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How Often Do You Have to Repeat the Same Mistake?

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"A learning experience is one of those things that says, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.'" -- Douglas Adams

Living in the foothills of southern California we have an abundance of rattlesnakes this time of year, several of which have previously visited my backyard. This motivated me to take my dog Mac to a rattlesnake avoidance class, where they use live rattlesnakes to give the dogs a "learning experience" they, hopefully, do not soon forget. With the snakes safely and humanely muzzled, the trainer placed an electric shock collar on Mac and then led him to the first snake. Mac, being the curious critter he is, moved as close as he possibly could to the rattler for an up close and personal experience of what "snake" is.

When he was within striking distance of the snake, the trainer delivered a mild "buzzzzzz" electrical impulse to Mac's collar (which I first experienced and found to be more startling than painful). Mac was immediately given a lesson that would be etched in his puppy mind, which was that "rattlesnake" equates to a certain degree of unpleasantness. It took two more "learning experiences" with different snakes and he was a believer; the third time the trainer tried to bring him near a snake Mac wanted nothing to do with it. He really got the essence of Douglas Adams' aforementioned quote: "You know that thing you just did? Don't do that." This only happened because the trainer kept Mac present and engaged with the experience until he learned the lesson.

How about you? Do you ever have challenges staying engaged with your "life-learning lessons"? Have you noticed that there is a direct correlation between how many times you tend to repeatedly make the same mistake and the degree of unpleasantness or pain you experience as a consequence of making that mistake? The more pain involved, the fewer times you tend to make the same mistake -- or, at least in theory, that is how it is supposed to work. The problem with this theory is that, while it may work well for dogs wearing shock collars, humans seem more difficult to train. The theory doesn't take into account the gravitational pull of denial and instant gratification to which humans are so susceptible. Too often we avoid, deny, or numb the pain rather than allowing it be our teacher when it is trying to get our attention. It seems many people will do just about anything to avoid dealing with not only the pain but the linear process of embodying the lesson. Embodying the lesson buried in the pain can only be accomplished by remaining mindfully connected to the moment at hand and staying with the experience rather than running from it. Like the dog, the more quickly we get the message and learn the lesson, the less unpleasantness and pain we will be subjected to.

Whether we know it or not, when we fail to lean into the moment and embrace the lesson that is being offered we are sending a signal to the universe that essentially says, "Hey... I want more of the same." The Law of Attraction will never fail us in drawing to us whatever reflects our predominate thoughts and deepest beliefs. As an example, many of us have gone from one disastrous relationship or unsatisfactory job to the next, and then the next, ad infinitum, never stopping long enough to explore the possibility that each failed experience has something to teach us. As Jon Kabat Zinn wrote, "Wherever you go, there you are." You can run but you can't hide from yourself. While the next person's name and hair color may change, the "issues" don't. While the next job may appear to have different coworkers, amazingly enough the same "problem" people show up in different bodies. We can't outrun our self-limiting behaviors and beliefs because they will follow us like our own shadow; however, we can transcend them by exposing them to the light of awareness. The practice is to pay attention to what is going on in the moment and learn what it has to teach you.

While Mac's motivation to change his behavior was stimulated by the unpleasant impulse of a shock collar, at the end of the day the learned response from the shock (in that moment) may save him from much worse pain and suffering in the future; that is called delayed gratification. What lesson is life trying to teach you today about repeatedly recreating the same unpleasant experiences? Odd as it seems, that is the purpose of pain -- to get your attention. Hey, if a dog can learn the meaning of "You know that thing you just did? Don't do that," there is hope for you and me. The lesson from my teacher Mac is that life doesn't have to be so "ruuuufff" -- we just need to be present and teachable in the moment... and what better time to start than right now?

Consider yourself buzzzzzzzzed.

For more by Dennis Merritt Jones, click here.

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