The biggest mistakes I’ve ever made have all stemmed from the fact that, at the time, I didn’t stop to think about what I was doing.
That and a lack of adequate sex education in high school.
Was just one class on how a bra strap works really so much to ask?
Sometimes – because I’m only human, after all – in moments of stress, or surprise, or simple absent-mindedness, I forget to stop and take a breath and help my feet find their way back to the ground before deciding what to do next. The most important question I’ve ever learned to ask myself – and the learning process was a long and often-painful one – is: What if I’m wrong?
Which has been known.
Once or twice.
It’s a tricky question to ask, because to swallow it too completely is to invite self-doubt, one of the most crippling human emotions you can encounter, into your house and down to dinner.
‘Come, come, eat, eat! What’s that? You’ve finished all the dumplings¹? Well please, please… here’s my happiness! You can eat that all up.’
What. An. Asshole.
The big mistakes I’m referring to are not the times when I’ve banged my hand in a door, or missed a three-point banana peel compost bin throw from across the room², or even that time I miscalculated the amount of space between the side of my car and the sharply-cornered metal bar at the back of the truck I was trying to sideslip around at a busy intersection in mid-morning traffic (the correct calculation was: $3,500 worth of space + x centimetres of empty white paper on a comprehensive insurance form where my signature should have been).
The things I regret, the mistakes I’ve made, are the times when I’ve left human damage in my wake.
I’ve never committed any of the major crimes, I’ve never intentionally gone out of my way to make someone feel bad about themselves, and while I’m not bound by the Hippocratic Oath, I think ‘First do no harm’ is a good and important life philosophy to have.
But, like most of us, I’ve fucked it up more than once. I’m no stranger to the battery-acid wash of guilt through my stomach or that mental wince of Ah… could have – should have – handled that one better, man. There have been moments when I haven’t considered consequences, or properly recognised that someone may have a different view of the same circumstances. I’ve hurled hurtful darts and watched them fly home and wished I could somehow reach out and snatch them back out of the air, wished I could somehow smooth over the cracks in the earth that my big and clumsy footsteps have opened up.
I’m also not psychic, just as none of us are. I can’t see all things at all times and analyse every single possible outcome before I act. And while I don’t carry around a flagellatory catalogue of my past actions, I’ve done my best to learn from the times when things have gone wrong. To try to be a little smarter, to try to be a little more careful in my actions, to try to see where my personal foundations are shaky or dangerous and how to repair them so as to avoid making the same mistakes again. And I can comfort myself with the knowledge that I’ve learned to be comfortable with recognising and admitting to my errors, and subsequently working to repair the damage done.
I’m not perfect, but then, I wouldn’t want to be. The striving, the learning, the discovery and creation of what is uniquely mine, and mine alone, is too important to me.
And so what I’ve been trying to do lately is form a more sympathetic view of other people – which, indirectly, has lead me to a more sympathetic view of myself. I don’t believe the vast majority of people see themselves as the villain in situations that have turned sour. I know I don’t see myself in that light.
But that’s a different story. And one that I hope is behind me.
The point I remind myself of is that whatever times there have been in the past when I’ve felt crushed or hurt, when I’ve felt small or angry or broken-hearted and thought You. You did this to me… well, I doubt very much the other party has imagined themselves to be sitting in a plush leather couch in their bunker control room, gently stroking a white cat, laughing as they considered the state I was in.
Maybe they felt that I was the one who had hurt them. Maybe they didn’t think of me at all. Really, I’m not sure it matters as much as I’ve thought it has in the past.
Don’t get me wrong. I would have preferred not to go through those times – and I’ll take steps to avoid them in the future. There’s a lot to be said about the importance of the preservation of safety and personal happiness.
But people are people and sometimes, mind-bogglingly myopic. They get it wrong. They get scared, or angry, or carried away, and they do stupid things, which have stupid consequences. I know I certainly do.
There’s a quote I’m not sure I’m fully on-board with yet – ‘There is no sin, only mistakes.’
Yeah, I’m not completely sold on that. But I will acknowledge that there are a lot of mistakes. A lot of mistakes.
And that’s just it.
Through some kind of strange universal convergence, my recent days seem to be filled with people – friends, lovers, acquaintances – all too ready to blame themselves, to belittle themselves and hold themselves responsible for a raft of troubles and sorrows. My Facebook feed right now is a laundry list of people who wish they’d done things differently.
I can appreciate that. I really and truly can. I think it could be one of the crueller elements of the human condition; this laying of blame and hatred and misery either externally or internally, or both.
But I learned a trick last week (thanks Deepak!).
It’s a meditation, rather than a trick, but I’m coming to think of it as an important ace to have up my sleeve. Maybe one day it’ll help me move on from the memories of some of my own personal mistakes. I’d like that.
Deepak Chopra, who spoke in Melbourne last week, spoke about this as one of the keys to being a more evolved type of person.
Sit or lie quietly, however you like to meditate (taking as given that we all have our personal favourites from that wide, wide range of meditative postures, after all), and move your awareness into your heart, ask ‘Who am I?’ and wait for the answer to come back. Then ask ‘What to do I want?’, ‘What kind of world do I want to live in?’ and, finally, simply spread your awareness throughout your body and say to yourself, ‘I am.’
I dig the idea of being a more evolved type of person, especially as they can apparently wish up whatever they want out of the raw firmament, according to every self-help teacher of the 21st century, which sounds like evolution to me, so I figured I could give this a shot.
And I started doing this last night, for all of about a second. I moved my awareness to my heart and I suddenly thought – or rather, suddenly realised – Hey. I’ve got this muscle in my chest. This thing is clenching and unclenching, and it’s pumping blood throughout my entire body.
Clearly, I’m not the first person to consider this.
I’d never thought of my heart in such a way before. I’d never brought my awareness to bear and considered the fact that this thing inside my chest that I can’t see is what’s keeping me alive, is what’s propelling me through each hour of my life. I started thinking about my brain and its electrical properties and movements and that went and blew my mind all over again (I know, I know. I’ve spoken about this before. At length).
Which lead me to a realisation.
I am, quite simply, a wonderful creature. By virtue of the fact that I have a beating heart and a ticking brain, a circulatory system, a nervous system, a biology that works so effectively and completely that I don’t even think of it until I make the effort to (and this is just on the biological level. Don’t even get me started on chemistry and creation).
By inference, you too are a wonderful creature. And it’s easy – it is so, so easy – to forget that.
Remembering this truth, in quiet moments of meditation and peace, I find it easy to think that I can forgive the mistakes of others. Because those errors in judgment, those moments of suspension of thoughts of consequence that resulted in me feeling angry or hurt or less than I ever wanted to feel… these are much smaller than I ever thought they were, when I stand them alongside the fact and the truth of who and what these people are, in their completeness. Thinking this, realising this, knowing this – yes, absolutely, I can forgive the mistakes of others.
Just as I hope they can forgive themselves for their mistakes, and forgive me for mine.
¹ And man, do I love dumplings
² Although what further depresses me in that situation is knowing that having missed that shot, I will also be missing out on the million dollars I decided would be waiting for me when I got home if I made the shot.