In life there are two kinds of lessons: those we learn that stay with us forever, e.g., put your hand on a red hot stove and it will burn, and those we learn and re-learn ad nauseum. Over and over. We learn and we forget. What is consistent is our need to relearn the lesson. Why we forget, or ignore, is varied.
Perhaps the initial incentive is gone. I think of women, who post Barbie wedding quickly find the weight they lost when they were starving themselves and driving everyone crazy while belaboring details of the big day. (I'm not judging the brides here, just identifying this as a situation of incentive/absence of incentive--although I do find it incredibly sad that society still makes women feel like they are only worthy of a picture book wedding if they're skinny. When I'm feeling particularly feminist, I feel it's incredibly sad that society makes women want a picture perfect wedding at all. But I digress.)
Maybe we learn and decide that something else is more important to keep in mind, ostensibly more pressing in nature, less [insert contemptuous tone] “selfish.” Here I can't help but think of moms who forget how much they enjoyed an occasional massage, or pedicure, or meeting a friend for coffee and who, only on the verge of a nervous breakdown or divorce, and at someone else's urging, find their way back to that weekly Happy Place.
Sometimes it is difficult to stick with a plan, or just plain easier not to. I think we're lazy by nature, or have been encouraged in the last couple of decades to be lazy (please, let me pay 3 times the price for chicken breasts for buying them in pre-portioned packages within a package—NOT!). And we take the easy way out. Take exercise, the bane of my existence, my perpetual lesson. I feel better when I exercise. I know this, but sometimes it is easier and more enticing to sit and wallow--or go out and have fun (read: eat or drink)--then get in workout gear and sweat. So I have stopped and started exercising umpteen times in my adult life.
The good news is sometimes all it takes is for the lessons to be repackaged (there we go again), intentionally or not--just enough to get our attention. I don't have to pay for a gym membership or don spandex and run? I can throw on old sweats and follow along with a DVD in my own living room? Yay! Sometimes we just forget that it felt good to live like you knew the lesson and eventually get to feeling miserable enough to pick up our lesson books again. Or the threat of losing something as with the aforementioned prototype mom--your mind, your partner's attention, the last semblance of your self-respect—can also make us hop into action. Imminent loss works as effectively as the initial incentive to learn it to begin with.
In the end it’s all about balance, keeping ourselves in check, not letting loneliness outweigh self-respect so you find yourself in yet another bad relationship, or not letting drinks at 5 being the only way to unwind, or not letting the only hat you wear have a name tag that says what you do for work (Teacher) or something about your relationship to others (Mom). Relationships, incidentally, are a great conduit for life lessons. Learning to balance our relationships with others and ourselves is, I think, the task at hand. Having an awareness of ourselves and a happy relationship with that person is vital. Every wellness wheel I’ve ever seen is about a balanced self…although, come to think of it, I haven’t seen any since the early 90s when I worked in higher education and had big bangs and sprayed my hair out over my ears (think broadcaster’s bob). But I’m digressing again.
Anyway, this is exactly why moms should sit over coffee or get their toes painted--or both, and why those of us who love to eat and drink should exercise. It’s why those of us in love with the wrong person should fall in love with ourselves first, and may be surprised to be led to the right person as a result. It’s why those of us who aren't in love with our jobs should fall in love with something else and put some energy there, to create something good, and not give all our energy and time to that thing that pays the bills and elevates our blood pressures.
Suddenly it occurs to me, if the lesson is indeed balance, then maybe the goal is happiness. Love and happiness.