We have expanded the limits of our spiritual maturity to include such things as selflessness, curiosity, and peace. Because of this we are all children again, learning how to be. Our classroom still looks like the torture chamber of obsolete dogma, but perhaps we can learn to see these constructs as blocks from the toy box of reality. We can leave them behind when their lessons become lifeless. We can open the toy box and play with new things. We can experiment. We need not be ruled by our achievements, settling into the niche delineated by previous success. That success can become lifeless, too. Hence the essence of failure.
Perhaps that is why we learn so slowly. Our mistakes aren’t grand enough. They are narrow, miserly things based on fear and masked self-loathing. We count them up like money. We clog our arteries with them. We point at them in others. What lessons can we learn from such whiny and unimaginative teachers?
Mistakes are not meant to occur as carefully limited accidents on the way to perfection. They are not an indication of how unworthy we are to exist. They have the power to reveal enormously useful information, information that can fortify or transform who we are. They can show us strength and creativity we never knew we had. They are a tool we can use to navigate this environment that is both us and not us, this state that is unalterable yet subject to interpretation. If we fear mistakes, they will immobilize us. If we face them, we’ll find we can surf them like waves, absorbing knowledge firsthand from the unfiltered source, experience.
It may be a mistake that frees within you the agents of change. It may be a mistake that throws you into the arms of your long lost brother. But only if you stay open. Some people can’t even acknowledge the possibility that a mistake was made, let alone take responsibility for it, examine it, take it for a walk and feed it properly. The mistake is your dog and if you accept it into your living room it will love you and serve you with perfect willingness. Whip it and chain it to the wall of your dungeon, and it will wait snarling in the damp until it can tear off your hand or make your knee creak like wood when it rains.
I’m not saying there’s no price to pay. Even the friendliest mistakes involve compromise. I’m saying there are substantial rewards as well if you make your mistakes in the effort to live your life, the life you already know in your fingers and your toes. You can make your mistakes count for something. You can use them to support your course. And when someone else makes a mistake you can smile and be generous because you know how mistakes work. You don’t have to teach him a lesson because you know his own mistake will. You no longer have to take responsibility for retribution. You can put your red pen away, stow your indignant lecture on the Rules, and concentrate on your own wonderful uncertainty.
Our obsession with mistake-free life is costing us in the humanity department. Companies hide mistakes that kill people every day because it would cost money to admit and fix them. We’re so quick to condemn mistakes that we lie about our own, automatically. It’s in our cultural heritage now to do this. Like calling things made by machines “homebaked” and excusing religious men for child molestation. We cultivate a kind of blindness to our own mistakes, rationalizing everything we perceive through this self-justifying film. We don’t see that we’re cutting off our only means of growing. Try something, screw it up, learn from it. Try something, screw it up, learn from it.
Oh yeah, and apologize if your mistake hurts someone. It’s a lost but satisfying art.