by Nancy Casey
Begin with a blank sheet of paper and write the opening phrase, “I have learned…” As you write the words, something that you have learned in your life will occur to you. Finish off the sentence by writing down what it is.
Begin again. Write, “I have learned…” and add a line or two about something else you have learned.
You probably don’t have enough paper in your house to make a complete list of everything you’ve learned so far in your life!
We learn things all the time. Sometimes we do it so effortlessly that we fail to notice. You don’t cross the street until you learn whether or not there is traffic coming. You don’t order food at a restaurant until you learn what’s on the menu. As each day unfolds, we learn whether or not the events of the day match our expectations.
If you picture yourself as a newborn infant, it’s obvious that you have learned an awful lot about functioning as a human. When babies roll over for the first time, parents get excited. Newborns don’t speak—they haven’t even learned that they can! Long before anyone darkens the door of a school they have learned ever-so-many things—physically, psychologically, personally and socially.
As we seek contentment and satisfaction in our lives, there are many things we deliberately set out to learn—relationship skills, career strategies, conversation starters, dance moves, techniques in the arts and sports. In seeking happiness, we learn what makes us unhappy. Then we have to learn what to do with that knowledge.
In some cases, we are forced to learn. If you get hurt, you learn to make-do until you heal up—unless you are not going to heal up, in which case, you learn to do many things differently. Grief is the long process of learning to live alongside the pain of a loss. Changes in friendships and unexpected events can teach you to see yourself and the world differently. As humans, we observe and perceive all the time. We can’t help but learn.
Nobody is ever too old to learn. It’s easy to get excited for someone taking up gymnastics or skydiving at age eighty, but there’s more to learning than deliberately trying new things. Reflecting on the past and understanding the subtleties of your experience is a form of learning. Compassion and empathy grow inside us as we learn about others. Learning to have compassion for ourselves is a project of a lifetime.
So take yourself on a tour of some of the many things you have learned since you made your first appearance on the planet, and fill up a page with some of the things you discover.
To share what you have written you can post it as a comment below. You can type in your work. Or post a picture of it.
Nancy Casey has lived in Latah County for many years. Sometimes she teaches writing classes at the Recovery Center. You can find more of her work here. She offers (free!) writing help to anyone in recovery. This can be for any kind of writing project—resumes, letters, stories novels—email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.