What Practicing Mindfulness Taught Me About Failure
I recently obtained a certification in mindfulness meditation and self hypnosis. Throughout the course I learned and practiced mindfulness. Mindfulness is essentially focusing your attention on your breath. You’re not thinking about your worries or your problems. You’re just acknowledging your breathing. As long as you are breathing you are okay. In any given moment life is okay. When you think about it and I’ve said this before, we live based on an anticipation of something in the future. Whether good or bad. Even when we’re dwelling on the past we’re still, for the most part concerned with what that means for our future.
If you had a bad business deal you’ll think you can never have a successful business. Or you think of all the ways the money invested in that deal could have better served you. How your future would be brighter had you made a different decision. If you ended a relationship you think of all the time wasted and how it would have been better spent with someone else. You think of the life, the future you’d be closer to achieving if you would have chosen better to begin with or stuck it out. We are obsessed with the future. Our future. And every time we “fail” our heart breaks for the future us. However, I’ve come to discover that there really is no such thing as failure.
When you’re practicing mindfulness you’re taught not to judge yourself or your thoughts. You’re taught to acknowledge them for what they are, “That was a thought,” and then return your attention to your breath. That same principle of non-judgment and simple acknowledgement of a fact can be applied to life. If you end a relationship with someone it’s not a failure. It’s a breakup. Nothing more, nothing less. Not good or bad, just truth. If you lose money on a business deal you didn’t fail. You lost money. That’s it. It’s not good or bad. It’s fact.
I was fired from my job nearly a year ago. It was less than a week before my 30th birthday. Interestingly, I didn’t cry. I wasn’t upset or depressed. My colleague brought my things down in a box to the room I was waiting in with the HR rep and the boss who fired me. He said, “I tried to grab the important things.” Rummaging through the box I spotted a chocolate candy bar and replied, “Like chocolate?” And we all laughed. I left the building with my head held high and a smile on my face.
Being fired could be considered a failure, but to me it wasn’t. Even before I started practicing mindfulness I saw that experience for what it was. It was a fact. I was in a relationship with someone I didn’t want to be in relationship with (my boss). I attempted to change teams and she deliberately put a stop to it preferring to see me unemployed and that’s okay too. I was released from a relationship I didn’t want to be in. No judgment. It’s not a good or bad thing in and of itself. Many blessings did come from the experience. The point is that it wasn’t a failure. It was a fact. Furthermore, it was a redirection to other career opportunities.
We tend to live our life based on a set of criteria that defines success and failure. Get promoted, married, make a lot of money, raise kids who do the same and you are “successful.” If you don’t make a lot of money or live in a certain house or if you lose money you have “failed.” This is of course a simplified list of successes and failures. We all know the list tends to be long on both sides. The idea here is that life itself, friends and family, colleagues, our own selves, and society in general has defined this list we live by.
If we pretended for a moment that there was no such thing as success or failure how would life be different? I believe we’d all experience more joy, peace, and compassion. Our relationships would be better, our esteem would be higher, our egos would be nonexistent. We’d have less crime, less backstabbing and sabotaging and less suicides. I wouldn’t have been fired, because my boss would not have saw me wanting to change teams as a good or bad thing. She would have saw it as a simple fact.
We should all practice a little mindfulness. We should commit to not judging life’s events. We should simply acknowledge the truth of what is. “That was a breakup.” “I lost money on that deal.” “My heart is broken.” And then return our attention to life.