I was with a dear friend who I was meeting after a very long time. We were discussing the psychology of mistakes—especially how we feel guilty about committing them and then subconsciously punish ourselves. What an utter waste of ‘mistakes’ this attitude was, I felt. Even as I was expressing this thought to my friend, I got a flash of insight—like a bolt of lightning—and I suddenly understood the real function of mistakes in our lives. I shared my insight with my friend, who thought it was a fascinating and useful perspective. Here’s what I learnt from my flash the other day.
I have observed that I always label something as a ‘mistake’ in hindsight—it’s as if I don’t approve of a decision or behaviour. In other words, it means that I don’t identify with the act, that it is not really me. As I understand them, my mistakes help me to know who I am. Because unless I know who I am not, I cannot know fully who I am. Seen this way, every mistake takes me a step closer to understanding who I am. Sometimes I may temporarily forget who I am. At such times, my mistakes remind me of my truth and bring me back home.
This means that when I become aware of a having committed blunder, instead of reprimanding myself or feeling guilty [which does nothing other than keep me focussed on the past], I should be thankful that my very recognition of it has helped me uncover an aspect of myself. I call this the divine paradox of mistakes. For, when I notice that I have hurt the feelings of another, it makes me aware of my intrinsic compassion. Or when I feel unhappy about a spell of anger or irritation, instead of feeling self-critical, I view it as a sign that, at the core, I value composure. So each time I hurt someone, I become even more compassionate than before; each and every time I lose my calm, I am a step closer to more calmness. This is how I discover who I am and who I am not.
Every mistake takes me a step closer to understanding who I am
This fresh way of looking at mistakes—as a process of self-discovery, rather than something worth condemnation—has many benefits. It propels me into living more fully, taking more risks and being open to experimenting with life. Decisions too come more easily to me as I am no longer afraid of making mistakes. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? Either I’ll succeed or I’ll learn more about myself. What’s more, viewing mistakes as signposts makes me more tolerant and understanding of others’ mistakes too. I now know that, just like me, they too are only on the path of discovering themselves.
Of course, only spontaneous acts, devoid of any prior knowing or intent, can be called mistakes and are useful. If I knowingly commit a mistake, it will not aid my self-discovery. In fact, such a deed cannot be called a mistake at all. It is just a clever way my ego may disguise its selfish goals, and later defend it by calling it a mistake.
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