1) We think of ourselves as individuals. The reality is that (to paraphrase a 15 year old student of mine) we don’t form relationships, but relationships form us. This constitutes a fundamental mis-calibration of our identities.
2) We have a habitual inability to feel the transience of all things, and a persistent blindness to our own mortality and that of every other living thing.
We all have moments of transcendence, when we are transported beyond our small identities and momentarily find ourselves indistinguishable from the larger systems of which we are a part. Whether through physical or athletic effort, immersion in nature, confrontation with great art, meditation, or happy accident, many of us can recall moments when, as if suddenly looking through a window we’d previously only looked at, our personalities disappeared, along with their attendant anxieties, tensions, and friction. In the absence of this small self, we are able to see, or sense, the primacy of our nature as a part of something larger than ourselves. This is my favorite definition of spirituality – one that is profoundly inclusive, not reliant upon or exclusive to any particular notion of deity or even the existence of a deity at all. It is simultaneously humbling (our smallness is beyond the scope of language to describe) and empowering (the nature of the systems we jointly comprise is vast).
We also experience moments of awareness of the preciousness of the moment and everything/one that it contains. Traumatic experiences, the loss of a loved one, and of course happy accidents all conspire to remind us of the fleeting nature of everything we know and rely upon. This can be profoundly unsettling, and it can also be ultimately liberating. I would imagine that a 10-foot wave can have similarly disparate effects upon those who revel in dancing precariously on the surface of that glassy explosion and those who simply seek safe harbor.
These mistakes correspond pretty well to the concepts of no-self and emptiness (mistake #1) and impermanence (mistake #2) as presented in the Buddhist teachings. I feel certain they have been explored in more detail and with language more subtle in other places. If you’re interested, I’d commend you to one of the sources below for further reading. For the purposes of this particular paragraph, I’ll close by echoing an assertion made by folks far wiser than I – that really grasping the nature of these mistakes and seeing through them fully is in fact the definition of true freedom.