(This week is the 42ndinstallment of the book, “The Band Director’s Lessons About Life”, which TCRN is publishing as a series during 2020. This week, band director and spiritual author Donald Lee relates a parable about learning from our mistakes. For a complete listing of previous episodes in this series, click here.)
Mistakes… are the portals of discovery.JAMES JOYCE(Irish novelist and poet)
“What did you think of our performance last night? What went well? What went poorly?”
The classroom erupted in a cacophony of chaos as everyone spoke at once. Each student had a story to tell. This missed note, that broken a reed, getting lost, losing music—you name it.
“Whoa, whoa. How about we try it one at a time so we can all learn from each other? Maria, what were you saying?”
“My solo was going great until I let out that huge squeak.” Maria giggled. “Then Claudette started laughing and I just couldn’t be serious.”
Everyone laughed. Cacophony again.
“Whoa. Control yourselves, guys. I know it’s funny, but let’s try to have some order. So, in a group performance, each one of us can have a big effect on the whole ensemble—for good or for ill. We need to help each other stay focused on the performance, not distract each other. We can’t fix a mistake once it’s happened. We have to carry on and learn to do better the next time. Remember, we’re in this together.”
I tried to draw a lesson out of the experience so we could learn from the performance—not just laugh off our mistakes.
“James, it sounded like you had something interesting to share. What was it?”
“Just as we were sitting down to play, I knocked my clarinet into Alvira and broke my reed. It sounded terrible, and I could hardly make any sound at all.”
James’s voice had a mixture of regret and pride. Sometimes we are as proud of our screwups as we are of our successes.
“What conclusion would you draw from this experience, James?” I prodded.
“I guess I should have put my mouthpiece cap on like you said to,” James replied sheepishly.
“Good idea, James,” I affirmed.
“Patrick, how did that tricky eighth-note passage work out in Cantique de Noel?”
“I messed it up again,” Patrick complained.
“What do you think you could have done to make that work better?”
“I don’t know. I practiced it lots of times but just couldn’t get it right.” That was true. He never did play it correctly, in spite of the advice I’d given him.
“Can anyone offer some help to Patrick about learning tricky technical passages?” I was hoping someone would remember. Waiting. Waiting. No one could think of it.
“Does anyone remember me saying, ‘We perform the way we practice’?”
yeah,” a few voices murmured.“To master difficult technical passages,” I said, “slow down, take little bits at a time—even just a few notes, those two or three notes where it goes over the break—then gradually put longer parts together and increase the speed. If you go too quickly and make mistakes, you are programming your mind to play it wrong. Perfect practice makes perfect. So ‘Slowly, slowly’ needs to be your mantra.”
I don’t know how much of the concert debrief sticks to their often slippery teenage minds, but it’s a good habit to develop.
This last phase of life’s performance cycle—reflection and redirection—brings one iteration of the cycle to a close and sets up the beginning of the next. That’s what the concert debrief is for a band—a chance to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of performance and figure out how to improve for the next performance. In our spiritual growth, it’s more of a constant process. Every moment is a performance—an opportunity to experience life and to express our true selves. And every moment presents an opportunity to reflect. In a sense, all stages of life’s performance cycle happen instantaneously and constantly in the ever-present “now.”
As James Joyce said, our mistakes are really portals of discovery. Each experience is not only an opportunity to express who we strive to be but also a portal through which we see who we really are right now. Sometimes the difference between our ideal and our reality creates some cognitive dissonance for us.
This is where we reflect and redirect. Why did we “slip” away from our ideal performance of our highest and best self? Did fear enter into our consciousness to displace love? I cannot offer specific advice on the infinite possible “mistakes” we make, but here are some thoughts on the metaphors in this parable.
Our “mistakes” are ours. We must own them. Like Maria, perhaps our friends or family pull us into old behavior patterns. Think of these people as the stone that sharpens the knife. It’s easy to be our best self around people who are loving and supportive. But critical and aggressive people help us learn to be strong in our love, patience, etc.
Maybe like James, we fell short because we didn’t do what we already know to do. We have to actually do what the Master has taught us.
Like Patrick, we need to practice being our highest and best self in easy, controlled situations before we throw ourselves into a tough performance. It’s okay, though. We’ll get another chance.
There are no “throw-away” performances in life. Every moment is a fresh and beautiful opportunity to experience life—good and bad—and learn from it. Only by learning from our experiences can we avoid getting stuck on a spiritual merry-go-round, repeating destructive patterns in our lives and going nowhere on our spiritual path.
Reflecting on our experiences allows us to learn, grow, change, and move forward on our spiritual journey.
Donald Lee is a spiritual author and speaker. This article is part of a weekly series for 2020 in which TCRN is publishing his inspirational book, The Band Director’s Lessons About Life: Volume 1 – 50 Parables on Life’s Performance Cycle, in serial form – one parable per week. You can learn more about the author at his website: www.ComingHomeSpirit.com, or order a copy of his complete book on Amazon, or get his free mini eBook and sign up for his weekly blog. Follow Donald on Facebook.