A Practice for Being with the Pain of Failure

Finding our way to true accountability requires a willingness to sit with the discomfort of having caused pain, allowing true compassion to arise.

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Compassion is a kind, friendly presence that allows us to stay in contact with the pain we may feel when we’ve caused harm, so that we can deepen into it rather than turn away from ourselves. It has the same connecting quality as empathy, but has a desire to help as well.

Whether it’s pain in the body, a mind that doesn’t seem to know peace, or a world at war with itself, we can pay attention to the hurt and care for the wound, honoring it, instead of just trying to get away from it. We can then rest in the simple truth that we’re here and we care about what’s difficult.

Living with an undefended heart is a profound expression of freedom and the promise of the sure heart’s release.

When we truly tend to our hearts and allow them to be touched by what is difficult, let them break, from the fear of pain or hurt, what arises is a natural tenderness. As Stephen Levine wrote, “to heal is to touch with love that which was previously touched by fear.” So when we bring compassion home to include ourselves, especially when we have failed, we finally get to honor the hurt. This is the alchemy of presence.

Living with an undefended heart is a profound expression of freedom and the promise of the sure heart’s release. We do this inner work so our lives can become an offering to all those we dare care about. Because ultimately, compassion is a verb.

A Practice For Being With the Pain of Failure, and Taking Accountability

1. Find a comfortable seat. Settle, and breathe. Now, begin your inquiry. To start, the two components we’re looking for are clear seeing and willingness. Ask yourself: “Am I seeing clearly?” and in this moment, “Is there willingness present?”

2. Since self-criticism is not helpful, don’t get lost in the story of why things shouldn’t be as they are. Instead, allow yourself to feel the pain and quite naturally there’ll be a compassionate response to it. Because If we can’t feel it, we can’t heal it.

3. Don’t take it personally by becoming over-identified with the role you played in the situation. You didn’t give birth to these energies, they are universal, they belong to this realm, not you. When it’s not taken personally, we realize we can practice with anything we come into contact with—stress, frustration, pain, nothing is outside of our care.

4. When something painful or difficult arises, allow yourself to feel that compassionate response, and see that pain is not the only guest at the party. Allow yourself to experience yourself fully. Then you can wrap yourself up with warmth and affection and kiss your wounds, as you would anyone you care for.

5. Open up to not only your own pain, but the pain. Not lost in the story of why me, but opening to all the beings that know this particular pain. Only when we understand that, can the most caring part of ourselves become known. With the courage of the undefended heart it can transform into something beautiful.

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The Fine Art Of Failing 

Our failures only hold us back if we don’t engage with them mindfully. Katherine Ellison learned the hard way the value of failing with presence—and recovering with slow accountability. Read More 

  • Katherine Ellison
  • April 20, 2021