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Facing Failure

[August 2022 – Dharma Center Mindfulness Tip]

Our brains interpret failure as a risk to our safety. This naturally activates fear anytime anything goes wrong.  But really, failure is one of our greatest teachers.

Knowing which way not to go is valuable information when lost in the maze of possibilities. If we reach past the fear and exam the failure, we learn which way to try next.

When we fail, we automatically retreat. Our next move, if prompted by fear, is to return to what is familiar – even if it makes us miserable. If we bring our conscious awareness to the situation, we can look at the bigger picture. We can analyze the failure and see what went wrong.

A project crumbles in failure typically due to a weakness in one or more of the main four supports we each have for our projects.

Four Supports

North Star:

This is our guiding principal. Sometimes we get it wrong. The goal we thought we wanted to achieve isn’t right for us. Our dream might change. Other times as we move closer to achieving our goal, we discover we don’t really want the responsibility that comes with it. Or we find the effort is not worth the reward. It’s vital to select an appropriate north star to inspire us.

Long ago, I started a mail order company selling gifts and trinkets as a way to make money that I thought would be easy on my body. Very quickly I discovered the effort / reward ratio was wrong for me. The company failed, but I learned I did not want to run a store or sell wholesale goods. And Dharma Center Members at the time got some neat décor items as thank you gifts!


We travel through this world as a human body. These bodies are our vehicles. If we neglect them, they break down – physically, mentally, or emotionally.  Failures often occur because we don’t take care of ourselves. When we fail, it’s important to look at our vehicle and determine if we need service. This type of failure teaches us to properly maintain our body and mind.

When I worked as a computer consultant, I would spend up to 10 hours a day staring at a computer screen. I had no regard for my posture or the needs of my body. During my off time, I pushed my body to exercise hard in an attempt to force myself into shape. I ignored the warning signs of a total breakdown until it was too late. Needless to say, my career as a computer consultant ended in complete failure. However I learned the importance of taking care of my precious human body.

Steering Wheel:  

If our steering wheel is not connected to our vehicle, or if we don’t even have a steering wheel, then it’s impossible to point yourself where you want to go. How are you directing your energy? What are you doing to ensure you are moving towards your north star?

There’s a prevalent notion that all we need to do is surrender to the winds of existence and we’ll be brought to where we need to be. I really, really like that idea. But it’s not entirely true. Our subconscious conditioning and those we spend time with are steering us and limiting our choices. And as we let go of more and more of our own conditioning, the options grow infinitely. If we do not choose where to focus and direct our energy, we will fail to progress towards any goal. We’ll spin in circles, not accomplishing anything. To succeed, we need a system to help us steer.


Our experience of life is through the vehicle of relative existence. In others words, we are all connected. In a complex pattern, we interact and build structures of possibility. Trying to do everything alone significantly impedes our progress. Also, spending time with one group of people will bring us to a very different outcome than another. If a project ends in failure, it could be because we did not invite compatible people to the party. We can try to force others to join our adventures, but it never works out well. If they don’t want to go, not only can they slow us down, they can create problems that end in the failure of our project.

This doesn’t make those people bad or evil. It simply means they are on a different track. This is perhaps failure’s harshest lesson: the lesson of letting go of those who don’t want to travel with us right now. Stay focused on your north star, and be open to those you meet. In this way, we make new friends. It’s often through the companions we meet along our path that we create the connections needed to achieve our goals.

To learn from failure, be open. Embrace the fear and the adrenaline rush it brings. Use that burst of energy to examine these four supports and correct any weaknesses you find. Then go forth and try again!

To create the space and presence of mind to learn from failure, practice meditation and mindfulness. Learn more at Dharma Center!

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Published inBuddha Lessons / Mindfulness