April 30, 2011 § 6 Comments

My greatest mistake

It’s no secret that the yoga teacher training I am doing has been challenging for me. “You’ll really do The Work,” people said when I told them I was starting a yoga teacher training this spring. “It’ll bring up Your Stuff,” someone else said. I narrowed my eyes at these comments and asked for specifics. “Can you give me an example?” I asked. “What do you mean, exactly, by ‘The Work?‘” But the only reply I received was a smile and a shrug. “Have fun,” they said.

Fine, I thought. Great. Bring it on. I would do The Work, whatever that was. I could handle My Stuff, right?

I thought I could. But these days, I just stare at a tiny digital recorder and want to hide under the bed. Our current “homework” for our teacher training is to read a script for a 90-minute yoga class (a wonderful class, by the way) and then listen to the recording and take our own yoga class. Personally, I would rather get my teeth pulled without novocaine.

I thought The Work and My Stuff might be interesting. I thought it would at least be clear. I thought it would come to me all of a piece. I thought it would be the Holy Grail, the directions for How to Get Fixed. Instead, listening to myself on tape for 90 minutes just makes me feel really lousy in a nondescript sort of way. And the “nondescript” is far worse than the “lousy.” So I hate listening to myself on tape. Who doesn’t?

Yet, I was having such a hard time with it that I fell into a hole for a week. I didn’t go to yoga. I stopped meditating. I almost wrote to the assistant for the teacher training and asked for help, but after thinking about it, I wasn’t sure that someone who barely knew me could do much. I had a feeling that this was something I needed to figure out for myself.

Later that weekend, I went for a run in the rain and tried to figure out why listening to myself on a tape recorder terrifies me so much, why it makes me feel like a total loser. I sound weak as I read the script. Uncertain. I mess it up. I talk too quickly. I make mistakes.

Could that be it? That I make mistakes? Could it be that listening to my own voice unearths a giant snarl of imperfection that I have been trying to keep covered up for years? Is it possible that I so hate the idea of failure that I have deluded myself into believing that somewhere out there is the possibility of perfection, bright and shiny as a mala bead? Could it be that I am just disappointed with myself?

As I ran, I thought of all the failures in my life, all the missteps, the embarrassments, the glaring errors. There was that really dumb thing I said to that cute guy on the cross country team in college, that my friends heard and laughed about for months. There was the vet school application to Penn that I somehow “forgot” to send in. Even worse, there were the thousands of unkind things I have said and done. Which I still do, daily. There was the awful job I stayed in for far too long.  There was the job I didn’t get because I didn’t prepare for the interview. There was that unplanned pregnancy.

When I got to that last one, I paused. At the time, when I found out I was pregnant, it was awful. I was devastated. It felt like my life was ending. But now? Now, I know that it was the best thing I ever did. When I think of Oliver, I can’t imagine a time before him, a time when he was not yet. He is my failure transformed into beauty. He was my sacred mistake.

What if, I wondered, I thought of my mistakes the same way I thought about my successes? What would happen if I treated all of my mistakes with reverence, with gratitude? What would happen if instead of treating my mistakes as shameful, I treated them each as sacred?

I am not talking about celebrating mistakes – I am far too cynical for that. But even the universe depends on mistakes. Errors are not just a design flaw, they are an inherent part of the design. Without errors in DNA replication, there would be no variation in life. We would all still be single-celled protozoa. Mistakes in DNA are the only source of evolution. They are responsible for violets and giraffes and blond hair. The part I have trouble with is that they are also responsible for cancer and Down Syndrome and MRSA.

I went to a talk by Karen Maezen Miller today, which was pretty great. She talked at one point about the limits that exist only in our mind and how everyday, our children push us past our limits. “Children are the face of God,” she said. She tapped her hand on the floor. “This floor is the face of God. That accident in the parking lot is the face of God. Everything as it is, is the face of God.”

Last week, I took the boys to my parents house for two days. It’s a 4 hour car trip (5 with a stop) and it was just the three of us heading up through the mountains of Pennsylvania. I don’t like the trip very much to say the least. It makes me nervous to know that juice boxes and oranges will probably be demanded as soon as I hit construction or a windy pass in the Poconos. I was so flustered this time that I missed the entrance to the 395 and had to backtrack and turn around in a parking lot.

I stopped the car for a second and took a breath because I was so annoyed at myself for making the trip longer than it already was. And then – Sacred. The word popped into my head and something in my ribcage softened a bit. My shoulders moved away from my ears and tears came to my eyes. My heart peeled open and I came back to myself.  A quote popped into my head, something Albert Einstein said: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Maybe mistakes are like that too. The oak trees and the cancer. The wrong turns and the right ones. The kind thoughts and the angry words. The unplanned pregnancy and the little boy who now brings me wildflowers.


§ 6 Responses to Mistakes

  • Alana says:

    Oh yes. Sacred mistakes. Gorgeous. I had old shame come up this week in a yoga meditation and I wondered how to let it go, to let it heal fully. I had grief rear its head and anger at someone who doesn’t deserve it and I wondered how to heal myself. This is it – the Work, the Stuff, the Not-Knowing, the mistakes and hardships transformed into beauty and love. Thank you for sharing these vulnerable thoughts so that we can all heal and grow together. xoxo
    P.S. I’m hoping to get to KMM’s next one day meditation retreat here in LA. So glad you saw her today.

  • Here’s to love in the face of all the miracles—to being together in what is no mistake.

  • Lindsey says:

    Sacred mistake indeed. Wow. There are so many emotions swarming in my chest after reading this. Thank you. xox

  • Kathy says:

    At the heart of your discussion is the idea that part of loving is, in fact, loving ourselves. Why do we have such a difficult time accepting ourselves, loving ourselves, forgiving ourselves? Years ago I had an amazing wise woman as mentor and friend. She often told me, “Ride loose in the saddle.” It took me years to assimilate, truly assimilate, all that the idea means. I pass it on to you today in the hopes that you will “get” it years before I did. I think you will.

  • Deirdre (Dede) Galvin says:

    This is beautifully written and so true, Pamela. And the photo is so touching as well (as are other photos I have seen of your two boys together). I too was initially devastated at an unplanned pregnancy (my second child, who was conceived just as I was getting through an episode of clinical depression). But, as with your Oliver, my Jamila is now a source of joy and we have a closeness that I have never experienced with anyone else (except maybe in the early years with my now ex-husband). Another big part of this joy is seeing she and my son, Kyle (18) become so close to each other. They talk about everything to each other, and even though they do fight, the love is obvious in pictures from when they were little to moments observed today. Thank you for a beautiful piece that says so much. I too sometimes dwell too much on my mistakes but without them, I probably would have had a pretty boring life – maybe not had a second, highly demanding and interesting child, maybe worked the same job for the past 25 years, never moved out of the state where I was born, etc.

  • Christine says:

    Lindsey suggested that I come by, and I’m so glad that she did. Every word of this resonated with me, for so many different reasons and yet so many similar reasons. To be reminded that our mistakes are an important part of us, and if we only stop for a moment, we can see how even they can be exquisite. Lovely.

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