The Importance of Mistakes

picture from: https://id.pinterest.com/vexyvee/pins/
Don’t let remorse trap you in a non-life.

My daughter came home fired up from a company training session. She thought the concept that mistakes would no longer be referred to as mistakes was brilliant. In that progressive industry errors in judgment were labeled opportunities. I remember at the time thinking, Why not call a spade a spade? Nobody wants to take responsibility anymore.

I was wrong.

At the time I labored under clouds of guilt because of my own mistakes. My definition agreed with the Cambridge Dictionary: an action, decision, or judgment that produces an unwanted or unintentional result. I’d accumulated a significant number of those unwanted results and anything that smelled like avoidance of responsibility for my errors in judgment annoyed me.

It’s curious, isn’t it, how things like that can hang around to haunt you? In fact, that word, opportunity, wouldn’t let go. One day it hovered in my consciousness bugging me until I finally checked the definition.

Opportunity: A favorable juncture of circumstances.

I ran through a few mental equations:

If mistake = opportunity

And opportunity = a favorable juncture of circumstances

Then mistake = a favorable juncture of circumstances

Really?

The answer is yes and no. It’s what we believe about our mistakes that either imprisons us in guilt and shame or catalyzes our personal evolution. If we try to avoid the pain of our misjudgments or wallow in the messy consequences of them, we limit our ability to progress into a deeper relationship with our own life.

But what if we saw every mistake as a favorable juncture of circumstances? The possibilities of that blew my mind! What a viewpoint shift, right? That change in perspective would empower us to forge ahead, to look for opportunities for self-discovery and growth in the midst of the fallout of an error in judgment.

Sometimes our mistakes hurt others.

That fact cannot be remedied or undone for anyone else. What’s left for us, personally, are the stories we tell ourselves — our response to whatever repercussions have been generated. We can be destroyed, damaged for life, or we can move forward toward healing. There are lessons we would never learn without those events. Often the greatest opportunities for growth are brought about by our most grievous mistakes. Revelations come as we allow the pain, admit culpability for the part we played in the debacle, and move through it into greater awareness of our weaknesses and tendencies.

It can be terrifying to take a close look at the past and risk being flooded with unresolved grief. But until we do, we’re more handicapped than someone on crutches. We’ll never be able to fully express who we are when a portion of the self is kept hidden.

Changing how we perceive mistakes isn’t as simple as telling ourselves that the hairy monster living in our psyche is a wonderful growth opportunity. Depending upon the degree of trauma and fear, we have to find a level of safety that makes it possible to begin our mental shift.

There are several approaches.

1) Therapy is one of them. I personally found the expertise of a Somatic Experiencing therapist incredibly helpful in dealing with my guilt, shame, and self-blame. But everyone is different — find what works for you.

2) Telling a trusted friend or family member — with extra emphasis on trusted — who will listen without judgment to what happened, what you fear, how you want to move forward can be first a step toward liberation.

3) Write it. I cannot emphasize enough the insights to be gained by writing the whole story as you remember it. Memory is tricky. As you describe what happened you may find yourself asking, “Was that really how it was?” As you write, ask why questions. Why did I do this? Why did I think that? Why did I say what I did? Keep asking those questions until you get to the real answers which may not be the story you’ve always told yourself.

Then let it go?

Maybe not. The truth is, we can’t. Trauma remains embedded in cell memory. But how we choose to think about those life challenges has the potential to change everything. What we can let go is our attachment to shame, guilt, and self-blame. When we do, relief is enormous and liberating. The best parts of self are free to come out to play. And the depth of soul we can summon to meet others in their own dark places multiplies exponentially.

Before I understood the importance of my mistakes
SAD – HAUTED – STUCK
After I explored the opportunities surrounding my errors in judgment
FREE

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So, dear soul-sister, about your shit…

Image result for Wading in shit

So, dear soul sister, about your shit…

Or maybe that’s too abrupt. Let me explain…

I owe many of the articles I write to the quirky friends I’ve made in Bali. The reasons we choose this island are different for each of us. But I’m drawn like a sugar-seeking ant to those sweet women who, like me, don’t shy away from intense inner work.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all about issues, tendencies, addictions, and destructive patterns that resurface in a different disguise just when we think we’ve conquered them once and for all. When mutual trust and respect pave the way for sharing at this level there is an equal and opposite reaction toward lasting friendships and insane fun. Balance. Bali is all about balance.

