Wonderful Failure

There is a wonderful aspect to the mindfulness trainings: they are actually impossible to keep! To refrain from harming others? What a profound practice! We receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings knowing that by doing so we are opening up to our own failure. We cannot fix the world, we cannot even fix our own life. By accepting failure we express our willingness to begin again, time after time. By recognizing failure, we change, renew, adapt, listen, and grow. It is only by practicing without expectation of success that we can ever truly open to the world, to suffering and to joy. What extraordinary courage there is in risking losing what you know for the sake of the unknown; risking what you think you are capable of for the sake of your true capability! What profound freedom — not having to get it right all the time, not having to live for the sake of appearance! By opening to our own failure, we open to the magnificence of the unknown, participating unconditionally, renewing our life.

— Caitriona Reed
pp. 15-16, For a Future to Be Possible

I read this book (by Venerable Hanh) a while back, and found it to be a concise and useful read. However, it is this passage by Ms. Reed, quoted at the beginning of a discussion of the Second Precept, that I’ve really been thinking about lately. I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve got a huge amount of perfectionist “habit energy.” This quote really spoke to me, and has had such a relevant impact on my practice of mindfulness, but also on the texture of my emotional and intellectual landscape. Reflecting on the great gift of failure, it is easier for me not to dwell when I inevitably break a precept. (Right Listening and Speech, most recently and most notably.) Ms. Reed is totally right – what profound freedom there is in moving beyond the need to always be “correct” in our practice.

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3 Responses

  1. If we can only shoot for what we are sure we can achieve, how very limited we are. So when we accept the possibility of failure, we also allow higher aims.

  2. Beautiful. Remember always that failure is suffering, and that we live in a suffering world. Failure is part of what we do, and must be accepted. My master told me that pain has the same “rights” as joy, and that in order to master either, we must accept both.

    Not being able to accept failure is part of what creates suffering, because it feeds in us our inherent longing, urging, picking & choosing, and eventually greed.

  3. I really think I get this, now. I think I understand the first Noble Truth. It’s very liberating. And it definitely has given me a whole bunch of stuff to think about.

    Thanks to both of you for your really interesting comments

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