Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mistakes are made.

I think Miles Davis was right when he said there's no such thing as a mistake. I mean really what is a mistake? It's regret with a punitive edge, the idea that events could have, should have unfolded in a different order. Right?

Most of the time I don't think in terms of mistakes except with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. But it's not always about the past. I've caught myself in the middle of something, thinking, "This is probably a mistake," like when I pour the third glass of wine, or get into bed with the "wrong" person. Later, when I have a headache or am suffering from inevitable pangs of remorse, it's clear I could have made a happier choice. That I go ahead anyway, with the third glass of wine or whatever, is interesting, isn't it? What am I trying to teach myself? Or am I just looking for an opportunity to self-punish? Or something else?

Do animals feel guilty when they make mistakes? We now know that some animals plan ahead. I wonder if they reflect like we do, try to make sense of what's already happened. I always wonder whether animals try to improve their characters. Do they blame themselves after they make a mistake? Do animals make mistakes?

My question this morning is, does the punitive thought form and subsequent self flagellation after the fact help anything? In other words, is suffering redemptive? I ask that question every year as we close in on the season of Easter and Passover. Both holidays center around ultra dramatic stories in which suffering is proved to be redemptive. Suffering can be redemptive, but so can bliss, mindfulness, compassion and many other states of being. Why is suffering so valuable to our species? Any thoughts?


Carolyn said...

Reya, your photographs are beautiful. Who says it is a mistake, most times it is not us it is someone else who thinks it is a mistake, the church, the boss, family but is it really?
Thank you for this post and my thought of the day!

John Hayes said...

This is so timely for me-- as also was the post at Pic & Poems this morning (the latter just re: poetry, not blogging). It's kind of witchy. I don't know the answer-- I just know that from time to time I return to earlier episodes & start living there; is it redemptive? Some of the "suffering" in my younger days was in restrospect. Or maybe it's not the suffering, but the will to move past it & make something from it-- creation. Anyway, thanks for posting this: it's where I'm at this morning.

Reya Mellicker said...

John, love being on a wavelength with you. Sometimes these themes are floating around in the air.

Yes Carolyn, sometimes "mistake" is a societal label.

Anil P said...

The two pictures catch the keywords 'suffering' and 'redemptive' well.

I do think suffering can be redemptive in many ways. It might have more to do with deepening (dwelling on a 'mistake') an experience so that it continues to stay with us long after we have moved on.

Otherwise it's like any short memory.

Reflection, and contemplation are but ways in which we seek redemption, emerging from them mellower, and sensitive, and yes, mortal.

Steve said...

"Do animals make mistakes?"

That is a FASCINATING question.

I think suffering is a teaching tool, like many forms of pain. If we suffer emotionally after we do something we regret, we're less likely to do it again. (Though as you pointed out re. the third glass of wine, this isn't always true -- our brains can talk us into anything!)

A Cuban In London said...

Unintentional suffering can be helpfu. I'm not convinced of self-flagellation, though. And I mean both spiritual and physical. Mistakes are hurdle that life puts in front of us, some we overcome, some we don't and therefore we fall down and have to either start the race again or be disqualified from it. Good post. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Mrsupole said...

They are always saying learn from your past mistakes. Or why do they keep making the same mistake over and over again. Who knows the answers to these questions. The brain is a beautiful thing. Plus who is it that decides it was a mistake. Or how big or little was the mistake. I say they made erasers because it is in our nature to make mistakes. This is life and this is the way we live it. We will always make mistakes, I think some can be called sins. No one is perfect, and so this is how we are.

I think that we can all just try to do our best and that is all we can ask of ourselves. We want to be the best, we want to be perfect. We want to be loved. Oh, so much we want to be loved. We think they will not love me if I do this or that wrong. Sometimes that is true and sometimes it is not. It really comes down to can you love this person with all the mistakes that they are going to make in their life. Yes or No, it is that easy. Unconditional love or conditional love.

I say mistakes are good up to a point if they help you to grow to be a better person. I guess everything is relative.

God Bless.

PS...Did you read my comment on your last post about the OLBAS tea? If not, I hope you read it. Any qestions please ask.

deborah said...

This last photo is truly gorgeous and are you the most telepathic person ever?

Just had this convo this week about "mistakes" and feel exactly as you do about the concept.

However, unlike you during, I give myself a break, "This third glass of wine could be a mistake." "I hope I don't regret this dalliance in the future."

And do animals make mistakes? You betcha. Kitties blow it all the time when they believe a piece of paper extended over the edge of a table is solid and can hold an 8 pound kitty--when the leap doesn't quite clear the span--when the pounce is just a little short.

Their reaction is one we humans could emulate--"What? Who did that? Who moved that? I didn't see anything go wrong."

Walk away proudly and forget the whole thing.

Love you so much.

Andrea said...

I hope suffering is redemptive because I've suffered plenty from my mistakes, ooops....I mean from my poor choices. Not so sure about the animals, though. I'm thinking my dog never feels guilt about his mistakes and yet is so secure in knowing I'll always love him, no matter what. Lucky him.

Bee said...

I think that we have an incredible need to make meaning/sense out of our experiences. Therefore, there must be some point to suffering/mistakes; they must be of value. Of course, sometimes the "mistake" (alcohol or sex) has value, too!

(Obviously, we can't avoid all suffering. Why we bring it on ourselves is another question altogether, and one that I don't feel qualified to answer!)

I was fascinated about the story of the chimp who built up his store of weapons. I should think that the more intelligent animals can feel a form of regret -- if an action leads directly to being hurt. But a reflection on mistakes? I don't think so.

Very cheered by that beautiful picture of the white blossoms.

Butternut Squash said...