With that introduction, allow me to begin again.

So, dear soul sister, about your shit…

Bali magnifies and accelerates the processing of shit.
Maybe it’s the heat, or the multitude of busy spirits, or the daily abundance of prayers and offerings to maintain equality between the light and the dark – or all of the above.

Whatever it is, your shit will come up here, bigger and stinkier, until you own it, embrace it, and make peace with it – until you love your shit as much or more than you love your sane, sensible, enlightened self.

How do you do it – the owning and embracing?

Make a shit altar – a beautiful shit shrine.
Make a representation of every shitty thing you imagine about yourself and place it on that altar. (I would avoid real excrement – just FYI.)

For example, if you are stubbornly attached to some destructive behavior, maybe write the name of that behavior on a rock and stick chewing gum to it.
If you think you’re not good enough, smart enough, rich enough, whatever enough, put a photo of yourself flat on the altar and set an empty bowl on top of it – leave your face exposed so you have to look at your poor, empty self.

Many gurus advocate writing your shit down and burning it.
I say, face it head on, day in and day out, honor it and celebrate it. Have fun with it.

You get my drift?

Burn incense to your shit.
Make offerings to your shit.
Talk to it.

Let your shit stare you in the face until it makes you laugh.

When a breakthrough comes, change the representation of that piece of shit on the altar. Maybe the rock, in time, becomes a precious gem stone; the bowl fills to overflowing and you’re standing tall on top of it.

Remember that all those shitty things happened because a little girl, who still lives inside you, didn’t know how to separate truth from lies, she didn’t know that the things she suffered were not her fault, she took all the blame.

When you can weep for the little girl and have compassion for how hard she tried, what a strong little fighter she was, you can begin to love yourself.

Shit matters.

This may sound ridiculous but it works. It puts substance to the demons and forces you to confront them. It allows you to interact with them in the physical dimension. It brings humor into an otherwise dark equation. It is ritual, which is essential to our well being but has basically been lost in our superior Western culture, which, viewed from this place of immense beauty and profound healing, doesn’t look so superior at all.

Love is a decision of the will

My husband prefers men, she said. Seated across from her, a Starbucks latte beating back the chill of Minnesota winter, I studied her face for a sign of emotion. Her placid countenance registered a winsome, dreamlike expression that grated on me.

Do you love him? I asked. They appeared to be a devoted couple.

Of course. The peaceful mask turned stern. Love is a decision of the will.

That was thirty-five years ago. I’d been married three times by then and I hadn’t heard that particular slice of wisdom before. But I took it to heart and tried it out with varying degrees of failure in the relationships that followed.

Part of the self-discovery quest when I came to Bali, was to understand where love and I had gone so terribly, terribly wrong. As I stepped back to observe the tumult within, to study my tendencies and learn different responses, I recognized that I had deep misconceptions about love. As I worked on reprogramming my entire response system, Bali threw opportunities in my path.

What are you writing about? Dewa asked as he did the regular morning schmooze with his guests. I was staying at his guesthouse, and by this time we’d had conversations that covered the gamut from the Hindu caste system, to his ideas for new business ventures, to why men cheat on their wives. So I decided to tell the truth.

I’m writing about my issues with men, I said.

Stricken, his hand went to his heart. You have issues with me? He looked so utterly gutted I had to laugh.

No, Dewa, not you. Just all other men! With a relieved little smile, he left and returned fifteen minutes later with a sweet bouquet of flowers. As he placed them on the table in front of me he said, These are for you. Please look at them while you write about your issues with men. 002 (3)My locked-down heart cracked open a notch or two and my eyes teared. Really? For me? Thank you!

Dewa’s caring caused the first fissure, and gestures such as his, random acts of kindness, unexpected and unsought, pried me loose from everything I thought I knew about love and overwrote the old programming.

