We make a lot of mistakes. If you ask people whom you consider to be wise and courageous about their lives, you may find that they have hurt a lot of people and made a lot of mistakes, but that they used those occasions as opportunities to humble themselves and open their hearts. We don’t get wise by staying in a room with all the doors and windows closed. —Pema Chödrön
Recently, I double booked myself to, of all things, facilitate a forgiveness workshop and to read a poem at a grassroots arts event. While finishing up a meeting in preparation for the workshop and only days before both events, I realized my mistake. My name had been printed on a poster for the arts event and people were relying on me to facilitate the workshop.
As I drove home from the meeting, I felt the lingering sting of embarrassment and self reproach. Accelerating up a narrow hill, I reminded myself to breathe, to practice what I was going to share, forgiveness and self-compassion. I had to laugh at the irony of the lesson—I was coming face-to-face with my own imperfections as I prepared for a forgiveness workshop!
To me, forgiveness is a powerful antidote to our natural human condition—imperfection.
I know perfection is an ideal. In absolute terms, it doesn’t exist, yet the thought of it haunts and taunts me.
In the moments when I realized my mistake—as I felt my pulse quicken and my fight or flight reflex kick in—I noticed my colleague’s demeanor shift. She began trying to help me out of the predicament. “I’d be happy to call those who signed up for the workshop,” she said, “and see if they could come earlier.” In her face I saw caring and a tacit understanding of my imperfect state. Just when I felt most vulnerable and embarrassed she reached out to help me.
It got me thinking.
By expecting ourselves to attain or approximate perfection, are we overlooking the profound gift that our imperfection offers us?
If perfection is the destination, our life will be a series of constant misses, of departures without arrivals. If, instead, we accept and embrace our flawed nature, what doors might open for us?
For many of us, when we realize we’ve made a mistake, we feel many things, but underlying embarrassment, anger, or regret is that soft underbelly—vulnerability. It’s in that vulnerability that we open to and connect with others. My colleague saw it in me and responded with care. Ultimately she couldn’t fix the problem, but when she tried, she communicated her understanding and compassion. Is that not a sacred moment? A moment when we are unmasked, exposed? A moment when we have the opportunity to connect more deeply?
Imagine accepting our imperfections as the naturally occurring wonder they are, embracing those moments when we fumble, trip, make mistakes, as opportunities to deepen our humility and our connection with others. Imagine if our imperfections helped open sacred space for us to transcend our egos rather than feel a need to fortify them. Imagine if our flaws helped to steer us toward our essential nature, our mutuality—a divine communion of sorts.
Roselle Kovitz, a member of Fetzer’s social media team, is a writer and communication consultant who lives in Seattle.