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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Mistakes -- Credo X

The Blind Spot, the Wounded Healer, and mistakes all have something in common. Jung points out that to achieve perfection, which etymologically actually means done, finished, ready to be put under glass, is not the goal of individuation. (To me, it seems that trying to be too good is bad for you, because then we repress our faults in the unconscious as our Shadow and project it conveniently onto others!) Jung also says repeatedly that myths are not untrue stories but stories symbolically true of the psyche! This combination led me to do some research.

The Blind Spot is a physical phenomenon having to do with optical vision. We all have one! Check it out.

The Wounded Healer or vulnerable hero appears (according to my Dictionary of Mythology) in twenty-seven world cultural myths, and the list includes forty heroes! This surely hints at an archetypal and psychological truth. Achilles’ mother, Thetis, held him in a fire trying to make him immortal but the heel she held him by didn’t make it. Siegfried bathed in the blood of the dragon he had killed, trying to make himself invulnerable but a leaf fell on his back, preventing it. There are many more instances. Chiron is one of the nicest. He was the centaur who ran a school for heroes. Achilles, and a whole bunch of precocious boys. What a job! Heracles, one of his students, shot him by accident in the foot. As Chiron was immortal and knew that mortal Prometheus was deserving, offered to swap his own immortality for mortality and the suffering of the wound. Zeus took pity on him and later placed Chiron in his own constellation in the heavens. Chiron became the archetypal Wounded Healer. He teaches us that the redemption of our own suffering is the ability to empathize and thus more truly serve others.

What does this tell us? Perhaps that none of us is perfect or we wouldn’t be here and that there is an ultimate good that can come from redeeming our mistakes. Any wise counselor knows that “it takes one to know one.” One cannot apply conscious intellectual knowledge alone to help others; it has to pass through one’s being first. Alcoholics Anonymous, inspired by Jung, is a perfect example. Wisdom, it seems, can only come from the humble acceptance of suffering and through the sublimation of loving and willing consciousness.

Which brings us to the third item: Mistakes! We all make them. We feel shame, regret, embarrassment; “have been there, done that”! It is part of the human condition. When I met M, my beloved Teacher, I was twenty-one. I was overwhelmed and rode up and down Fifth Avenue in New York City on top of the bus in tears and shame at the time I had wasted! When I saw him again, he said kindly, “Dearie, if you would spend that energy now in redeeming those mistakes you could put them to use from now on!”

Later on, a definition came to me: A mistake is a loop in consciousness made to expose a greater surface to experience.

In my book The Dove inthe Stone there is a whole chapter devoted to pointing out that trees don’t grow like telephone poles! The trunk aims in the vertical direction and the branches spread out laterally, and each leaf is exposed to a common source of light, the Sun (symbolically our Divine Guest). Each leaf is the result of an AHA! and many of those Aha!’s are the result of redeeming a mistake. The trick is not to keep repeating the same one.

Slowly, I got the hang of this and felt quite pleased with myself until I learned the next step. Being conscious of the mistake is only half the job; the other half is acting out the correction! This runs the gamut from a spelling mistake to a misdeed or unkindness made either out of ignorance or negative intent. Our tree of life has to keep growing, and karma sure is a great teacher.

When I began teaching kids in school, I would spend the first day explaining three things: the first was not to be afraid of making mistakes! The second was to be willing to ask a dumb question; the third was that my intention was not to get them into the next grade, but to expose them to something useful for their whole life.

M taught us by example rather than only words. I remember that during WWII we were invited to West Point by one of his closest friends, a graduate, a stockbroker, and now returned as a teaching officer. The occasion was a cocktail party. Now M was the wisest, most impressive and knowledgeable person I had ever met. He sat on my right, a lady on my left. She began to share some very simple idea that had come to her. To my astonishment, M began to ask her the dumbest questions, drawing her out and allowing her to grasp new insights with palpable delight! What a lesson for me!

After eighteen years of teaching kids, I concluded that I really never taught them anything but I did engineer a few attacks of insight! Those gratifying cries of “Oh, I get it!”

The real meaning of education is ex-ducare, Latin for leading forth, which is the process of Sophia, in-tuition. So we all need to remember this: it’s not what we say but what the other hears! It is not what I am writing but what you are reading that counts. And I guarantee that in every case, the result will be unique. In-struction, on the other hand, building in, is the framework necessary to every discipline. Music requires scales, notes, keys, etc; grammar, geography, sciences all have necessary basic tools that are essential, but usually by sixth grade enough of a beginners’ kit is at hand for exciting things to develop. Intellectual curiosity, at least a few decades ago, was untrammeled by sex, drugs, and the like. There can be a freedom at that age not likely to come until retirement, when the delight of learning just for learning’s sake can re-emerge; so many responsibilities intervene . . . but many of you are as nuts as I have been all of my life!

Taken symbolically, the parable of the Prodigal Son is another story of the ego’s adventure into the extraverted world of painful experience, making that loop in consciousness, ending in being drawn back home to our Self (Divine Guest) by the loving in-tuition of Sophia, Holy Wisdom.

PS: Came across a lovely quote:
Give attention to your pain as you would to a child, giving it loving and soothing attention.
– Jack Kornfield

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