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An Adventurer's Mistakes
by Stewart Blackburn

Most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one's mistakes. - Oscar Wilde

One of the consequences of looking at a space-time continuum is the perspective that there is a past that has "caused" the present, and what we do in the present "causes" the future. Thus, if what we experience is not to our liking, either we have done something wrong or some outside force has interfered with our plans and "caused" this undesired experience. In terms of the part of this experience that we are responsible for, we have made a mistake and the unpleasant experience is our punishment. This is also predicated on the notion that there is some place or state of being that we are trying to achieve. If we are attempting to have a loving and harmonious marriage and we succumb to the temptation to have sex with someone else, then we probably will frame the situation as a mistake afterwards. There is an idea here that if we want to get a specific result, we need to make as few mistakes as possible to get there.

There is another way of looking at things. If we view our lives from the perspective that this moment is all there is, then each moment is filled with hundreds of choices that take us to the next moment. We can't really see beyond this next moment, but we can choose on the basis of all our wisdom, desires, loves, and inspiration. Thus, each moment is a step along a marvelous adventure: an adventure with some vague headings but with unknowns at every turn.

In the choices of each moment, from the ways we take care of our bodily needs to how we choose to relate to the plants, animals, and humans around us, we are all trying to find ways to feel better. We could call this the "Pleasure Principle," just taking care of business (without any focus on why we doing it), or we are simply answering the call of the divine. However we choose to view it, we are making many, many little decisions based on which choices will bring us more pleasure in the end. As we have discussed before, pleasure acts like a currency here; it gives us a way of weighing different options with one measure. And in each of these little decisions we are making the best choices we can. We are always trying to do our best, given the full range of our feelings, our thoughts, and the stories we are carrying along with us.

From the perspective of looking back on some of those choices we can see that other choices might have worked out in ways that we would have preferred. But how were we to know how things would work out? Sometimes we can say, "Well, I should have seen the consequences more clearly." (Actual language would probably be more like, "God, that was dumb!!!")

Searching is half the fun: life is much more manageable when thought of as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party. - Jimmy Buffett

For some reason we seem to believe that we're supposed to know and understand everything. "It's all in the book," referring to whatever rulebook, written or not, we've been told to use.

I'm here to say, "No, it's not!" What's often in the rulebook is what someone else thinks is the best way to live, based on his or her own wisdom, experience, and the inner guidance given for their own lives.

In the moment that is each moment, we draw upon whatever we can to help us make the choices that take us to the next moment. We have no choice but to experiment, going down one path then another as in a labyrinth, until we either get to some place we like or we go back and try a different path. We can't see over the labyrinth hedge; we can only learn bit by bit what works and what doesn't work. Some choice that seems to go somewhere is intrinsically no better than a choice that doesn't. Both kinds of choices are essential to our learning.

Once we give up on the notion that we are supposed to be getting somewhere, we become empowered to focus on what is happening in this moment. As it happens this is exactly where things like joy, love, happiness, pleasure, harmony, and contentment live. How ironic it is that all of the efforts to complete the important tasks in life, focusing on their future completion, are about getting to this place of presence, when simply focusing on the present does it instantly.

So from the perspective of an adventurer, there are no mistakes, only choices that one doesn't want to make again. From the perspective of loving ourselves, understanding the results of our choices brings us wisdom, not some shaming of ourselves. I like to say that I never make mistakes. Not that I don't do things that don't work out nearly as well as I'd like or require some damage control. But each experience makes me a wiser person, a person more capable of choosing pleasure in the next moment.

It makes no sense to criticize ourselves for making choices that don't work out. As already pointed out, we made the best decision we knew how to make. But making ourselves feel bad for that choice compounds the difficulty. Have you ever measured, even in an informal way, how effective criticism is? Remember how you were criticized growing up. How effective was the criticism you received? And look at criticizing others to get them to behave as you would like them to. Effective? I doubt it. And do your self-criticisms help you to change in ways you'd like to? Probably not. Criticism simply doesn't work.

The concept of mistakes is one of comparing an action to an action that one accepts as superior. When we keep doing that our self-esteem plummets and our effectiveness has effectively left. I suggest that we leave mistakes behind and look on wrong turns as gifts of knowledge, to be valued as such.

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth: not going all the way, and not starting. - Buddha
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