The other day I was driving up a road and noticed a sign for a place called “Perpetual Academy.” As I passed by, I thought to myself, that’s exactly the school I’ve been in for most of my life. In fact, the older I get the more I seem to learn, and I’ve finally figured out that just about everyone I meet has something to teach—whether it’s my dear friend who recently gave me instructions on how to get rid of fruit flies (without banning fruit) or another friend’s husband (a right-winger who gets me so fired up I have to really utilize my patience and diplomacy skills).
I was listening to a lecture by a famous “sixties counter-cultural” guru a few weeks ago, and he said the very same thing. In fact, he made the observation that a guru--one who brings “light to darkness”-- could be anyone. It could be your husband or partner, your kid, or even your plumber. (And the funny thing is it could be your plumber who teaches you something about tolerance, Latin, or fine wines—you really can’t predict what you’re going to learn from a particular person, and it’s a mistake to assume that the guy bending over your toilet is only on this earth to offer tips about faucets and drains). That’s the great thing about learning—it arrives in many shapes, sizes, and forms, and many times you just don’t see it coming.
It’s that back-to-school time of year when kids are trotting off with new backpacks and sneakers, but to me the most fascinating aspect of learning is indeed its perpetual quality. Math facts, the ABCs, and chemical equations are just the tip of the learning iceberg; I didn’t really begin to crack the books until many years after formal education, when I married, had kids, and began working in the real world outside the classroom. And some of the most important lessons I’ve learned didn’t come in grad school either—I learned them after my cancer diagnosis, or in my yoga classes, or when I listened to the words of the Dalai Lama. As time passes the more I’m aware of how far I have to go before I really master the most important lessons in life—the ones that have to do with compassion for self and others, for instance.
Out of curiosity, I looked on Perpetual Academy’s website but I couldn’t read it; the text was in an Asian language. But I figured it was just as well, since I don’t really want to enroll in a structured program. Besides, all I have to do to keep learning is get up in the morning and open the door: Gurus, it seems, are around every corner.