Making Mistakes

Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.

This talk will not appear in the main Search results:

Sunday Lecture

AI Summary: 



I vow to taste the truth of the Tathagata's words. Good morning. My name is Yvonne Rand, and I began studying with Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi in 1966 and have had a long connection with the San Francisco Zen Center, so I'm happy to be here this morning and especially happy to be here with all of you children. So I'd like to begin what I want to say to all of you addressed to the kids.


As I was walking down the back road here to the meditation hall, we came across a flock of quail. They look a lot like you kids do, mothers and fathers and babies and teenagers, everything in between. What I want to talk about this morning has to do with what's called making a mistake. I imagine that some of you, although maybe not all of you, have made a mistake or had somebody tell you that you'd made a mistake. And I want to encourage you to pay attention to when you make a mistake as a chance to


notice something that you either wish you hadn't done or might learn something from doing differently. For a lot of us adults, we've grown up with the idea that making a mistake is a mistake, is a big problem. And we often, by the time we're teenagers or young adults, try to hide our mistakes. And my experience is that that leads to a lot of trouble. I spend a lot of time thinking about the mistake I made instead of paying attention to what I'm doing in the next moment. There's a very famous practitioner whose name is Milarepa, a great yogi, a great practitioner.


And his whole aim in his life was to live his life without any regrets. So he was somebody who paid attention to when he did something that he regretted or thought was a mistake to let himself be taught by that mistake to see what he wanted to do and what he didn't want to do. So I'd like to encourage all of you to be interested when you make a mistake and not be hard on yourselves, but be interested in what's being called a mistake as something that you can learn from. This may be a little much for some of you, but you never know when something you've heard


will crop up and you'll say, oh, now I understand. Might be in a few days or in a couple of years. But don't worry about it. And have a good morning. Thank you. If anyone else would like to move forward, there's a few SEC staff.


I wonder how many of us pay attention to our reactions to making a mistake, and if we do, how many of us realize that we've learned our reactions to making mistakes? As I said to the children, my experience is that for many of us, making a mistake is not seen as an opportunity. Quite the opposite. It's seen as some action or inaction that we want to hide. And in the process of hiding a so-called mistake, there's a kind of festering around whatever


that action or inaction is. There's a kind of poem, which I've recited here before, but which I'd like to recite again. Hard rain rains on covered things. No rain rains hard on open things. So open ye the covered thing, and no hard rain will rain on that. There's an echoing statement attributed to Jesus on this same point.


If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you. I wonder how many of us have made something that we regret, made some action or inaction that we regret. That we then carry in the mind for quite a long time. It gets to be a kind of clutter in the mind. I'm a great admirer of the great yogi Milarepa, and his aiming at living his life without regret.


But of course, if I am picking up that same aiming, it means that I am committing myself to paying attention to what I regret. Letting myself learn from what I feel regret for, as an opportunity for paying attention to not continuing, not repeating that which I regret. And I think that for many of us, we aren't patient enough with the process. We don't change our habits, especially the habits that we developed, what's called conditioning from the time we're very young. We don't change those habits, those patterns quickly.


Even when we have some very clear insight about the suffering that arises from some habitual pattern or another. And what I notice is that a kind of dissolving, a kind of restating of intention, happens when I have done something I regret, and I then acknowledge it openly with a witness. It doesn't seem to work quite as well if I'm my own witness, in the room with the door closed at two in the morning, or when you wake up with something that you wish you hadn't done. There is a kind of aeration, if you will,


to the acknowledgement with a witness of what I regret. So, something I would invite you to consider is not only paying attention to what you regret, what you might deem a mistake, and notice what your reaction is in that moment. Is there some impulse to hide what you've done, or cover? I think part of our cultural training about mistakes is that only the regret side, and not so much understanding that


when I've done something that I consider a mistake, I have a chance to learn from that experience. I've met over the years very few people who have that attitude about making a mistake. But I have met some people, and I'm struck by the kind of liveliness that I experience with those people because of their eagerness, if you will, to notice mistakes, to be instructed by them, to see where there is some possible cultivation to be instructed, if you will, by what I'm calling a mistake.


And I think that perhaps using the framing of regret rather than the word mistake may be useful in opening up the landscape, opening up my willingness to notice what I do and what I don't do, and what the consequences are of my behavior. For many of us who are practitioners of meditation in the Buddhist path, the focus is very much on studying the mind and training the mind in formal practice. But, of course, what's critical is the extension


into our everyday lives. And often what we've done that we think of as a mistake or that we regret will come up in meditation. It's particularly true during long sittings when the mind kind of grabs onto anything to think about. Regrets stream forth. In a nice long retreat. It can be actually quite useful. A kind of bubbling up to the surface of what we had in the busyness and pace of our daily lives pushed aside, managed to not notice by being busy.


