Tonight my heart is heavy as recently I had the opportunity to take an action that wasn’t an easy one. I do not regret my decision, and I am proud of how I handled myself through it. And even though my life has a new element of uncertainty and fear, I am willing to live with the consequences – and learn from them, hopefully. It is one of those things where I come to really rely on my Buddhist practice, my faith. In the trials of life I find that’s all I can rely on.
It is easy, when doing something new, or when contemplating a change to one’s life – a large change or a small one – to become preoccupied with our mistakes. It is easy to self-criticize even more when we see our mistakes, our behaviors, repeat over and over, sometimes long after we began to wish for something different.
Let me illustrate. As an alcoholic, I understand what it’s like to drink more than I want. Or drink on occasions I didn’t think I wanted to. Or drink, then experience unpleasant consequences that were out of my control. Now – even then, someone could experience these things and not consider themselves an alcoholic. But for me the clincher was this: I felt shame about drinking, even when I’d only had a little, and nothing catastrophic or unseemly occurred. In facing this mysterious shame there seemed only two possibilities: either I was neurotic, or I was an alcoholic. Since there is no other substance, food, or activity that imparts me with the sense of shame that drinking did, it seemed the label alcoholic might apply.
This example might seem arcane or even off-putting to those who are unfamiliar with substance abuse. But if you don’t understand the experience I describe, it isn’t because you’re not an alcoholic, but because you have not come to see how our lives are often in the grips of forces beyond our control. You are still asleep, and have not come to grasp the gravity of your situation. But don’t worry! It is possible to wake up at any moment.
People grow into adulthood and are forever chasing: grasping at pleasurable experiences, or trying to satisfy desires, without even knowing their lives have become fruitless, increasingly lonely and scary. They grasp at esteem, for material “security”, for status, for forced intimacy, for Enlightenment itself – but the more they chase, they less they are satisfied.
It is a great relief to one day realize the truth of our lives.
Therefore it is an act of bravery to look our mistakes in the face, and yet it can be a scary experience as well. We can feel a great deal of dismay, and a sense of being lost. Perhaps a part of us, even a large part of us, no longer wants to keep up the chase. We are exhausted. We no longer want to continue a friendship that feels inauthentic, or participate in the family holidays that are so tension filled, or work a job we’ve come to loathe. But even so, we can’t let it go. Who will we be, without these experiences? What will give our lives purpose if we let these things go? How will we find someone who understands?
In the quietness of our hearts, perhaps we can be a little honest. We can admit to ourselves what is no longer working for us, even if it hurts our pride. Perhaps we feel no hope, but then if we look deeper we may know someone who can help us. A spiritual teacher or a mentor is just that helper. It doesn’t have to be any particular person. Someone who we trust, and someone who has a sense of purpose and satisfaction, real satisfaction, in their lives. Who has something that you want? Who has the strength that you lack? Is this person willing to share? They often are.
Our mistakes don’t seem all that glamorous while we’re living them, and re-living them, and even in those early days when we’ve relinquished them. But if we give it time – and patience, persistance, and prayer – our mistakes become something beautiful. The garbage of our mistakes becomes – in an analogy that has its source in a much greater spiritual teacher than I – the rich compost that grows flowers. These flowers couldn’t grow without the compost. Look deeply, and you will see this is true. Life long enough, and honestly enough, and you will come to see this is true.