This last full moon brought forward many things I did not want to see within myself and others. Things that caused hurt, pain, and loss. Things that arose from unhealed places. Things I would much rather deny, minimize, or move away from. Things that held the key to a new place of growth and healing within myself and my life, when I gathered the courage to face them, and grow.
Mistakes. Wrong choices. Wrong knowing.
Many of us have learned to be deeply afraid of these places. To cover them in shame, self-blame, other-blame, avoidance, denial, and minimizing. It can rock our whole sense of self to address the places where we have caused harm, to our own selves and/or to another, and to stay present, honest, and fiercely compassionate with ourselves through it.
Unfortunately, many of us have experienced punishment from making mistakes. Punishment, unlike fierce compassion and consequences, teaches us that we are bad, others are bad, and the world is unsafe. There are many problems with this harmful message, one being that if we are bad, others are bad, and the world is unsafe — then what is the point in facing and learning from our mistakes anyways? Punishment actually leads us further and further away from ourselves and our healing, and causes us to be much more likely to engage in harm as we either try to hide “our badness”, avoid being seen or known in our messy places, or try to control others and the world so they can no longer hurt us. Punishment teaches us to perpetuate harm by internalizing the pattern of harming ourselves in the places where we are deeply vulnerable, and most need to grow.
However, if we can stop — breathe — and lean in to our mistakes, that is where the true healing and true learning can begin. But how?
I was listening to an old dharma talk this week by psychologist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach on Radical Self Honesty. In the talk she says “there is no way that we’ll be really honest with ourselves, really contact truth, unless there’s some space that’s forgiving, tender, and kind that can hold it.” We must cultivate the places within ourselves and with our trusted others where we can be loved and accepted even and especially through our mistakes. Places where we can be encouraged in taking responsibility for them, held in the process of living into and through their consequences, and supported in learning what caused us to make these mistakes and to work to heal those wounds within ourselves.
The biggest internal support to me these last few weeks has been calling on my own spiritual practices to hold me in the process of facing my mistakes, seeking and further healing the root causes, and loving myself enough to believe in my ability to grow here. The biggest external support has been to go to my most beloved others and say — this is what I have discovered within myself and the mistakes it has led to in my life, and I want to be known here.
We need to be loved from within, and from without, to heal.
Truly, it takes great courage, wisdom, and fierce compassion to learn from our wrong decisions. To mine those places where we feel ashamed and hurt, where we acted outside of our highest good for any reason, and where we hurt ourselves or another in any way.
It is courageous to stop running from our mistakes or punishing ourselves for them, and to instead turn around and face them.
It is wise to begin to untangle and see clearly the root causes of why we did what we did — where we were acting from ignorance or wrong knowing, fear or avoidance, or a wish to get something or hold on to something at all costs.
It is fiercely compassionate to love ourselves in all of our messiness here, without excusing what we did, without justifying it, and without punishing ourselves for it. To love ourselves enough to stay present and take responsibility for the mess we’ve made. To love ourselves enough to stay, and grow, through our mistakes.
“We are a poignant mixture of something that isn’t all that beautiful and yet is dearly loved.– Pema chodron, “comfortable with uncertainty”
There is no way to avoid making mistakes, only ways to better learn from them, and heal, so we can all grow.
This is not a linear process. Most, if not all of us, can attest to making the same mistakes many times, until we finally have the skills and the means necessary to address the core wounds and heal them. Then we can begin to create something different. Something more aligned with who we truly are. Something one step closer to who we want to be within this world.
May we be loved in all of our messiness, with courage, wisdom, and fierce compassion. May we all make the continuous commitment to see clearly, heal, and grow.