The Mindful Error

To quote Alexander Pope, “to err is human, but to forgive is divine”

To “forgive” in the above context, whichever godhead is offering forgiveness there needs to be an acceptance of the error and it has to be released from judgement – without this there can be no forgiveness. In a slightly more terrestrial context, in human emotional terms we would simply never be able to let-go.

These preconditions for divine forgiveness lie, not only at the heart of our mindful practice, but at the heart of human learning. Should we hold ourselves, our understanding or the conditions of our existence in a state of perfection, there is no room for learning.

We create what Matthew Syed calls a “closed loop”. An existence without feedback – or perhaps denial of feedback – where nothing has the capacity to change, as within its perfection there is no requirement to change. To illuminate this point he very effectively compares the Aviation and Medical industries, in the case of the former everything is feedback, from cockpit voice recorder to crash investigation, the result: one of the statistically safest industries and modes of travel that man has yet invented.

Without the feedback of information there is no means by which we can recalibrate or correct.

In a mindful practice we release ourselves from the tyranny of our judgement, released from such tyranny we accept the event/outcome scenarios as what they are, information. In so doing we lift ourselves beyond our ego and emotional loops. Thus unencumbered but the chains of opinion we are open to learn or to change.

As an example, I wanted to teach Ernie (the horse to which I am the human) to do lateral work on the ground (in hand, not from the saddle). I started in a closed loop model and very quickly concluded that he could only work one way – like he was excessively right-handed. One way he was perfect, the other he could not do it. And so there sat my theory. Then one day in a moment of rare self-awareness, I watched myself. I realised that my instructions in one direction were completely different to the other. So I stopped, worked out a clear set of mirrored instructions and immediately I had a horse before me that could work left and right sided.

How do we accept failure because we chose or fail to understand the information at hand?

Without acknowledging that information as we have seen there can be no learning or change.

But here is the rub, we are predisposed to deny our own fallibility. In part because of social politics, for example how often in the workplace do we admit our errors or shortcomings, the necessity of income and career means that we intuitively have to defend who we are. Admitting any shortcoming is generally often perceived as career limiting. Let’s face it this not just a workplace behaviour.

And so back to our practice. In our meditations we accept. In accepting we create awareness and that awareness offers us the option of action. We do not have to change, we suddenly are invited to consider change.

Mindful awareness shines a bright light on the what how where and why of our behaviour – but it does so without labelling, freed from the labels we are empowered to interact with that information in an objective way.

And so to paraphrase Pope: To err is human, but to learn from it is mindful.

The mindful error is no error at all. The mindful error is just information. The learning is human. Maybe even divine.


© the mindful horse