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Spirituality Essay:

Do Over    ( April 2010 )

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Back playing neighborhood pick-up baseball as a kid, we had an agreement that if there were ever a problem with anything - whether a ball landed foul or a tag happened in time for an out, someone would (sooner or later) call out, "Do over." And we'd go back and do that whole play over again, pretending, as it were, that the original play had never happened. Easy resolution . . . no arguments, no bad feelings, and on with the fun.

If only life could happen like that - if we could go back and re-do all those troublesome parts - our mistakes and failures and other things we wish hadn't happened - those things that didn't come out the way we'd have liked.

Of course we can't. Reality is fixed . . . we must live with the consequences.

But, spiritual seekers that we are, we strive to create transformation from our negative experiences. That spiritual work takes many forms. If we're lucky - or if we've done enough spiritual work over the years - we don't fall into knee-jerk judgments and `beating ourselves up' reactions we might have once had. We realize that, after all, we're only human - mistakes are both an inevitable and natural part of life. Unhealthy shame and guilt have evolved into a how-do-I-learn-from-this reaction that carries us more positively forward.

We acknowledge and fully own the mistakes of course, but, from a more developed place, we begin our moving on . . . understanding this is a choice opportunity to learn and grow. {Perhaps we've noticed that, for better or worse, so much of our past growth originated back as healing responses to the pain we suffered from other mistakes.}

If we look back over our lives, we're likely to see how fundamentally different we are from who we were twenty - or even five - years ago. All that growth! We can be grateful that much of it happens even without our effort: our biological hardwiring to learn and grow sets off all sorts of unconscious healing, growth responses (as in our dreams - where we reprocess, reassimilate and fix so much).

But clearly most of our personal growth comes from our conscious efforts and work. Typical might be: Oops, I messed up. Dang. Pain and embarrassment . . . and a what should I do so that never happens again reaction.

Sometimes it may seem like we just never learn. How many times have you found yourself making the same dumb mistake over and over again . . . and, of course, winding up with the same ugly outcome? Psychologists say the reason for that dysfunctional behavior that keeps repeating is complex. It's connected to serving `some other part of ourselves' that's more needy and gets rewarded with this seemingly dysfunctional behavior (another whole topic) . . . and which will tend to continue on without serious intervention.

But here's where `Do Overs' - a little mental re-writing of history - can be helpful. Rather than let a mistake or bad decision stick in your mind, gathering energy, and creating psychic contraction . . . instead `recreate' that event, as if it happened the way you wanted it to. Imagine, for example: you didn't do that stupid thing; you made the right decision; you responded to that problem the correct way. Overlay that better `what should have happened' on top of `what actually happened' . . . visualizing the flow of events and positive results that would have otherwise happened, had you actually done what you wish you'd done. You're proactively now constructing your `who you want to be' person. Spend some healthy time with this process: see it through in full detail, beginning, middle, end . . . the action, color, surroundings, people, sounds . . . and the feelings you have with the better results. Repeat again to lock it in. {This has brain chemistry science behind it!....for you're `rewiring' your brain; new neurotransmitter synapses are getting created that enable brand new thinking and response patterns.}

I think you'll find a lot of the negative energy that would otherwise creep in and thwart your healing and growth will melt away - freeing you to move on now to healthier attitudes and behaviors. And, best of all, because you've overridden that negative incident with this positive one, when a similar situation arises in the future, your mind, looking instinctively for `what to do,' will more likely click into this better, healthier response.

Like the turning lemons into lemonade axiom: turning those inevitable mistakes into transformative growth. And bringing who you want to be into reality.

This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
Read more Spirituality Essays
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