Mistakes. We all make them. No one is immune. Even so, most of us don't feel very proud of mistakes or feel much comfort around them. They tend to be things we brush under the rug or would love to forget. I'm sure you've heard that people can learn from their mistakes, but who of us can say we actually value our mistakes or the potential learning opportunity when they happen? Very few. It may take months or even years before we can actually enjoy the benefit of the lessons learned, if we learn them at all. I believe much of how we perceive our mistakes comes from old programming. But what if we didn't dread mistakes? What if we took a whole different approach? What if there truly is a more enlightened, healing way to move beyond the uncomfortable or painful? What if we could heal the feeling of making mistakes? Let's take a look at how this might play out.
I believe parents and teachers have a lot to do with how children grow up framing mistakes. If you had a stressed, angry or even narcissistic parent or teacher, your "mistake" might bring up their anger, or cause them to shame or punish you. Your response to that, might be guilt. It's as if the guilt appears as a type of dysfunctional humility, or self-punishment to that type of harsh response from a parent or teacher. In one way, guilt is a form of self-victimization. Knowing that narcissism is a factor of expansive egoism, you might think that guilt is the opposite. However, the late author and Spiritual teacher Dr. David Hawkins, agrees with Buddhism, which says that guilt is actually also very egotistical, which I found fascinating. Both guilt and shame are low calibrating energies, because they move away from the Spiritual and toward the ego. In some ways, they are the yin and yang of ego, dealing with mistakes in the lower energies. A person who feels guilt about mistakes will hide them and do anything to avoid fear of being found out. It seems like those who were taught mistakes were shameful and worthy of punishment and guilt, continue to teach that through their actions.
Contrast that with a parent, boss or teacher who might come from a different angle with mistakes. When a mistake happens, that is a moment for reason rather than anger. We can choose to, by ourselves or with the assistance of others, process through the events with a calm head and a clear ability to reason. Once we work through the circumstances with reason, seeing where we went wrong, it is actually healthier to feel regret than guilt. From regret, one can move more easily with reason to resolution and then to compassion; eventually, forgiveness. If we can approach our responses to our own as well as other's mistakes with reason and compassion, then we can actually avoid creating or perpetuating the deep scars that come from the harsher ways of dealing with mistakes. Instead of our mistakes becoming painful scars, one can learn to perceive them as inevitable and a part of life. I love what Dr. David Hawkins says about mistakes: that if we didn't make any, there would be no reason to be in these bodies on earth because we'd already know everything and there would be no point to living on "earth school." A refreshing perspective.
If we can look at mistakes as inevitably showing up now and then, we can also start coming from the attitude of, oh, wow, there's a mistake. Yep. I figured one of these days that would happen. Then, be reasonable. These are my favorite four guide questions when dealing with mistakes. They are: Where did I go wrong? What happened? What didn't I know? What do I know now? Once you establish those criteria, unpack the scenario with understanding. Then, of course it's time for compassion that comes from the realization that there will be times that we JUST DON'T KNOW despite our best intentions. The mistake can now be seen as a learning opportunity and becomes a productive and constructive bounding off point. We might even say it could now help us to move ahead more quickly, learn something faster, or become more clear. When we look with compassion, we can offer a more healing perspective about our mistakes. When we choose to do this, our responses become both healing and empowering. This is how we can begin to integrate mistakes into our lives more positively. In fact, I'd like to ban the word "mistakes" and call them "learning opportunities" that no longer come with the baggage of guilt, anger or shame.
Using this perspective allows us to be in a space of embracing the facts about "learning opportunities": NO ONE knows everything. In the course of living life, you will not know something that you might wish you knew. Very young children don't instinctively know that an outlet or a stovetop can burn and harm them. They can easily make the mistake of touching one. That mistake likely won't happen twice. No matter how old we are we must face the reality that this big beautiful world will never run out of things to teach us. That's a pretty amazing Reality if you fully embrace it. It ensures life will challenge us, keep us vital and growing and bring freshness that will not allow us to get stale. We realize we must be present in this life and "mistakes" will keep us learning and on our toes.
I'll leave you with this: if you are in a position of responding to a youngster's error, I hope you will keep this in mind. We can use "mistakes" as a moment to impart deep wisdom, humility and compassion and create a legacy of healing actions which can touch many, many lives like ripples in a pond. Imagine if we all could teach our children, students, employees and yes, our own selves, by this positive example. It is empowering to think you have the ability to lessen guilt, fear, anger and shame just by healing your response to mistakes. It's a great place to start.