Freedom to Make Mistakes

Gandhi said, “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Step out. Fly. Even if you get burned, you can fall back to earth and start again. Zen Master Dogen laughingly called life “one continuous mistake.” Yes, there is the fear of looking bad, but later when you review your life, will you wish you had held back? Probably not.

Sometimes, we limit our own freedom because we think it will overwhelm us. Or we think we don’t deserve it. Or we fear that our ego will lead us astray, that we’ll get too big for our britches and try to fly without restraint. We worry that if we act and express our true freedom, we will burn up or take a gigantic fall, like in the myth of Icarus. We constrain ourselves from being “too free.”

Everyone stumbles. In the ordinary rhythm of life, we falter and then learn from our suffering. Sometimes we worry about our tendency to overreach, to dream up heady plans for ourselves, inflated visions of the future. Other times we feel inadequate or unworthy. Acknowledge these fears kindly. But don’t follow their advice.

Because modern life offers many possibilities, we may fear making a wrong choice. Listen to your heart, and consult your body and your head. Then, act, experiment, take a step, learn, discover, grow. Discover the ease of making mistakes, trusting, failing, letting yourself be carried by something larger than yourself. When Rossini was composing his great chorus in G minor, he accidentally dipped his pen in a medicine bottle instead of the inkpot. “It made a blot, and when I dried it with sand [blotting paper had not yet been invented], it took the form of a natural, which instantly gave me the idea of the effect which the change from G Minor to G Major would make, and to this blot all the beautiful effect of the chorus is due.”

In this way you learn what is called the freedom of imperfection. With this freedom comes joy, playfulness, forgiveness and compassion for yourself and others. You can enjoy even the mistakes; they are part of the game. All you can do is act with your best intentions, recognizing you cannot control the results. “Not knowing,” a famous Zen practice, conveys the truth of our human incarnation. Then, acting freely, you cede control of the outcome and willingly cast your unique spirit into the mystery.

Find Peace


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