Monday’s Meditation: On Mistakes & Punishment
We all, it turns out, make mistakes.
We mess up big time. We disappoint those we care about most and ourselves. We act without thinking, we speak without thinking, we abandon patience and compassion. We don’t honor our commitments, don’t give sufficient thought to how our actions will affect others.
Afterwards, when we’ve come to our senses, when we’ve realized how our choices have impacted those we care about, then we will punish ourselves mercilessly.
Sometimes the mistakes we make are not doing wrong but in allowing others to do wrong by us.
We make the mistake of naivety and in so doing open ourselves up to all manner of being taken advantage of. We make the mistake of being overly agreeable and end up sacrificing our wellbeing in the process.
Someone makes a request of us and even as every neuron is silently firing off a magnificent, “OH, NO WAY IN HAHLLL!” We make the mistake of hurriedly saying “Oh, yes, sure, no problem-o!”
Afterwards, when the words, memorized in our minds with taunting verbatim, echo repeatedly; when the reality of how we have allowed ourselves to be comprised sinks in; when we link others’ wrongdoing to our own foolish behaviors; then we will punish ourselves mercilessly.
We are good people, after all. We are, no matter what we claim to the contrary, tender spirits awash in wanting to do good, be happy–spread both of those things.
And in the quiet of our insides that no one else may be privy to, most of us in that moment of realization feel like rotten schoolchildren, so ashamed we can’t think of anything to do but beg our headmaster for his most severe punishment yet.
“Tell me how I’m the worst!” We scream.
“Make me listen to all the ways I’m going to be a big, fat failure; go on, do it!”
“Take away all the things I love–I don’t deserve them now. All those A’s? Down the toilet. Just write a giant F on my file and call it a day.”
We might have made a mistake. But punishing ourselves is more of one.
There is no inherent merit in self-punishment. In fact, punishing ourselves for our mistakes might be the least productive thing we can do.
Punishing ourselves doesn’t atone for our actions; feeling like you’re the worst is not the same as saying “I’m sorry, truly.” And, “Please forgive me.”
Punishing ourselves doesn’t rectify a situation; it doesn’t, no matter how much we yearn to be able to, rewind time and provide us with a do-over.
Punishing ourselves does not allow us to recover, to see how we can improve in the future, to learn whatever we need to from what has happened.
Punishing ourselves accomplishes nothing, because what it does primarily is keep us stuck–trapped in the moment of mistake without the glimmering chance of rectification.
If only we would lift our heads up just an inch or two from the ground–enough to look at others, the situation, ourselves, then we would see: keeping ourselves imprisoned in error is pointless. It doesn’t heal those we’ve hurt and it doesn’t heal the hurt we’ve incurred. It only prolongs the initial mistake. It only delays our return to our most effective, loving selves.
That’s the state the world needs us in, no matter what has happened, no matter how unfortunate it was.
If you wronged, make it right by asking for forgiveness.
If you were wronged, make it right by granting forgiveness.
In either case, it’s your duty to get out of self-pity and self-hatred as quickly as possible, so that you can get back to a place of goodness and giveness. Because your life is about more than just you.
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