Admitting Mistakes

When I heard the news that one of our beloved teachers, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, had passed on before his 90th birthday, I lit a candle and reflected on the many gifts that he had given Barry and me. Pir Vilayat was the son of Hazrat Inayat Khan, who brought Sufism to the West from India. Barry and I spent a summer with Pir Vilayat in 1974 in the French Alps. He not only helped us find our direction but he also gave us valuable life lessons. The following story is about one such lesson that has helped our relationship over and over.

Barry and I were both 28 years old and badly in need of direction and guidance when we arrived at the French camp. Barry had just dropped out of his psychiatry residency because he knew he didn’t want to practice psychiatry in the way he was being taught. We knew that we must have some kind of a purpose, but we had no idea what. All four of our parents were upset with Barry for dropping out and even more upset with us for wandering and traveling with no apparent plan or direction. Our spirits were at an all time low.

We had never met Pir Vilayat, never studied his teachings and didn’t know much about his illustrious father. And yet we felt drawn to participate in this summer long camp. When Pir Vilayat arrived at the camp we were surprised to meet such a small, older, humble man, but one look into his piercing brown eyes and we knew that here was a man of great power and purpose. Two days later, he approached us and asked us to lead classes on relationship. As we looked shocked by his request because we had never led a class or workshop in our lives, he merely smiled and said, “The camp could use a class like that and besides it will be good for you. We’ll talk before and after each class. I know it will go well.”

Thus began our career, which has lasted now for 30 years. Pir Vilayat met with us before and after each class, giving us pointers and help. We had French, German and English speaking people in the classes.

Toward the end of the summer, Pir Vilayat stood up and was thanking different people for their contribution to the camp. Then he said, “I would like to thank Barry for the wonderful relationship classes.” Everyone clapped. I was devastated! He was giving Barry all the credit for something that we both had worked on. Afterwards back at our tent I was crying and angry at Barry. Why hadn’t he corrected Pir Vilayat? Why did he take all the credit? Barry admitted to making a mistake, but he honestly didn’t know what to do at the time because it was such an awkward moment. The truth is we were both in awe of this man. Barry convinced me that I must confront him the next day and share my feelings. You can only imagine how scared and reluctant I was.

Pir Vilayat stayed up the mountain in a cave. Every morning at the same time he would come marching down the mountain with his white robes flying in the breeze. I stood behind a rock, scared and waiting to share my feelings. As he passed me, I stepped out and meekly told him that it had hurt my feelings that he had only included Barry in his gratitude to the camp. What he did next has impressed me to this day. He flung his arms open wide and gave me a big hug saying, “Please forgive me.” Then he looked at me and said, “I was wrong! It is a bad habit from my Indian upbringing to not give credit to the woman as well. Come with me right now.”

I hurried to keep up with him as he continued his march to the camp. Once there, he gathered all the campers together and said, “I was wrong last night! Joyce worked equally hard on the classes and I am very grateful to her.” In that moment this great man’s power was not diminished by his mistake, but he had become more powerful by admitting it and being willing to take full responsibility. For the two weeks remaining in the camp he asked me to help him stay focused on honoring women. He often looked over at me, asking with a wink of his eye for confirmation that he was still on track. I smiled in return, for my love for him had grown tremendously because of his vulnerability and humility.

I once heard a speaker on marriage ask his audience, ”What are the three most important words you can say to your loved one?” Most people said, “I love you.” The speaker simply shook his head and said, “The three most important words in a relationship are ‘I was wrong.’” Adding these three words to your relationships can make all the difference.

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