Have you ever been in that situation where you’ve made a mistake and you can’t stop thinking about it?
You replay it in your mind and there is a hot or cold sweaty feeling between your shoulder blades and your stomach churns. You wonder what you could possibly do to put it right. You think about what happened and wonder what possessed you to say or do “that”. You perhaps feel too embarrassed to talk about it and it goes round and round in your mind for days.
Humans are wired for connection with each other. It’s in our DNA. Without the protection of our tribe we could not have survived history. So when we do something that risks us being rejected by our tribe - by making a mistake - it is a source of great fear.
On the night of Halloween, it was believed that the wall between our physical world and the spirit world became thin and porous. Children would knock on doors and in exchange for a soul cake would say a prayer for the dead. The soul cake was sweet with a cross on top and when eaten would release a soul from purgatory.
How apt the word purgatory is for when we feel the pain of our mistakes. It is that place where we suffer for our wrongdoing. It can be a place of isolation, of grief, of anxiety, of shame.
It can also be a place where we believe we deserve to be.
Yet it is our fear that keeps us there. We feel deeply threatened by our error – but that is what makes us human. Making mistakes is what we share with our fellow man.
Although the pain of a mistake can feel like death to us because of our fear of separation, sharing that mistake with a trusted other who can accept us makes all the difference. The power of someone who says “me too” brings us relief and life.
And just as a physical act of eating a cake released a soul from suffering, being aware of our physical body can help us when we’re in that state of high anxiety about ourselves.
When we are feeling frightened, angry or sad we are often very absorbed by our thoughts and disconnected from our body. Our focus is very narrow. Slowing down and noticing what is going on with our bodies broadens our focus and helps us to feel more grounded in time and place. We are not in that moment of dreadful mistake. It has passed.
So when you’ve made a mistake, take time. Sit quietly and breathe slowly. Notice what is going on in your body. As your mind races, notice the thought, and bring the mind back to noticing your breathing. Your breath is the focus of your attention and what brings you back to “now”. As you breathe slowly you will activate the parasympathetic nervous system and this will help you to relax. As you relax you may find yourself more able to activate your problem solving, rational thinking.
I talked about releasing ourselves from our mistakes in my live feed this week. For regular updates please subscribe to the email list on my website.