Sunday, February 7, 2010

Caving In

I read something recently that struck a chord with me.

“Honesty involves taking responsibility. Judgment has to do with placing blame,” Judith Lasater, yoga teacher and author.

There is a subtle but big distinction here. Acknowledging our responsibility for a mistake puts us on a path of healing and positive action. Shouldering blame pulls us underground, unable to breathe or raise our head. Unfortunately, most of us are all too familiar with the emotional and physical injury suffered in the blame game.

I liken it to a few hours I spent underground once in far northwestern Oklahoma.

This corner of the state holds a special sacredness for me – the perfect mashup of light dancing off canyon walls and mesas, bodacious sky and mind-blowing openness. With the boundless horizon on the surface, it's hard to imagine the labyrinth of canyons and caves hiding below.

A few years ago, our family decided to try real-live spelunking and take on the wild caves at Alabaster Caverns State Park near the tiny town of Freedom. After officially checking in at the park office and being outfitted in the necessary gear picked up at Wal-Mart, I began to think our big adventure seemed a little domesticated.

Less than an hour later however, I found myself bringing up the end of a six-person-chain belly crawling through a mud-filled corridor where I couldn’t lift my head higher than my shoulders. We had come to a complete standstill and the words “lost” “and “who's got the map” drifted back from the front of the line. I knew I couldn’t back out, I couldn’t go forward and I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt stuck and trapped just a few feet under my beloved landscape.

That’s the same well-worn tunnel blame takes us down.

I’m not sure if it’s due to nature or nurture, but we humans crave justice. Why then are we so stingy in dishing out fairness to ourselves? A well-lived life will be no stranger to mistakes and regrets – there’s no getting around it.

In his book The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz writes: “True justice is paying only once for each mistake. True injustice is paying more than once for each mistake. How many times do we pay for one mistake? The answer is thousands of times for the same mistake. The human is the only animal on earth that pays a thousand times for the same mistake.”

Nothing, nothing, nothing good comes out of blame. Whether we heap it on ourselves, become the dumping ground for others, or take our turn pouring it on someone else, eventually it all leads us to the same dark place.

I’m not suggesting we shouldn't own our mistakes and take responsibility – but let it end there.

My friend, teacher and mentor Sara Alavi often leads her students in the affirmation, “I forgive myself for my contribution to my problem.” And forgive means really forgive – not make excuses, not come back and revisit it later, not invent ways to continue to punish ourselves through unhealthy choices, addictions or avoiding life.

So, here’s what I’m trying for awhile: Living above ground. Breathing in, accepting responsibility in a loving way; breathing out, without taking one step toward blame. I’ll let you know how it goes.

(Oh, by the way. We made it out of the cave – happy and muddy.  Of course I was the only one who hit 10 on the freak out scale. Everyone else was ready to go again. It remains one of our favorite family memories.)

The image in this post is from a photograph taken by Oklahoma photographer Mike Klemme.  It is the bluffs along the Cimarron River south of Freedom, OK.