Updated: Jul 20, 2019
How to learn, grow, and become real in the process.
Pride filled my heart when my daughter Freya bought her first car. She loved the little green Nissan. I sat comfortably in the passenger seat as she drove me around Ringwood- stalling at times, slowly and too close to the curb. Together we prepared for her driving test. She drove the little green Nissan to Rockford Common, in The New Forest. Ponies plodded beside the stream, where two boys dangled from a tyre swing. We munched happily on our sandwiches. All was well with the world.
On the way back I decided to practice reversing with Freya. In a country lane the car stalled, and Freya started to panic. She couldn't get it into reverse. When the car finally lurched backwards-with a mind of its own. It went for the wall- and Freya scraped her shiny new car. On inspecting the damage Freya looked dismally at her little green scratched Nissan. She sobbed: "I haven't done reversing yet. Why did you make me reverse?"
Later that night I got an angry text from my ex-wife: how could I drive so dangerously? Didn't I value our daughter's safety? I took a deep breathe. Sighed a big, weary sigh and remembered what my old meditation teacher had said.
Progress on the spiritual path is not about problems disappearing. Life is full of problems. But how fast can you recover when things go wrong?
A toddler learning to walk loses balance and falls. She picks herself up. She takes a few steps and falls. She gets up again. Her speed of recovery is amazing. She's not dismayed by her mistake. When she falls, she gets up. Mistakes and failures are inevitable and necessary. They are how we learn. "If you want to increase your success rate double your failure rate." Yet most of us feel under tremendous pressure to succeed. Or to look like we're succeeding. Failure is O.K in movies, books and in magazines. Other people's failures are interesting- even amusing. Our own failures cut deep.
As parents, we will fail many times. We will : lose our tempers, say the wrong things, forget the right things. Foolishly we will cling to our ideas about how things should be. What our children should be like, who they should be friends with, what they should be: wearing, achieving, doing. Yes we will fall, and fail. Just like toddlers, learning to walk. But we will pick ourselves up. I shouldn't have practiced reversing with Freya. I could have waited. Her car would still be shiny and new. But nothing stays shiny and new. Not cars, nor people.
Once you've been around for a bit. Made mistakes, got things wrong- you'll be battered and rough around the edges. But by this time, because of all the mistakes. You'll be real. By the time your children are adults you won't be able to count the mistakes you've made. But this is the wonderful process of life. We make mistakes, we get up again, and because of this our hearts grow. We have entered deeply into life. We haven't just skated on the surface- where appearances are all-important, and we need things to be shiny and new. We and our relationships have become real. The Velveteen Rabbit puts it very well.
“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.” ― Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit