Difficult Emotions

F.A.I.L

A MEDITATION ON THE SUCKINESS OF FAILING

A good friend of mine is studying and messaged me recently to say she was devastated to have received her latest assignment result – 74%.

Seventy-four percent! I know what you’re thinking, it’s hardly cause for devastation, is it?

But compared to the string of high-distinctions she’d already received, the work she put into it, and the expectation that her efforts would equate to something better, the emotional response was no less challenging (or preventable). Anger. Indignation. Embarrassment. Self-doubt.

She said, can you prescribe me a meditation?

Turns out, I’ve felt like a big failure on more than one occasion recently, too. At my workplace I was told, after a year of gearing up for it, that I was no longer on the speaking list at our inaugural national conference.

And in a speech competition at my Toastmasters club, despite being more prepared and confident and proud to share the content of my presentation than ever before, when I only placed third, it was my turn for some involuntary anger, indignation, embarrassment and self-doubt.

So, what can we do when we fail, either in our own eyes, or the eyes of others?

It occurred to me (because I’m a nerd and love acronyms) that to F.A.I.L is to receive Feedback that Allows us to go Inside and Learn.

Is that helpful? Certainly, when the storm is over we can review our failings as feedback to learn from. But when we’re still bathing in a very fresh and real dose of sucky emotions, perhaps what we need more in that moment, is a different variation of F.A.I.L:

Feel – feel the very emotions that are engulfing us – where they present themselves, how they manifest as physical sensations.

Accept – accept that they’re there rather than pushing them away or trying to bury them. Allow them space to arise, move on through, and eventually vanish.

Introspection – turn inward to gently examine this failure and these feelings. Not just the cause or the circumstances, but also, pragmatically what it really would have meant to experience its opposite – success.

Love – and finally some self-love. Tempering all the negative thoughts and icky emotions with some intentional and compassionate self-talk.

So, here’s a meditation on failure that I’ve prescribed for myself, and you, too, if you ever need it.

This is a meditation on failure. On what to do with those feelings of disappointment. Hurt. Anger or foolishness. A safe place to sit and be with these feelings, but also explore what it really means to have failed.

Before we begin, let’s get you settled. If it’s appropriate, close your eyes. And take a deep breath. Really feel that in-breath sweep in past the nostrils into the throat. Feel the chest rise and fall. Feel the belly expand and contract.

And pay special attention to the calming out-breath. Let it leave your body out into the atmosphere, at its own pace. Like a sea turtle floating along in the current. And when the last of the out-breath has departed the lungs, just sit with that emptiness for the brief moment before the knowing voice inside says, it’s time for another breath now.

Breathing in. And breathing out. Letting your breathing return to a relaxed, natural state. Letting your heartbeat slow down to a gentler rhythm.

Are you ready now to do this?

MEDITATION

In times of failure, whether we’ve judged ourselves as failed, or whether others have done the judging, you might find it useful to work with the acronym F.A.I.L.

It stands for:

Feel – Accept – Introspection – Love

FEEL

We’ll begin with feel.

Sitting wherever you are at the moment, take your focus into your body. And really feel where this failure is presenting itself. How your emotions are expressing themselves as physical sensations.

Where does hurt and disappointment sit in the body? Perhaps as tightness in the chest.

Where does embarrassment or foolishness show up? Perhaps as nausea in the tummy.

How does anger or resentment translate physically? Maybe as tension in the temples or the jaw.

Which body part is feeling your inadequacy? Possibly as heaviness across the shoulders and upper back.

However it’s presenting for you, just use this time to notice; to be aware; and to really feel what you’re feeling.

ACCEPT

Now that you’ve felt this failure in the body, the next step is to accept. To say to yourself, it’s okay for these feelings to be here. Because they’ll find a way in whether you invite them or not.

Accepting these difficult emotions just as they are. Accepting this failure.

Allowing this emotional expression some room and some space to be what it needs to be in this moment.

INTROSPECTION

Through accepting these feelings; of what’s happened; of what is, use this time now for introspection. To go within. To examine with kindness to yourself and to any others involved, the truth of what has led to this failure.

And yes, it does seem like you’ve failed. But perhaps take a closer look. Who is judging you? And whose opinion matters? What can you learn from this failure? About yourself and about anyone else.

On the flipside, it might also be helpful to think about what it would have meant to succeed or win. What would you have felt then? A temporary high. A fleeting moment of pride. A transient kind of validation.

