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Beyond Repeating Cycles: How to Learn and Graduate from Life’s Challenges


I recently listened to Oprah Winfrey's commencement address for the class of 2023 at Tennessee State University, her alma mater. Like most commencement speeches, Oprah gave sage advice to the graduates. As I listened to Ms. Winfrey, I recognized as the academic year ends, countless students are graduating from one grade to the next, receiving their diplomas, and embracing new challenges. It's a time of celebration, reflection, and anticipation for the next chapter. This had me wondering whether life is an ongoing school where we continuously face lessons to help us grow and evolve.


We're all attending "The School of Life." And just as students must learn the lessons of their current grade level before progressing to the next, we too must embrace the lessons we face in our lives. If we fail to learn from our experiences and go through them, we may replay similar patterns repeatedly. However, by actively growing and learning through our experiences, we can graduate to a higher level of understanding and living.


To navigate this School of Life successfully, we must know that life is like a game. And like any game, we must understand the rules. One of the rules or principles of this earth school is that if we don't learn our lessons along the way, we end up repeating them until we do. We can apply many principles to learn through the experiences we face. Here are three for consideration:


1. Principle of Reflection: Taking Time to Learn


There's a young woman named Maya who ended a relationship. She was devastated by the breakup, felt lost and confused, and asked, "Why is this happening to me—again?" Instead of rushing into another relationship or burying her emotions as she had done in the past, she took time for introspection.


Maya journaled her thoughts and emotions, delved into books on personal growth, and sought the guidance of a spiritual teacher. Gradually, Maya gained clarity and realized the relationship taught her valuable lessons about self-love, boundaries, and personal growth. By embracing the reflection principle, Maya learned and grew from the experience. As a result, she stopped repeating the same patterns in future relationships.


2. Principle of Mindfulness: Being Present in Each Moment


One of my college classmates was an ambitious entrepreneur. He constantly raced against the clock, "running to and fro." He found himself overwhelmed with never-ending to-do lists and an ever-expanding workload. His life became a chaotic blur, his health deteriorated, and he longed for peace and fulfillment. I suggested he investigate the practice of mindfulness. He was skeptical and thought such things were a waste of time. But he was at his wit's end and decided to give mindfulness a go.


Over time, he learned to be more present in each moment and immersed himself in the task that was right before him, and he did so with less and less distraction. He began to enjoy the journey instead of fixating just on the destination. Moreover, he became aware of the valuable lessons hidden within everyday experiences, his stress diminished, and his health improved as he learned to stop doing things like he always had.


3. Principle of Gratitude: Embracing Lessons with Appreciation


An up-and-coming artist dreamed of showcasing her work in a prestigious gallery. However, she became disheartened and considered giving up her passion after several rejections of her work. She noticed she was repeating a pattern that showed up in her life — feeling unnoticed and unappreciated.


But the artist decided to take a different tact. Rather than succumb to despair as she had in the past, she realized she could shift her perspective. As a result, she started practicing gratitude and focusing on the positive aspects of her work. She began to appreciate the beauty of each painting she created, the opportunity to express her creativity and touch people's lives through her art. Most importantly, she realized she didn't need to get external approval for what she did.


This young artist's work and life underwent a transformation by applying the appreciation lesson. The practice uplifted her spirits once she stopped looking for outside validation for her work, and she realized success began with the love and passion she poured into her craft. As a result, almost without effort, her art improved, and she attracted a loyal following of art enthusiasts.


As we go through our journeys through the School of Life, let us remember reflection, mindfulness, and gratitude. As we do, we grow. Just as students celebrate their graduation and anticipate the challenges of the next stage of life, let us approach our life lessons with open hearts and minds. We, too, can graduate from one level of understanding to the next, continuously evolving and embracing the extraordinary magnificence that life's school offers.


Peace and Blessings,

James

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