Now, from the perspective of time, experience, and a more intimate understanding of myself, I know that love has nothing at all to do with a decision. I think too often I’d mistaken lust, need, dependence, admiration, or even the sick feeling of loneliness for love. Only an emotion that is pure, untainted by dysfunction or dependencies that muddy its integrity, should be called love. When it happens, it’s a rare gift, an awakening, and a glorious surprise. It flows from an inner place unchecked and it doesn’t need to be acknowledged or returned, it just is.

 

 

 

Dearest…a love letter

Dearest...Dearest…You don’t know it now, sweet girl, but in twenty years this dark place in your life will be no more than a shadowy memory.  If I told you of the immense joy that awaits you, the pain of the present would be too much to bear. But I can tell you that you do find yourself at last. You hit your stride. You finally realize that the person you tried so hard to be was never you, and you shed her like a snake sheds it’s worn out skin.

You’ll grieve, at first, for the lost years. But they weren’t lost, dear one. They are your story. The heat and pressure of them has refined you. It has burned away the superficial, the frivolous, and made you ready. The lessons that have seared themselves into your heart you will teach to others.  You’ll let go of everything that does not serve your highest good. In the end, you’ll regret nothing. You’ll be as light and free as air.

Your life will move to a place that supports who you are becoming. It will take you to the other side of the world. And you’ll be astounded that it feels so familiar, like coming home….

———————-

When my heart was breaking open and learning to love, I was overwhelmed with compassion for the person I had been. I wrote this letter to her. It was deeply comforting then, and it has become more and more true with the passing of time.

photo credits: wendythomasrussell.com

Battling the Terrors

My past frightens me. It is a long, arduous trek through unconsciousness. So much of it seems to have happened to someone else. In all fairness, I should have been institutionalized long ago. I should have cracked. But I was lucky. I perfected a serene, composed exterior. No matter what kind of hell was breaking loose just below the surface, it was my secret. No one ever knew, no one but me.

I rarely tell my life story. When I do, people are aghast. Some refuse to believe me. Some are awed. But all listen unaware of their gaping jaws. The things that are easy to reveal, the five marriages and five divorces, are startling enough without getting into the more disturbing details. “You seem so normal,” they say. I smile, serenely, “I am,” I reply.

Trauma remains in the body. No matter how good a person is at coping with life and covering up the scars, trauma lurks in cell memory. It can manifest as depression, panic attacks, or hundreds of other psychological disorders that keep therapists in business. There were times when the roar of terror and hopelessness in my ears threatened to tear me apart. But I have always seen myself as a happy person. Terror and hopelessness are unacceptable to my self-image. Writing became my salvation. I could scream the outrage into poetry or prose, pound it out on the keyboard turning the insanity into something manageable. But ‘manageable’ was merely survival. I needed to believe there was more to life than that.

Then three things happened almost simultaneously. I began doing Qigong meditation. It quieted and focused my mind. I developed a way of writing that took me behind the scenes in my psyche. I learned my truth. And I made yoga a daily practice. Yoga opened my heart. I’ll never forget the moment I first saw myself with compassion. I felt an outpouring of love for the brave soul who had  willed herself through life, raised three daughters, owned businesses, worked so very hard to be perfect while neatly, in quietly civilized fashion, battled the terrors within. I made a commitment that day to her. It was a promise to pursue the joyous journey no matter what. It was an intention let loose in the universe. I had no idea what metaphysical magic I had put in motion.

But any of you who have been following my blog have an inkling of the results of that promise. I have achieved what few are able to in this lifetime, bliss, in giant portions. I live in a place that nurtures and supports my journey. And the terrors? They are being squeezed out. I love the Leonard Cohen lyrics, “there’s a crack, a crack, in everything…that’s how the light gets in…” My tightly held perfection has cracked wide open and light is pouring in. Natural light. Healthy light. And when the little terrors poke their ugly heads out, they’re zapped!

 

Hafiz had it right

I was searching for words this morning. I am a writer, I told myself. There are words for this. Then I asked myself, What is the ‘this’ I am trying to describe? From somewhere subconscious I recalled a poem. I did not remember the author or even the words, but I thought perhaps Rumi, or Hafiz. It took only a few moments of communing with Google to find it. Ahhh. Hafiz. Here is the poem:

I Have Learned So Much

I

Have

Learned

So much from God

That I can no longer

Call

Myself

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,

a Buddhist, a Jew.