I just finished leading a 10-day retreat. And there were several people in the retreat who when we would meet, I met with everybody every day and after maybe the fourth day, several people when they came in for our meeting together said something, some variation on the theme of I have a confession to make. Two people in particular took the rest of the retreat to fill in the confession process. Opening the door a little bit with one action that the person speaking regretted


allowed some further inquiry and expression over the course of the retreat. And one person in particular described feeling initially a great relief in speaking about what she had been carrying and hiding. And then when I saw her the next day, she said, Well, I don't feel so much relief today because now I realize that there are some things I need to do, some actions that are appropriate in the face of this relieving confession that I made yesterday. But over the course of the retreat, these several people working on this edge of what do I regret that kept coming up in meditation


came to increasingly more and more clarity about their actions and the consequences of those actions and some more refined understanding about what was appropriate in addressing those actions that had caused harm to themselves and to others. I think that often we can be impatient with the process of uncovering what we thought we would rather have keep covered. And all kinds of fears arise. Fears about losing some position or having others think ill of us, fill in the blank.


And often that fear of external consequences is one of the aspects of this inner process that keeps us from noticing the costs in our relationship with ourselves. I'm working with two people who I'm going to be marrying in a couple of weeks. And in working on their marriage vows, they both separately included the vow to tell the truth. And I suggested to them that they might consider


that that was not so easy to do. But what about the promise to not lie? Which is, I think, actually more possible. What's the truth anyway? What I think is true this morning may not look so true this afternoon or tomorrow when I have more information or more night's sleep or look at things from more than the point of view I was looking at just now. But there's a way in which lying is one of those areas of human activity pointed out in the precepts that is a kind of mistake. That is something that we do


that we try to cover or hide. Hope won't be found out. But aren't those the kinds of behavior that bubble up when we sit down on our meditation seat? I think so. Thank you. Quite some time ago in a retreat I was teaching I made reference to what people drag around behind them as dragging around one's gunny sack full of old stuff. And then when I asked, does anybody know what a gunny sack is?


The most we could figure out was it's a sack made of gunny which it turns out is a sack made out of hemp. And some of us have been dragging around very big gunny sacks filled with regrets, mistakes, lies. It's a lot of work to keep dragging one of those big sacks around behind us. And it rarely occurs to us that we could just drop it. And of course because whatever is in the gunny sack tends to be quite familiar we may keep going back and looking in it. I'm struck by how often we human beings


return to or turn towards what's familiar even when we actually have some understanding about the unwholesome or harmful consequences of what's familiar. So the meditation path and in particular the whole pathway that's articulated by the precepts is an opportunity to look with a fresh eye to what is familiar and to begin to pay more and more attention to the consequences. So I'm inviting all of us to pick up as a possibility interest and curiosity in what I'm inclined to hide or cover or deny.


One of the great benefits of the Buddhist path is beginning to pay more and more attention to the intelligence that abides in the body. Paying attention to what we know, what we sense, what we experience from the neck down. So I'm not talking about thinking about a mistake or what I regret. I'm talking about noticing in a more body-based way. What's happening in my belly? Is there tightening in the chest or throat? Is there some sense of constricting in the body? All indications of what I call the indications of uh-oh.


So please take this chance to spend a little while noticing your own relationship with making mistakes. Your own relationship with what you regret. And I'm going to ask you to take a moment and if it seems possible, consider uncovering rather than covering those things. And of course in the process of doing that you'll get to see what you're afraid is at stake. What you're afraid you might lose. Our inclination to want to be successful, to have some position in the world, to be right. Someone I practice with said, my main theme is I'm right.


And I'm always right and everybody else is wrong. I said, how's it going? He said, horribly. Don't push but notice. And the best way to notice is to notice what you notice and then bring your attention back to some aspect of the physical body and then the breath. You'll be surprised that you can cultivate your ability to notice, to uncover. Because of course noticing is exactly the antithesis of covering. You may be surprised that possibility


is something that's available to a degree that you hadn't realized. And if nobody told you, it's important that you understand that the Buddhist meditation path is not in service of being somebody. It's in service of being willing to be anybody, nobody. Going nowhere, doing nothing. A kind of pointing out to the possibility of what happens when we're present which in my experience is only possible to do if I don't have a lot of hindering. A lot of stuff in the gunny sack.


A lot of covering up or covering over. Sitting here when I first took my seat and seeing especially these very young children's faces, it's hard to imagine that they know anything yet about making a mistake. Big, open eyes. Open faces and eyes and hearts. And we grow up and spend our adulthood trying to return to that condition. So that's what I have to say for the morning and I'm happy to see you all. I've lived in this watershed for 31 years


and am in the process of leaving this watershed. So I'm particularly happy to be able to be here this morning since I don't know when I will be able to be here another time. Thank you very much. May our intention equally