The Alchemy of Mistake

The human is the only animal on earth

That pays a thousand times for the same mistake.

The rest of the animals pay once for every mistake they make.

—Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

It’s getting close to 10:00 pm, I’m completely out of spoons (energy), my clothes are laid out and ready for tomorrow, and I can’t really remember if I prepared the bananas for my son’s breakfast in the morning buuut, fuck it – I’ve got to get to sleep!

Just as I get cozy I hear… “Psst, hey, pssst , you should really pull your feet back into the covers”, says that annoying voice in my head. –“ You wouldn’t want swipers to get your feet.” Ugh, so I cover my feet. But then I hear this:

“Hey, hey girl one more thing… you know what we forgot to do today?  To think about all the mistakes we made and not just from today. From our entire lives. Ok, kisses, sleep tight.”

And so it begins. The toss. The turn. The thoughts. The loops. The cycle. And bedtime is not the only time those thoughts creep up for me. This also happens when I am in the shower. My lone time. My relax time. The time where I should be showering myself with love, kindness, and with soap for my bits and pieces. Instead, I choose to spend this time ruminating on mistakes. OH, and arguing. I like to create arguments in my head, you know the kind that will never take place?

The negative ways that we feel about our mistakes as adults, I believe is a conditioned response. The younger we are, the more “innocent” our mistakes are, right? At such a young age our parents and the grown folk in our environment allowed us room to make mistakes. They offered us compassion and made us feel assured that what we did was no big deal. A good teaching moment. Sometimes even labeled “cute”.

Here take my incident with my five-year-old for instance:

“Stop crying baby, I’m not mad, I know you didn’t mean to shit in the pool. It was a mistake. And because I just educated you on the bodily functions of your tiny little meat suit—you understand now that you can’t control your poop. So when your body has to make doo doo, and it will again, you know that means get the fuck out of my pool (Boop to the nose)”.

Okay, so I wouldn’t label that one cute, because it was so disgusting and there was shit everywhere, and my husband and I were running around screaming like there was a fire on the deck… it wasn’t pretty. I did, however,  use a better choice of words towards my son, because it was understandable. He has no experience to draw from in the category of trusting a fart or not.

Now, if that was a 15-year-old, and let it be known that not trusting a fart is a pretty common mistake in all ages, It would have taken me an extra couple minutes to get my compassion on.

But you see, that’s just it – as we age,  adult expectations of us no longer leave space for mistake. Like our age should match our experience levels. A 15-year-old has more experience than a 5-year-old – so they should “know better”. It’s through the expressions from the faces that surround us and the vibes sent our way of disappointment and shame, we learn to internalize those feelings. And just as we shame ourselves, we learn to do the same to others through their mistakes.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional

—Dalai Lama

Now, I hear you, some mistakes and the consequences that follow cut deeper than others. Mistakes made in relationships (i’m talking about true mistakes not wrongful intentions). Mistakes made in the plans for our future, our education, and career choices. Parenting mistakes, like taco-wrapped babies that roll off the bed and face plant on the floor (ooh, that one is me). How can we face the consequeces from our woo girl drunk texts, our word vomit moments, and nip slips! How in the world can we come back from such moments in time!

When I thought my baby broke his face (and after wiping off little kitty litter particles off his chin and cheek ,so I could get a better look that nothing was crooked) I thought I was the worst MOM EVER!

How could I ( I mean a 19 year old 1st time mother, with zero experience in babyhood) be so irresponsible allowing this seemingly unmobile few week old , whom I placed in a spot with no pillows around to suffocate him (check) or anything to block his breathing (check, check)  – to roll off the bed where his face was fated to meet the floor. What a piece of shit I am! What will his father think? His grandmother?!

OOF, okay enough with the drama. If you were to call me right now and share that same story with me, Id say, well actually Id laugh first out of relation, but I’d say “You did everything that you thought was right. You checked all the boxes to make sure he was safe. Your intentions were in the right place. Oh and he wont remember anyways so youre good!”

At this point in your lifetime you have probably figured out that mistakes are apart of life. They are inevitable. You are probably going to make one here soon. Any day now. What you havent figured out yet,  is the alchemy of it. The entirety of the magical process of transforming your basic boos boos into gold. Learning from your mistakes is huge – don’t get me wrong! There are people out there that surprisingly are not capable of doing that. However, its not the one and final step. The last part of the metamorphosis is the let it go. Recognizing that you did not have the tools in that moment that you needed to show up the way you wanted – and since living through it, now you do. So breathe in some love, and breathe out that self hate.

