Let’s talk about failure. This is one area of life that we’d like to avoid altogether, and with good reason. From a basic survival perspective, if we continually fail then we might not survive. But sometimes our fear of failure actually keeps us from pushing outside of our comfort zone and into something new. How often do you go out on a limb? How often do you push out of that comfort area? Maybe you do it at work, proposing new ideas that might increase your value to the organization or, on the other hand, might be shot down and make you look foolish. Maybe you do it in your relationships, being vulnerable and honest and exposing your faults as well as your qualities, even though that internal fear of rejection nags at you, telling you to show a good face to others like you have your life together (even if you don’t). Many of us have that fear of failure or rejection that knots us up inside and keeps us from putting ourselves out there. The problem is that when we don’t push into that uncomfortable space of possibility we lose countless opportunities for growth.
Growth happens on the edge of your comfort zone, not in the middle of it. But failure often happens there as well, so we have to be ok with that failure if we want to change. If we always hold onto the fear of trying something new or putting ourselves out there, then we’ll only be unnecessarily holding ourselves back. That doesn’t mean that we can’t prepare and do all that we can to succeed in new situations, but it means that at some fundamental level we have to let go of basing our value on our success. This striving for success is tied into our busyness, and we often find ourselves doing and trying to succeed in one thing after another without any break. We’ve become so used to doing all the time that many of us have a fundamental discomfort or uneasiness with just being. That may be why we spend so much time doing, because when we really stop doing, we get a bit anxious or bored. We find things to do to entertain our minds, but also to give sense and meaning to our lives. We do things to give ourselves value.
As we start to practice mindfulness, we lean into being as opposed to doing, dropping our inner momentum that keeps us moving all the time as we start learning to accept. We start to accept our experiences and stop judging ourselves so harshly when we don’t reach the perfection we hold ourselves up to.
This process of acceptance is quite challenging. We’re so used to applying antidotes, so used to changing something to make it better, or to make it go away, that sitting with discomfort doesn’t come easily for us. That’s an edge that we work with in our practice– learning to stay aware even if it’s not the most pleasant or desirable experience. But we don’t force ourselves to face discomfort like a drill sergeant forces recruits to train. Instead, we relax into the process. By relaxing, and allowing the mind to be spacious and open, we can stay aware of sensations without being overwhelmed. As we practice holding our attention on the breath, we develop a sense of being OK during the practice. We’re OK if challenging emotions come up. They come and go, and we know we can stay aware without getting sucked into them. And even if we lose awareness and get caught up in our emotions and thoughts, it’s OK. It’s just another part of the practice. We also start to be OK with ourselves without needing to do anything. We become OK with just being and with ourselves as we are, even when we fail.
This isn’t some lofty goal that we may one day realize if we spend countless hours on a cushion. We can start familiarizing ourselves with small doses of this acceptance when we practice. Then, in our everyday lives we can begin to notice those moments when we start to hold ourselves back out of fear of failure. You know those moments when you have the internal movement to act or say something, but then you catch yourself and hold yourself back because you’re not sure how well it will go. Once we become aware of those, we can practice letting go of fear and instead accept ourselves as we are. With a few mindful breaths we can practice being instead of doing, and stay open to everything unfolding in our experience, even if it isn’t very comfortable. We can learn to be OK with ourselves even if we fail.
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About the Author
Mike has been passionate about training his mind since he was first exposed to mindfulness at the age of 16. Since then, his desire to understand and work with his mind has led him to earn degrees in Psychology and Philosophy, to research attention training in monastic education in Nepal, and to sit four and a half years in intensive solitary retreat. After finishing his retreat Mike began to teach mindfulness to others, and after starting his own family he became interested in bringing the benefits of mindfulness to parents, children, and families. He currently lives in Barcelona with his wife and sons where he spends his time teaching mindfulness, coaching, and working in the field of Tibetan translation. Mike has worked as an eM Life instructor since 2017.
Also published on Medium.