If suffering reminds me why I want to be more compassionate, it has one redeeming quality. The only real mistake would be, never making any mistakes.

mary said...

HMMMMMM - I like to think of these life events as missteps with retakes. Feels more hopeful

Reya Mellicker said...

Beth Orton says regret is just about a lesson we haven't learned yet. That's pretty compassionate I think.

Mrsupole thank you for mentioning how much humans love to be loved. That's key in thinking about mistakes.

As for animals, I know Jake used to appear to feel regret over chewing the rug or eating my shoes, but maybe in his mind it was more like, This is how I'm supposed to behave after I eat the shoes. Who knows?

As for the chimp, realizing he was building up his arsenal should clue in the people in charge of zoos that maybe it's cruel and unusual to keep these animals imprisoned.

e said...

This morning, I had to face someone and listen while they read over and admitted screwing something up that created a problem for me. It isn't only our own "mistakes" we need to consider, but those of others which come back on us in one way or another.

In this situation, I was faced also with an opportunity: Do I conclude dealings with this person? Forgive them because I could easily have done what they did? Give them the chance to put it right?

For now, I chose to let them resolve the error and put the situation right. Time will tell if they do. We are all in this world learning, and all mistakes are lessons. Interpreting these is tricky, but I always try to ere on the side of least harm to me or another.

runmotman said...

in hind sight, suffering seems to be a marvelous thing. Everything experienced good or bad shapes who you are...imagine what a shmuck you'd be if everything was always great...Paris Hilton comes to mind, although i'm sure she's a very nice person.
In the church they say offer up your pain to Christ, and i guess that is easier in small doses, but i can't imagine being thankful for a long suffering ache or chronic life-debilitating pain...
just a couple thoughts.
Think spring!

willow said...

The older I get, the kinder and more forgiving I am to myself.

Ronda Laveen said...

No, intellectually, I don't believe we need to suffer. There has been much work done to alleviate our need to do so. The stories of Easter and Passover tell us that. We have the ability to move through things very quickly if we choose...with a snap of the fingers.

It is now a time to move into bliss rather than suffering. But, with this, I am a work in progress and get trapped in the suffering ever so often. I'm trying to quit. It can be quite addictive.

Animals move toward a thing or away from it. They act or react. Sometimes their action is incorrect. Sometimes it is fatal for themselves or another. Whatever the price of their action, they are ready to pay it. No regret. No emotional suffering. I love animals.

Delwyn said...

There's a saying,

There are no mistakes
only Divine Intervention

which throws a positive light on our errors either conscious or unconscious.

Suffering, if clothed, in shame can be self indulgent however if shrouded in regret can become redemptive. Amends can be made either in the real world or in our inner worlds, that allow our mistakes to metamorphosise into wisdom.

Lizzy Frizzfrock said...

I think animals plan ahead ... at least my dog Gertie. Every morning she plans to go for a ride with us. She waits, watches, sits by the door with those alert eyes keeping a look out for the door to open so she can hop into the car!

e said...


Tax returns are very scary, at this point. Thanks for dropping by. Enjoy the rest of your week.

Lover of Life said...

I think the only upside to suffering is to teach us not to do "it" again. Otherwise - forget it and move on, I say. I like your comment on mindfulness. If we are in the moment, then we are not in the past, where most recrimination hides.

Cynthia said...

Hi Reya, you ask a complicated question. A similar one would be if you could change one thing about your life what would it be and why or if you could do one thing differently what would it be and why? See if you change something, would that mean you believe in mistakes? hummm I think I wouldn't change anything but sometimes I change my mind...<3 Great post!
Come over to Oasis blog and collect your award.

Cyndy said...

I envy the people who don't ever feel guilty. When I was growing up I got blamed for all kinds of things I didn't do. So now I always wish I could have done something to prevent whatever misfortune someone else has suffered, no matter how small. Because if the bad thing doesn't happen, then I won't get blamed for it. Intellectually I completely understand how stupid and illogical this is. It's an emotional conditioning that I've had to work very hard to keep under control for most of my adult life. So I still suffer, but thankfully a lot less than I used to. It's good to read all of these excellent comments on this interesting topic!

hele said...

suffering reminds me to be more compassionate towards myself and others. it opens a door to the bits of self that believes that i deserve to suffer and allows me to know that they are also parts of me and that they are doing the best they can, even if it causes me suffering. as a result i fear less and laugh more. (cause those parts can be pretty funny sometimes)

Reya Mellicker said...

Hele you are so completely and honestly human, and so kind. Thank you! You're right that the parts that "make mistakes" are also part of us. Thank you so much for that reminder!

Cynthia, I've thought about this fairly extensively. What I always conclude is that I wouldn't change anything. My cosmology includes a very complicated multiverse in which everything is woven together, so to change anything I consider a mistake would be to change the entire pattern of my life. I think that would be a mistake!

California Girl said...

No. As someone who has made, deliberately or unintentionally, more than her share of "mistakes", I realize how toxic the angst of regret. More than that, it doesn't change a damn thing. I am finally of an age where I realize we have to forgive ourselves in order to move forward. Years of therapy and yoga helped me get there. So, free advice: learn to forgive yourself and avoid expensive therapy sessions! Or take yoga and study meditation. Yoga is all about finding union & knowing there is no perfection...you can only do what you do today.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

is that the full crow moon?

another inspiring and thought provoking post.

I tend to be drawn to buddhist wisdom when it comes to the subject of suffering

thank you.

d. oak said...

Really, there are no mistakes except those we don't face and learn from.

ArtSparker said...

Impressive responses.

As a depressive person myself, I'm going to go with John Masefield:

"The Days that make us happy make us wise".