The Truth has shared so much of Itself

With me

That I can no longer call myself

A man, a woman, an angel,

Or even a pure

Soul.

Love has

Befriended Hafiz so completely

It has turned to ash

And freed

Me

Of every concept and image

my mind has ever known.


From: ‘The Gift’
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Isn’t it beautiful that love is the friend that freed Hafiz from every concept and image his mind had ever known? As I sat with that thought it became clear that love is the only thing that will ever free us. To love others is to accept them in all the ways they are different freeing ourselves from judgement. To love the earth is to protect and care for her freeing ourselves from the consequences of her demise. To love oneself is the ultimate freedom for out of that love comes the capacity for all other love.

The past few days my journey has been inward. The name of this village is Ubud. It means medicine. The essence of Ubud is fundamentally healing to the body, the mind, and the spirit. I have asked myself, why is this so? Is it about the thousands of offerings made daily? The scent of incense ever-present in the air? The constant rituals and ceremonies performed specifically to maintain balance in the spiritual realm? Every day hundreds of tourists parade the streets of Ubud. Every day another rice paddy is drained to make way for a new resort or villa funded by money from the West. But inside the walled compounds of Balinese family homes, life goes on as it has for two thousand years. These people have a way of accepting the new, adjusting to accommodate change, but remaining virtually unchanged themselves. They do this with a self-possessed dignity that defies explanation.

I don’t know the answer to my question. All my life I have believed that everywhere was basically the same as everywhere else. I have traveled and visited amazing countries. I have seen works of art and architecture that left me breathless. I have met wonderful people who genuinely cared for me.  Yet nowhere else has a place whispered to my heart entreating me to stay, to learn, to just be.

Revisiting

Last night while I unpacked and re-packed my bags AGAIN, I opened a folder marked “Bali” that I had pulled out of the file drawer about a month ago. I thumbed through the miscellaneous brochures and receipts I had collected on my first trip two years ago. Pertenin Spa where Wayan gave me the most amazing massages was in there, and the jewelry shop where I had a special ring made to commemorate the rite of passage that trip represented for me was also there. I vaguely remembered having seen some pages of writing at the back of the file. Sure enough. There were my entries from the morning I left, snow so heavy you couldn’t even see the lanes on the freeway, to my return twelve days later. After the sensory delights of the tropics, Minnesota from the air might as well have been Siberia.

Scooping up the papers I stretched out on my bed and began to read. By the end I was laughing and crying joyfully. The first few pages were worthy of a travel magazine intent upon selling the wonders of Bali and it took me right back to the magic of that place. But then I began to wax philosophical as I always do, wondering why I didn’t know what I wanted for myself. I had a firm grip on what I did not want and it had manifested abundantly in my life so far. But why, at 60, didn’t I know what I wanted? As I explored that thought utilizing discovery writing techniques over the next few days the tone began to change. “What if I sold my furniture?” I asked myself at one point. “I think I could part with…” and there followed a list of just about everything I own and the reasons why I could let it go. At another juncture I asked myself, “What if I gave myself permission to write?” What if indeed!

As I finished reading the last page I realized that every possibility I had entertained as I wrote in Bali two years ago, had come to pass in my life. Far away from the appearances of the life I had created for myself I was able to engage with a much deeper and more honest place of knowing. As Wayan’s healing hands kneaded away the fear so tightly held in my body, and the slow-paced ritual ways of the Balinese unwound my driven type-A craziness, I saw that what I wanted was simply what I had always wanted.

I returned to Minnesota and tucked my “pages” in a file and forgot about them. But something infinitely powerful had been set in motion. I began to write. I began to sell furniture, a piece at a time. And I began to imagine a life of simplicity and freedom that centered around writing. I had no memory of those pages. I have never re-read them until last night. The power that resides in discovery writing astounds me! My “What if’s” of two years ago are now my reality and I am filled with joy like nothing I have ever felt before. It is as though all the scattered edges have been drawn in, stitched up, and made whole and I have come home, home to myself.

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