Featured in

Featured in: Tiny Buddha, Halifax Media Coop, Fine Fit Day, Simplify the Season, La Presse, Filles, Le Canada-Français

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A dose of wisdom or What Maya Angelou taught us

Sudhamshu, Flickr

It was time for another blog post. I had many topics on my mind. I wanted to write about pain (physical and psychological). I wanted to write about resilience (how essential it is in life). I wanted to mention the talk I gave at a retreat last weekend (about sexuality and the objectification of women).

Then I read the news and learned that Maya Angelou had passed away. So Maya Angelou it is. 

Her teachings will be the focus today. But where to start? Maybe I'll share my favorite quotes of her, and comment on them. Who knows, she might take us right back to some of those topics I wanted to tackle.

When you are done reading, please comment as well!

(Maya's quotes in italics; my own comments in Roman.)


"I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one." 

Pain, be it physical or psychological, can overpower everything else. I am known to pain. I have migraine headaches. The type that's so painful, you wish you were dead. That kind of pain annihilates you completely, rendering you unable to "be a pain". You just curl up in bed, cry, and hope for it to be over soon. 

With other pains, however - such as childbirth, pinched nerves, bad sprains, chronic arthritic pain, or even the occasional mouth ulcer, it's really hard not to become a pain for those around you. Pain does make one cranky. 

As for psychological pain: from experience, the worst pain comes from losing someone you love, either through their passing away or because they rejected you/broke your heart. That kind of pain makes you feel helpless because you crave the lost person, yet they are gone. 

Here the fine line lies in the fact that you want to avoid being a pain, but still have to ask for help and comfort. Never face grief or a heartbreak alone.


"You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them."

There is no point in hoping for an easy life. It won't come. Admittedly, some have it easier than others. But what separates the men from the boys, and the women from the girls, is how we react to life's difficulties. As I like to say: In the face of uncertainty, your best tool is flexibility. In the face of adversity, your best weapon is resilience. It's okay to cry over spilled milk... for a short moment. Then you have to get into pragmatic mode: clean up the mess, pick up the pieces, learn from the experience, and move on. Know that sh** will happen again, but that in the meantime, you will enjoy life. 

My almost 38 years on this planet have taught me that life sends you the occasional euphoric moment alternately with the occasional terrifying moment, interspersed with a greater number of slightly pleasant, slightly stressful, or simply boring, moments. That's what life is made of. Deal with it.


“I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow."

Depression is widespread and although it is at least partly physiologically based, it also begins and flourishes because of depressive thoughts. Emotions can be overwhelming, and the physical substrate might need pharmacological help in serious cases, but one thing we can act on is our cognition: the way we reason, process information, and view and understand things. Do not let the dark cloud of depressive thoughts trick you into thinking that things won't get better. They will. As hopeless as a situation seems, losing hope is never an option. Because losing hope is akin to losing your soul. 

Personality and relationships

"I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights."

I think it was my mom who once told me that the best relationship test is to put up a tent together. Seems ultra simplistic, but working on a common task, especially a somewhat challenging one, can provide a lot of insight on both parties' personalities and their mingling. 

From a personality point of view, many things can happen when dealing with unpleasant things: you can either lose your temper, victimize yourself, or put a smile on your face and pull up your sleeves. I know which one I want to choose!

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

As much as we try to convince ourselves of the contrary, our hidden agenda, in relationships, is to feel good (as opposed to making others feel good - after all, when we do make others feel good, the effect is that we feel good in turn). 

What feels good is to sense that we are important and valued in somebody else's eyes. People don't really want to hear how wonderful you are. They want to hear how wonderful you think they are. If you offer that to those around you, they will repay you a hundredfold.

Touch and affection

" I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back."

In fact, studies have shown that we have a better opinion of people after they have touched us (in an appropriate, gentle way of course). Touch is highly underrated in our society. A little bit of physical contact can go a long way. The problem is, we are afraid to cross boundaries. Yet we are willing to pay big money to lie down naked on a table and have a stranger manipulate us. (No bad thoughts here hey! We are talking massage therapy!)


"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain."

This is a huge one. We might not be toddlers anymore, the temptation to whine is still very strong. After all, whining is much easier than actually acting on things. But does it do us any good to complain instead of actually doing something to change the situation/change our attitude? The answer is in the question.

"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."

Any significant result hides a lot of patience, hard work, and probably a couple of failures on the way. We often forget that when we fantasize about a goal we want to achieve. Forgetting the not so beautiful steps that lead to the beautiful result turns the goal into a distant, unattainable dream. The trick is to stop dreaming and to start working.


"Nothing will work unless you do."

Growing up, I was told many times that I was smart, strong, and beautiful, and that I would do grand things. But the most important quality I soon realized I needed in order to get anything accomplished was to be a hard worker. I might have thought that things would come to me easily because of my smarts and strength and looks, and they sometimes did, but what really takes you places in life is hard work. Sorry, slackers!


"Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently."

Courage is a little bit like resilience, in that it provides you with the energy and the motivation to keep going even in the most challenging situations. The first example that comes to mind is physical endeavours. Without courage I would have never become so fit or ran a half-marathon. Some people push it even further. I tip my hat to them.

Any thoughts or examples that come to mind to accompany those wonderful quotes?


  1. I fully share your insightful analysis and love the few Maya Angelou quotes that you have carefully chosen.

    1. She said so many great things it was hard to choose. Thank you for commenting, N! :-)

  2. I'm glad you wrote this, Julie!

    I was very saddened by her passing. She was more than an American Treasure, She was a gift to everyone. I can’t remember the first time I heard Maya Angelou speak, but I do remember how every time I did hear her, I was transfixed by her poetic brilliance and clarity of thought.

    When I recently saw a short presentation of one of her last appearances on CNN to commemorate her passing, even knowing she has just died, I found myself smiling with her words. Such was the gift she shared with all of us.

    1. There are people like her that are so good we end up thinking they're immortal... :-)

      Let's all cherish her legacy.

  3. Love all these quotes - I read them to my boys and they liked them!!!
    Great post and I agree - we should cherish her legacy!!

  4. I love Maya Angelou's quote, when I'm feeling down I always read them. I was saddened by her passing but her quotes are worth to live by.
    P.S-Thanks for visiting my blog

    1. Her quotes will stay with us enough that we almost feel she is still here! :-)

  5. Maya's words will live on for other generations to read, hear, think about, enjoy. What a legacy.

    Life and it's many aspects is for living, learning, teaching, sharing, educating, and touching not only the lives of those we love but reaching out and doing our best to make a difference ..no matter how big or small. A smile to someone can change there day for that one moment.

    Have a good weekend

    All the best Jan.

    1. Well, this comment was also full of wisdom, Jan! :-) Thank you.

  6. My husband is disabled and because of his diseases he is in constant pain. He sometimes gets so snippy and mean and I'll say "I think your symptoms are acting up". He'll say he's fine but within 24 hours he'll be bedridden and say I was right. He always apologizes but I know it must be hard to be in that much pain every day of your life. Hope is what we hang on to. Thank you for this post. Maya Angelou was a great woman.

    1. Chronic pain is really hard to live with, for the person and for the "entourage"! I'm sending you another dose of hope. :-)

  7. What a beautiful testament to one of my favourite authors! I just spent a half hour today creating a poster for my daughter's room reminding her to "try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud." My biggest hope is to raise a resilient person, for me that's halfway to happy.