A note from Erin:
Our 7-year old son has been studying aikido for the past few months, and he just began taking guitar lessons from an amazing man who is also one of his aikido teachers. I love love love being a fly on the wall during these classes. I’m used to being a teacher, also used to being a student, but witnessing the magic of a skillful teacher in action from the sidelines is simply gorgeous.
A few months ago when our boy began aikido, he’d gotten his white martial-arts outfit, including his white belt. There’s a very specific way to tie an aikido belt, and while the teachers had been helping him with it for the first few weeks, he started to get anxious about it as I drove him to class one evening. “Mom, do you know how to tie my belt?!?!” he asked from the backseat. “Nope,” I answered. He started to get whiny and stressed and mad that I didn’t know how. I suggested we just ask one of the teachers when we arrived. As he came out of the changing room in his little white outfit, I approached one of the teachers. “Peter, Mesa is really nervous about not knowing how to tie his belt and is nervous about having to ask you. Can you help us out?” Peter smiled and kneeled down in front of our boy and began to tie his belt. While he did, he said with a twinkle, “Now I want you to know that you can ask me again for help in tying your belt. But only 100 more times.“
Such relief flooded the boy! Such generosity on the part of the teacher! I may or may not have been teary while watching. : ) I also shared the story with my Women Embodied class that night.
Two weeks ago, Mesa had his first guitar lesson with the same teacher, Peter, in a totally different context. He learned the basics of holding his guitar, and how to number the strings, name his fingers and count the frets, and he began to learn to play the first few notes of Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star.
He did great, and of course, being his first time doing it, he made a mistake and said, “urgh!” Peter paused and said, “You know, many places have rules. At the aikido studio, you bow in and bow out of the dojo. At the pool, you have to walk and not run, and there are places that have lots of rules like that. I have just ONE rule in my guitar lessons. You want to hear what that is?” Mesa nodded. “When you make a mistake, you can’t get mad at yourself. You can’t say anything, you can’t make a noise, in fact you should practice doing something with your face, like wink or smile. Because if you want to get good at something, you will need to make at least a million mistakes. And if you get mad at yourself every time you make a mistake, you’ll be mad at yourself so much of the time! And that’s no good. So that’s my one rule, ok?” And Mesa winked. And again, I just might have been teary in my perch on the side of the room.
These things are so important to me in my own teaching. But witnessing the profound generosity of a teacher saying “It’s ok to make mistakes!” and “You don’t have to know this right away, it’s ok if it takes you 100 times!” from the sidelines?
It was beautiful.
A friend and student who heard me share the “You can ask me 100 times” story said it’s influenced how she’s training her staff at the hospital. The people are so relieved that they don’t have to be perfect immediately! (Which is, of course, impossible.) And yes, of course, there are times we need to be precise and not make mistakes, especially in a hospital setting. But you know what? People actually learn SO much better when they’re not so anxious about messing up. Isn’t that true for you? Giving ourselves and others space and time to be beginners, to be imperfect, and to not know is one of the greatest gifts we can offer.
I’m reminded of this favorite quote from Zen teacher Scott Morrison which I love to ask myself on a regular basis:
Do I wish to live this moment with as much attention, care and affection as possible, or am I going to do something else?
What a miracle to know it’s always our choice.
What a miracle to meet the choice we make without judgment.
What a miracle to meet our moments with attention, care and affection!
What a miracle to embrace and care for not only the others in our world, but also the parts of us that struggle, the parts that are nervous, the parts that want so badly to “do it right.”
What a miracle to be the adult who can do this for self and then authentically offer it to others.
Space to be human.
What a gift.
As Zen master Dogen said, “Enlightenment is one mistake after another,” and “My life has been one continuous mistake.”
Wishing you a beautiful day with lots and lots of mistakes. And lots and lots of kindness.
Sending you the scent of pink roses from my breezy porch,