What’s interesting about that, is just like the anguish you’re experiencing now is temporary – an albeit unwanted visitor – so too would have been the thrill of elation and accomplishment.

So, perhaps you can be comforted by the fact that this too, shall pass.

LOVE

Most importantly now, the final step is to love.

And what I mean by love is to:

Love that you even had a go.

Love what you did achieve in all of the many other moments leading up to this one moment of disappointment.

Love that you can grow; become better, as a result of this experience.

Most of all, love yourself.

May you be well.

May you speak kindly to yourself.

May you bounce back with grace and dignity.

May you share yourself with the world once more.

Well done. A gold star to you.

Visualisation

The Carnival

A VISUALISATION MEDITATION TO BE PRESENT THROUGH LIFE’S HIGHS AND LOWS

You know how Facebook serves up memories of things you posted years back? Lately I’ve been seeing photos I took in September 2016 – when my family and I were incredibly lucky to be able to spend a month together travelling through U.S.A.

First stop – Disney World, Florida, for 10 days of theme park exhilaration! When we arrived excitedly at the gates of Magic Kingdom on day one, it hadn’t yet occurred to me that, oh crap, I have to go on some scary rides this week.

Zero to 100kph in 3 seconds on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios!

But what could I do? I had to get outside my comfort zone to make the most of this opportunity that we’d likely never have again.

And guess what? Yeah, some rides were crazy and I’d probably not do them again – but I did. And some rides seemed crazy but I ended up going back for more… and more…. and more! And others were much more my pace and I savoured those ones while I could.

So here’s a meditation inspired by the fondest of memories of the best family holiday we’ll probably ever have.

Naww, look how young we all were. My girls are so grown up now!

Buckle up, enjoy the ride!

Welcome to this meditation. We’re going to try a visualisation today. A metaphor for life’s ups and downs and how we can be present for all of it. So get yourself into a comfortable position, take a deep breath, and let’s go.

We’ve arrived at the carnival. 

Sit back in your seat. And buckle up.

We’re starting on the Ferris wheel. A gentle start; a kind, predictable pace. Feeling the breeze in your hair. Checking out the sights. There’s nowhere to be but wherever this ride takes us.

We can’t rush forward to the future. We can’t step backwards to the past. Just sitting in the here and now and enjoying each moment of this ride.

Experiencing the highs. And experiencing the lows. Knowing that neither view is permanent. That the ride continues on for a while, then it stops and we’ll have another opportunity to experience something different.

Like the adrenaline-fuelled roller coaster. Inching upward along the track, feeling the anticipation build. The excitement, the fear, the dizzying heights. A short, theatrical pause at the top… before gravity takes over and suddenly we’re racing downward and upside down and around, before coming to a grinding halt.

Or the heart-stopping ghost train. Setting off in the dark and feeling the fear of the unknown take hold. What’s coming next? When and how? Trying to anticipate, but it’s no use – for something else creeps up on us at a different time.

And whilst it’s sometimes in our power to decide which ride to go on, when we’re on it, all we can do is let our expectations go and simply buckle up.

Be open to taking in the sights when they’re there, and sitting through darkness when they’re not.

Letting the carriage take us along at whatever pace is right for that moment.

Accepting the topsy-turvy nature of some rides – and the predictable monotony of others.

Knowing some rides are scary but they end – and we can get off. And some rides are thrilling, but those too end – and we get off.

So allow yourself to smile and enjoy all of these rides.

Experience life as the carnival that it is.

Body Scan, Walking Meditation

Walking Meditation

MEDITATION THAT MAKES MINDFULNESS PORTABLE

When I first started meditating ago I came to it with a very narrow impression of what it would look like. That is, sitting cross-legged on the floor with my eyes closed. And whilst I soon learned there were also practices like walking meditation, eating meditation and drinking tea meditation, unfortunately, for my practice at home, I’m still very much a one-trick pony!

Of course on retreats, there are sessions of walking, eating and drinking meditation to break up the long sessions of sitting, but I think I’ve associated those as just that – meditations that break up the “real” practice of sitting.

So, what’s the point of walking meditation?

Walking meditation takes the mindfulness we cultivate on the cushion and makes it portable. It gets us used to focusing on movement as the object of meditation, as well as dealing with the added distraction of sight (because in walking meditation we keep our eyes open!)

