Last week, I made a very public mistake.
I sent what was supposed to be a helpful email to many, many people at work (upwards of 400 people) – and the email included an error. The email said we were meeting in one location, when in fact we were actually scheduled to meet in an entirely different location. (As in, not only a different room, but a different building altogether.) And when the meeting day and time arrived, I went to the correct location – but not many people were there.
I’m a pretty “Type A” kind of personality, and am generally on my game at work. I’m detailed, organized, fast, and sharp, so as a general rule I don’t often make many mistakes. On the occasions when I do make mistakes, I can usually catch-and-correct them before they spread too broadly, before too many other people find out (if even at all).
But not this time.
This time, I had over 400 witnesses to my error. And while only one person even said anything to me about it, I honestly don’t know how many people were affected by it, and are either 1) too polite, or 2) too irritated/angry to approach me about it. But I know many, many people were potentially impacted by the mistake; and by the time I became aware of my error, it was too late to fix it. No “catch-and-correct” this time. Uh oh.
What to do?
When I found out about the mistake, my head immediately dropped, and my mind said, “Oh no. Oh no. Oh NO! Oh, this is bad. Quite bad. Very bad. Yikes. Bad. BAD.”
But not even a full two seconds later, my chin lifted, and my heart said, “Well, hon, this is unfortunate, isn’t it? But, you know what? You made a simple mistake. And yeah, it probably would have been better if the mistake hadn’t been made; but it has been made, and you can’t change that at this point. So, just do what you can: apologize. Then let it go. You did your best. Your intentions were good. Your heart was in the right place. These are the things that really matter. Yes, recognize that a mistake was made; and course-correct as much as you can; and then let it go.”
These two fraction-of-a-second mental exchanges may not sound like a lot, but they represent the entire spectrum of my meditation practice. My habitual mind is one of self-irritation at best, self-flagellation at worst. My habitual mind is never quite satisfied, thinking I could always do more, do better. But. My meditative mind is one of mere self-acknowledgment at the smallest end of the continuum, and pure self-adoration at the largest end. My meditative mind accepts everything exactly as it is, including me; with all of my gifts, and all of my flaws.
As I continue on my path of meditation, I am finding more and more that I am faster to smile, quicker to laugh, and more difficult to upset. I’m finding I am more relaxed in more situations and settings, and more aware of the times when I am uncomfortable or stressed. I’m finding that when I do make mistakes, I can see them as errors, not fatalities.
Meditation isn’t a panacea, it isn’t a “cure all”, and clearly it isn’t making me perfect. What it is doing is helping me gain more perspective, and be more balanced. More understanding. More realistic.
Mistakes are going to happen. Life is going to happen. And instead of being driven crazy by it all, I’m learning about compassion.
And, I’m learning to avoid writing emails when I’m rushed. : )
My husband and I know a person who has a 20-year anniversary with our company coming up, and to celebrate, that person is taking a handful of people out to lunch. I began to think about my own number of years with the company, and thought that if I arrive at 20 years, it would be a cool idea to invite one influential/important person from each year to a common meal. I shared this idea with my husband, and he asked me the natural question, “Who would you invite?” I began to reflect on my progression with the company thus far, and fairly quickly identified one key person from each year that played a particularly meaningful role in my career (which often impacted not only my job, but also my broader/larger life). As I shared each name with my husband, I gave a 1-2 sentence summary as to why I selected that individual. The entire conversation was less than 5 minutes long, but at the end of it, I sat back, and couldn’t help but smile. In that moment, I realized I was feeling genuine joy. In the process of identifying people who have positively influenced me, I re-experienced some of the kindness, compassion, care, and helpfulness that those individuals had shown me many years before.
Often times I view meditation as a seated, silent, stationary, stoic process. And that style of meditation certainly has a positive, helpful role to play in my life. However, today I got to remember that meditative concepts can be applied to any (every) moment in any (every) situation. I don’t have to be sitting on my meditation cushion in order to engage in mindfulness; and I don’t have to be still with eyes closed in order to realize the benefits of meditation practice. Gratitude is a beautiful expression of a still, peaceful, meditative heart – and this is what I experienced today in my conversation with my husband.
If you are maybe interested in meditation, but aren’t sure about trying out the process in a “traditional” sense (i.e., seated, silent, still, etc.), consider engaging in a gratitude practice for a few minutes, and see what results for you. Sometimes I will actively engage in a gratitude practice by mentally create a “gratitude alphabet”: I think of a word for each letter of the alphabet that represents something I am truly grateful for right now, no matter how “trivial” each item may seem. (Example: A: aster [flowers from our new garden]; B: Big Bowl [where the conversation in the above paragraph took place; and where I enjoyed quick-yet-tasty food]; C: computers [man, they make life easier!]; D: Drano [no more standing water in our shower]; etc…)
There are many, many ways to meditate; today I got to remember that I don’t always have to do adhere to a structured, set routine; I can mix things up a bit, and sometimes be pleasantly surprised as to what I find along the way.