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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.