Walking meditation helps build appreciation for our bodies and our senses. It helps grow the connection that everything we do is an opportunity to be present and experience it for its own sake – not merely as a means to an end.

What does it mean, experience things for their own sake?

What I mean – and we’ll take walking as the example – is that usually when we walk, we are doing it to get from A to B. The act of walking is usually something we do to be somewhere else. And that’s fine. We do need to be places. But at the same time, the walk can also be the destination.

After reading Barry Magid’s book Ending the Pursuit of Happiness, I’ve been using a phrase in meditation that’s helped make sense of this idea.

No gain, just sitting.

And we can modify this for whatever we’re doing.

  • No gain, just walking
  • No gain, just eating
  • No gain, just mowing the lawn
  • No gain, just filing

This means that the activity we’re engaged in isn’t just a vehicle to achieve something else, i.e. the means to an end. And when we don’t have to get anything from or out of these simple activities, it makes the activity itself so much more enjoyable.

How is walking meditation done?

If you’ve never tried walking meditation; it’s pretty easy.

  1. Choose a quiet path of around 10-20 steps where you won’t bump into anything (or anyone!) It could be your backyard, bedroom, hallway or office.
  2. You can dangle your arms down straight, or clasp them in front, or behind you.
  3. Lower your gaze a short distance in front of you.
  4. Walking deliberately slower than you normally would, keep your attention on your feet.
  5. Try to notice all the stages and sensations of walking. Lifting the heel, the ball, the toes, moving the whole foot forward, setting down the heel, the ball, the toes… repeat with the other foot!
  6. When you’ve reached the end of your designated path, turn around and start again.
  7. And just like in seated meditation, whenever you get lost in thoughts, stop, reset and return your attention to the object of meditation – your moving feet.

Tips

  • Like a one-year-old taking their first steps, walking meditation can be wobbly at first! Choose a wider stance to better keep your balance.
  • Try to also maintain awareness of your breathing – syncing the steps to the breath is helpful for some.
  • Just like the support method breath counting, you can count each step to help you stay focused and coordinated.
  • A suggested meditation session might include a 10-minute seated meditation, a 15-minute walking meditation and back on the cushion to finish off with another 10 minutes of seated meditation.

Here’s a short seated meditation to get you in the mood for a walk. See how you go!

Welcome. This is a short, seated meditation you can do to prepare yourself for a walking meditation.

Let’s first begin with some small adjustments to our bodies.

Making sure we’re sitting up as straight as we can. Not too rigid, but our backs free of the chair if we’re sitting in a chair. Supporting our own posture.

Checking that we’re not holding onto any tension in our tummies. Taking a deep breath in and allowing our tummy to relax as we exhale.

Following our breathing in and out, and on the exhale, also allowing the shoulders to drop and the arms to relax.

FOOT SCAN

And ahead of our walking meditation, let’s now spend some time down with our feet. Wonderful feet that bear the weight of our bodies and keep us active and mobile.

We’ll start with the left foot and give it some love and attention.

Beginning with left heel. Noticing any sensations. Drawing an imaginary circle around the heel if that helps maintain a connection.

Moving up to the left arch. Keeping that imaginary circle going as your attention stays here with the left arch.

Now to the ball of the left foot. Sending this particular part of the foot care and kindness for all the work that it does.

And working our way through the left toes. Big toe. Detecting any pulsing or throbbing here. Second toe. Again drawing that circle if it’s hard to sense any of the toes. Third toe. Fourth toe. And pinkie. And taking a deep breath all the way in till it envelopes the entire left foot.

And moving across now to the right foot.

Tending to our right heel. Imagining what it’s like to be the right heel.

Following along up the arch. Drawing that circle around the arch. Giving this part a mental massage if it needs it.

And then to the ball of the right foot. Noting any throbbing or tingling in this area. Keeping our attention just with the ball.

And working up to the right toes. Starting with the pinkie toe. Sensing the presence of the pinkie toe, noting any sensations we can detect in the pinkie.

And drawing our circles around the remaining toes. Fourth toe. Third toe. Second toe. And finally big toe. Sending kindness to all the right toes and breathing in all the way down to encompass the right foot.

You’re now ready for walking meditation.

Just sit for a few moments in silence, connecting with your breath, and when you’re ready you can get up and start your walk.

Enjoy.