July Reflections from Norman

Still, no matter how well we know ourselves and how much we achieve a steadiness of character, we are never immune to mistakes. With self-acceptance we know this, and we try to make use of our mistakes, learning from them as best we can. Over time we see how often our worst mistakes and most ignominious failures have turned out to be our greatest teachers. Some of our greatest disasters turn out to have powerfully positive consequences for our lives, even though it may take a long time for us to recognize it. Given all of this, we become less worried about making mistakes, although we are regretful when we make them, especially when others are hurt in the process. Zen Master Dogen famously referred to his long life of spiritual endeavor as “one continuous mistake.”

Sometimes our mistakes can be helpful to others: if we show that there can be dignity in making mistakes, others can learn from us that they don’t have to live in constant fear of error. Many times in my life I have witnessed mistakes that my teachers made—being headstrong or stubborn, being angry when it was inappropriate, being nervous when I wanted them to be clearheaded and cool. Sometimes they said or did things impulsively, or even deliberately, that they shouldn’t have said or done. Most of the time I appreciated these mistakes, for they made me see my teacher’s humanness and vulnerability. Far from seeing the mistake-making as a flaw that lowered the estimation of my teacher in my eyes, I saw it as a wonderful badge of his or her humanity, which helped me to accept my own imperfection more easily.