There is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and never return.

—Marcus Aurelius

our call to action for today, for this week, for the rest of your life is to stop paying over and over for your mistakes. Once is enough.

To help you get started I have put together some exercises you can practice using the same framework as the Stoics.

 Stoic philosophy is an action-based philosophy. Contrary to belief, the Stoics did not avoid emotions, they walked towards them. The ultimate weakness is not feeling your emotions; the ultimate weakness is allowing them to dictate your behavior. In order to combat that the Stoics created operating systems so to speak that positioned themselves to apply their philosophy to their everyday lives. Two thousand millennia ago, their days were just as unpredictable as ours. They struggled with working through their own mistakes just like us.  

Broken down into the three critical disciplines of Stoicism (The discipline of perception, the discipline of action, and the discipline of will) each exercise will bring you closer to clarity, pragmatism, and a new appreciation for the mistakes you made… and possibly get you giddy for your next mistakes.     

 1.     The Discipline of Perception: Clarity, Zoom Out

 Think of a mistake that you made that bothers you and write down or ask yourself these questions:

 How long ago was it? If a consequence was tied to it, did you already pay for it (consequences come in many forms. Not just the loss of something, a consequence could also be your classic embarrassment/shame). If knowing what you know right now and, you could live that day again OR, if a similar scenario presented itself, would you repeat the mistake?

By answering these questions and acknowledging if you already paid once, acknowledging that you would make a different choice today with the knowledge you now have; voila, you are free! Rrrrrreeeeedemption! Seeeeeee, Oh sugar –you’re not the devil!

If you answered the questions above the way I think you did – you can stop the suffering now. What you did was not ill-intentioned. You recognize that if the situation were to come up again or if you had a “do over”—you’d do it differently. Those are the minerals right?! Pass go to the next step.

 2.     The Discipline of Action: Pragmatism, Relating to Others

Pick three people that you are really close with… and share a mistake of yours. Just as I shared my taco baby story, you will find that by sharing your mistake(s) it will prompt your friend to either say “the same thing happened to me” or they will most likely share with you one of their mistakes – maybe even one that will top yours. No matter what though, during this moment of vulnerability you will find connection. You will feel safe. And it’s your friend so you know they are going to offer compassionate words to you as you should to yourself. Find comfort in the chuckles of mistake and know that you are not alone.

 3.     The Discipline of Will: Resilience, Acceptance

 If you happen to send an email today or a text of any kind and you make a typo –Leave it. Don’t fix it.

 (Placing my therapist glasses on) Now tell me, how does that make you feel? You probably haven’t even done it yet, but the thought of it is enough to make you feel a little something-something.

 Let’s step in closer shall we. What are your feelings about leaving a typo – what are the immediate thoughts that are pouring into your head? They will think i’m dumb. They might think I can’t spell. They are thinking how did I get this position.

Now question those thoughts? If you have emailed these people before if the person on the other end knows you… from 1 typo will they really think that you are dumb or will they look at the word and know what you really meant to type? Will they REALLY think “what a dumbass. She spelled “again” instead of a gain , or “can you believe this girl… she called me a dumb duck … she’s the dumb one, HA HA!”

This exercise tests your resilience and gives you insight into a few things; how your mind hops straight into storytelling, how much you fear how others perceive you even if they know you, and it will ultimately reveal that after you move through feeling uncomfortable with this whole situation, distorted thoughts and all –you are okay. You are still a great person. People didn’t change how they felt about you. And if they did – girl, who are they?!?!?  

 Extra Mile Exercise:

Peter Crone, The Mind Architect, presses this notion –the past is the past. He says “what happened, happened, and it couldn’t have happened any other way because it didn’t.”

If you can accept that, if you can fully grasp that, then you can begin to heal. Letting go is not easy by any means. Affirmations don’t always work right away. They too are a practice in their own right. So write down his words and repeat it as necessary. Keep it where you can see it or easily access it from your purse or wallet when you need it.

With this mission fresh in your mind, I hope you feel more peace towards yourself for the rest of your days. And if you deal with that same voice in your head that messes with you at night like mine, I hope your toss and turn thought options will be limited to thinking about swipers only.

Kiss kiss….Byeeeeeeeeeee!

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