They say we learn from our mistakes. This happens occasionally, but more often I observe myself procrastinating or making snap judgements about people again and again.
I think twelve-step programs call this powerlessness. The likelihood of willing ourselves to change is low. I recently read an interview with an efficiency expert who basically said that willpower is not really a thing.
As I understand them, the next few of the twelve steps prescribe looking clearly at what one is doing. This process has multiple levels. It means admitting to ourselves that we are the cause of the outcomes we’re experiencing, but it also means seeing past or through our mistakes, seeing them for what they are.
Our failures don’t define us. Only love has the power to name who we are, as Jim Finley says. If we aren’t seeing our limitations clearly—and clarity comes not with the harsh light of judgement but with the gentle illumination of mercy—we might mistake them for our true nature.
We are limited beings, but none of us is a whole unto ourselves, nor are we intended to be. The astonishing variety in this world reflects the infinite nature of God’s one Love in which we belong as an integral part. Concentrating on our faults leads us to create separation rather than living the wholeness that is.
It’s hard in this culture in the midst of failure to see oneself as part of a blessed whole. We can no more will ourselves to see this reality than to make any other change, but we can live as if it is true, we can have faith. We can embrace ourselves with the love and respect due a manifestation of God and one day, as Richard Rohr says, we’ll live ourselves into a new way of thinking.
Last week at work we had a Big Event that I had been helping prepare for, a rather all-consuming task. The hour came, the people spoke, the balloons fell—lots of clapping—and then it was over. That’s what events do—they come and go. They end.
It occurred to me that our lives are something like that. We put a lot of energy into trying to make them go a certain way, and then they, too, end.
All I wanted for this event was for that one hour in front of the crowd to go well, and it did. But it wasn’t the whole story. Without a lot of people doing good work in the weeks before, that hour didn’t stand much of a chance.
Though it seemed as if everything was over when the theater crew was cleaning up the streamers, it’s not really. The philanthropic gift we celebrated will affect students for years to come. Attendees carry the memory of that day with them. Those of us working together forged relationships that may or may not grow but certainly affect who we are. A giant Erlenmeyer flask sits on my office chair waiting for a home.
Everything is part of a continuum. Our lives, though Big Events for us, result from billions of years of cosmic preparation and form the groundwork for the next billion years. We are both inconsequential and really important, like that hour on the stage last week.
Perhaps we need to redefine our lives as more than the time that passes between our birth and death. Our lives belong to the entirety of creation, that which exists now, existed before, and will exist after we are gone. We are formed of stardust and breathing the air Aristotle breathed. That connectedness defines us as much as our individuality and will continue after our particular form is gone.
If our lives are primarily part of a larger coming into being, we also need to redefine our selves. Cynthia Bourgeault says “Love your neighbor as yourself” does not mean “as much as yourself” but rather that “your neighbor is you….There are simply two cells of the one great Life.” How differently we might live if we thought of ourselves as one cell instead of the whole organism, one moment instead of the whole event.