Why the Buddha Loves Mistakes


As I was making my wooden Christmas postcards the week before last, I was thinking about the handiness of making mistakes.

I had several pieces going at once because I rarely work on one thing at a time (in order to stop myself from obsessively poking at something until I ruin it). But ruin things I still do, because, of course, that’s an inevitable part of the process.

And we all know we’re supposed to welcome or embrace our mistakes, but not because they’re character building or because making mistakes is some efficient elimination process on our way to perfection or something.

What’s great about making mistakes is that they’re liberating, and they’re a wonderful avenue into your process that let you dig deeper.

When Things Go Well

On this particular project, I was getting success early, and was kind of excited by some of my results. I was doing that pleased, staring staring thing at my beloved beginnings that were working out a little better than I’d initially hoped.

Soon however, one of my faves made a wrong turn and I’d decided it was “ruined”–not one I could send out. Bummed, I set it aside.

But then, image transfer papers in hand, I decided to keep experimenting on that piece as I continued to work on my other still “good” cards. As I worked, I just kept layering different images and transfers onto the “ruined” one to see what would happen.

Staring, arranging, trying something new, adding, taking away, etc. all the while plugging away on my other “not ruined” ones.

In the end, it turned out quite well on its own, looked different from all the others, and I sent it to one of my closest arty friends who I thought would appreciate it.

Lowered Stakes

Once I stopped caring about the card I had “ruined,” I was free to do what I wanted to with it. No longer precious, it could evolve and grow without any expectations getting in the way.

As a result, I learned a lot more from the piece I had let go of emotionally than I had with the ones I was more heavily invested in.  I also had more fun.

Some of the cards that I thought looked good right at the beginning became a little hard to work on, as I felt more afraid that I would “ruin” them. My ego was too invested in the status quo of their initial success, and it made it hard to keep moving and finish those.

Instead of just continuing to interact intuitively with them, I was trying to make sure they stayed “good”–which involved a lot of stalling and wondering what would happen if I did “x” to them, rather than just doing “x” and finding out.

Freed from the Ego

We think it’s love when we get attached to our pieces like this, but really, it’s our egos, afraid to make something bad. Or, equally vexing, our egos start acting so relieved to have made something that’s looking “good” that we become afraid to ruin it, like its very success is an accident or something.

The ego is such a slippery devil, and it can hard, hard, hard to avoid that emotional investment feeling that can inhibit us from taking risks with works that start off strong.

Thank God for mistakes because they free us from our egos and provide us with opportunities for our art-making and skills to really evolve.

And of course the mistakes that give us the chance to experiment get us back to process rather than finished product, which is, of course, the whole point and the path to creative happiness, but it’s definitely easier to say than do.

Because really, when we’re released from the hemming and hawing of trying not to ruin a good thing, we can play with our ugly duckling “mistakes” and sometimes even transform them into beautiful swans (or maybe sometimes just an interesting swans, or ahem, a special swans) but the freedom of that exploration will both improve our work in general AND get the ego more accustomed to taking a back seat.

And if not a back seat, it’ll at least learn to share the front (I’m picturing a giant v-8 from the 70′s with one of those endless couch-type front seats.)

The Avenue In

So next time you begin to curse one of your mistakes or a project gone awry, take another look at any precious “good” projects you may have lying around and reconsider them instead–maybe they’re the ones holding you back.

Are you playing it safe or afraid to take risks in order to keep them “good”?

Your mistakes may be the best thing that could happen to your “good” stuff–since they’re already “ruined” who cares what you try on them?

And because it’s so hard to let go of our attachments to our “good” stuff, our mistakes show up to help us out of that quandary by lowering the stakes and making it safe to experiment and take risks.

Your good stuff will (eventually) thank you and the benefits of digging into the process start to balance out the need for a “good” finished product, which is, frankly, a huge relief.

Who knew our mistakes were such selfless troopers!

What do you think? What do you do with your mistakes? How do you keep things from getting too precious? Are you thinking you’ve been playing it safe too long? All thoughts welcome, I’d love to hear!

Bookmark and Share

Leave a Reply