Tormenting the Lion (written 2018)
It isn't comfortable to make a mistake. A mistake is like poking a stick through the bars at the ego you keep mostly safe and tame and properly protected. Like a lazy lion, ego will often nap in the sunshine of satisfaction, of productivity, of accomplishment. But that lion can pace and growl or even roar when you make a mistake.
This is an image that works for me, anyway. When I'm doing my best, something I was taught to do since childhood, dotting my i's and crossing my t's, the lion of self is pretty quiet. That is, I feel contented, OK mostly with the stuff I can't control, feeling I've got a handle on what I can control. That, I think, is where the problem lies. I'm only human, you see, and so I don't necessarily control even what seems to be mine to control. I lose things, forget things, do things too hastily maybe. I burn toast, forget important dates, shrink clothes in water that's too hot, misplace something I borrowed. I make mistakes. Small ones, medium sized ones and big ones too. But I don't like to make mistakes. Well, none of us do, do we?
We don't like the inconvenience or trouble or irritation it causes for others, nor the worry and shame it causes for us. Wait a minute. It's not the mistake that is to blame so much for this last segment of the picture. Rather, it's the knowing that “I” screwed up. It's the way we've framed the experience...a threat to self, to the ego. And this second arrow, the story about “me” screwing up, is often the most painful of all.
There's usually a scramble here. We might try to tell another story to ourselves that lets the lion be and turns the blame on someone or something else. We can shift the shame and discomfort into anger maybe, which stirs a different kind of discontent. What is hard to do is just to share space with the mistake. To acknowledge there's something a bit threatening coming at the self, and still stay calm.
I feel this kind of threat in my whole body. And everything in me wants to make it right. When it's something I can't fix, it's at its worst. So the work of mindfulness here is just to see even the mistakes. Admit them, to ourselves and maybe to others if they were impacted. Because even though my own actions may have been the cause, the discomfort in my body is exactly like a threat to which I did not contribute. It's like being accused wrongly. It's like being threatened. It sets adrenalin running and can disrupt ease, waking and sleeping.
Pop wisdom might suggest that mistakes lead to discovery or growth, but our bodies have a different first take on such an experience. Mindfulness allows us to see this first impact. To feel it. To move towards living with as much ease as we can in a world that includes the repercussions of the mistake. We can't return to the place before the mistake. It isn't enough to just eat the burnt toast, re-schedule the appointment we missed, find a new use for the shirt we shrunk, or replace the lost item. The important work is inside. Noticing that the impact of this mistake is exacerbated by a bigger one...the delusion that I am someone who can do everything right all the time. This is the delusion that puts the lion in a cage to begin with, neatly confined and defined but at the mercy of slings and arrows and sticks through the bars.