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Lions Roar : March 2019
A few days after that incident with my son, I was driving him to school. He was unprepared, as usual. But this time I sim- ply asked him, “Are you really suffering?” He said, “Yes.” “Then why don’t you quit school? We’ll figure out something else, okay?” We were both stunned. I hadn’t planned on saying that. We had never discussed the possibility before, even though my son had suffered difficulties and indignities in school since kindergarten. Now, suddenly, our world opened up to change. To make a long story short, over the course of the next few years we cobbled together an unconventional learning expe- rience for him. He ended up graduating from the University of Washington with honors and went on to establish himself in a rich and stimulating career and life. While this may seem to be an over-tidy account of failure and redemption, it pro- vides an example of ordinary human life. Many of us were raised by imperfect par- ents and schooled as apprentice human MISTAKES ARE EASY. As soon as we’re born, they begin. And without fail, they mark our inevitable rite of passage in the long, drawn out business of growing up. Hot stoves hurt. Hitting your brother is not nice. What we make up in our own minds is mistaken, over and over again, for reality. It reminds me of some of the challenges of being a parent—a job that provides endless opportunities for error. In particu- lar, I remember an incident when my son was a sophomore in high school, close to flunking yet another class. We both knew he was smart enough to do well, if he could just remember to do his homework and turn it in. One day I had reached such a point of frustration that I turned to him and said, “Look, do you want to continue on like this and end up working as a truck driver for the rest of your life, or do you want to get with the program and make something out of yourself?” This was not my shining moment as a parent. There I was, with already twenty years of meditation practice under my belt, and I was throwing a completely dualistic fabrication of a story at him that was more a reflection of my lack of composure than anything else. For one thing, what’s wrong with driving a truck? And surely, there would be a great many opportunities beyond that, regardless of his scholastic achievements or lack thereof. The saving grace was that I saw what I was doing right away. This is what medi- tation offers us. The fruit of our practice is not miraculously never making mis- takes again. It is, rather, seeing clearly what’s actually going on, so that we can then find our fitting course of action. THIS DHARMA LIFE How to Make a Spectacular Mistake You’re going to make one anyway, says ANITA FENG. So why not go big? You might end up with something more beautiful than perfection. beings in a sometimes dysfunctional world. Whether the upbringing was over- bearing or lax, painful or coddled, at a certain point we were let loose. Mayhem ensued. Which way to go? Here and there, gross and minor errors appeared. Mistakes are inevitable and in order to live a meaningful life, we have to, first of all, resist buying into a narrative of failure. Instead, we pick up the pieces and trans- mute them into a fitting, beautiful change. In other words, it’s all about the repair. In Japan, in a practice dating back to the fifteenth century, highly skilled crafts- people developed the craft of pottery repair into a fine art, called kintsugi. The process basically consists of repairing bro- ken pottery with lacquer that’s dusted and burnished with powdered gold. Rather than trying to hide the flaws, the pieces of bowls or pots or plates are lovingly reas- sembled and the lines where they were broken become highlighted with gold, marking them as precious objects honored and even prized for their imperfections. PHOTOBEARD/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM ANITA FENG is the guiding teacher for the Blue Heron Zen Community in Seattle. She’s also the author of Sid and a sculptor of clay buddhas. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2019 21 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE