annoying, but when he asked his father if he was getting irritated, his old man said: “of course not, dummy … You don’t understand anything.”

When he asked his father “So why am I a dummy?”, in his native Italian, his father responded: “Because if you weren’t you would see that the children are bouncing around so that is a good thing. That means they are healthy. If you see a child in a place like this for a long time and they are just sitting there then you know they are sick. I appreciate seeing their good health.” That episode gave the reader valuable perspective into his father’s insightfulness, and it taught him a lesson he says he tries to take into account every day with his own children.

Another reader mentioned advice his grandfather imparted on him as a young boy. At the time, the reader was working alongside his grandfather, who was building a house. The advice was: “Measure twice, cut once”. When I read that, I thought, “I’ve heard that before – haven’t we all”? But what made that story so special, I thought, was that the reader also mentioned: “I was thinking of him today and this advice which I did not pay attention to. … I was in a hurry this morning and measured wrong and cut my lumber, much to my dismay. So it was off to Home Depot yet again!”

There are two things I love about all these stories, besides the underlying wisdom in the advice. First, I love the fact that every reader who shared such a story wasn’t just relaying the advice -- they were also reflecting on the advice giver. They were, in effect, bringing them back to life, which is a quite a tribute in itself.

The second thing I love about stories like these is that every time you recall such advice, you can’t help but take stock. It seems inevitable that you take mental measure of how you’ve let the advice take hold in your life -- thinking about the times you heeded it -- and maybe some times you didn’t, but wish you had.

And finally, along the lines of words of wisdom that give one pause, I heard something the other day that seems especially fitting to offer as food for thought heading into the New Year. It came up in a meditation course I was taking. At the end of one session the instructor asked how we felt after having practiced meditation for a few weeks. One of the participants volunteered that since he started meditating he noticed people in his social circle related to him very differently. He said he felt the clarity he was gaining through meditation was somehow having a positive effect on the way others interacted with him. Though I felt I’ve benefitted from beginning to practice mindful meditation, I couldn’t relate to what he described and, had it not been for what the instructor said in response, I wouldn’t have thought much more about his comment.

In previous sessions of the meditation course I noticed that no matter what a student said, the instructor always found a way of positively -- if benignly -- affirming the student’s comment. But this time the instructor’s affirming response carried with it a powerful, viewpoint-shifting idea. He said, “Hmmm, yes. Change your self, change your world.” It took a moment for me to absorb that statement, but as soon as I did, I saw the profound wisdom in it.

So, as you consider what you hope 2012 will bring, remember -- if you want change in the world (or at least in your world) -- the surest way to make that happen is to change yourself.

Happy Holidays…

© 2011 Ingrid Sapona


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