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The Biggest Heresy: There Is No Failure

The Biggest Heresy: There Is No Failure

I come from an academic family. For better or worse, I learned to judge. Everything. Everybody. And especially myself. For many years — like into my thirties, even — I gave myself grades for various non-academic things. “Hmmmmm,” I’d think, “I give myself a C- on washing dishes this month.” The grades were almost never good, and were often used as a way to remind myself of my essential character as a failure, a mistake, a case of terribly lost potential.

The point is that failure was possible at every moment. Failure was to be avoided at all costs, and when one did fail–as one could not avoid doing, under such constant scrutiny–one needed to be properly ashamed of oneself.

And then, resting on the floor of the Fat Yoga studio, in shavasana at the end of class, I heard these words come through the silence:

“There is no failure. There is only the development of skill.”

“There is no failure. There is only the development of skill.”

That’s something my yoga teacher, Anna Ipox said, referring both to learning new asanas (yoga poses) and to the practice of mindful nonattachment. “There is no failure. There is only the development of skill.”

We lie in shavasana (the resting “corpse pose” at the end of many yoga classes), breathing and allowing our minds to stay active as our bodies integrate all the work we’d done in the class to that point. We attend to our breath.

In. And out. In. And out. Special attention to the pauses at the “top” and “bottom” of the breath.

And we just watch our thoughts. Just watch them come and let them go.

Aie, there’s the rub, you say?  I can never let them go, you say? My mind grabs on and takes off running, you say?

And that’s where Anna’s voice reminds me, “When we realize we’ve stopped watching our thoughts and are just running off with them, we can just gently return our attention to our breath and to watching. It is in this moment of transition, of bringing our attention back to the breath, that we grow our skills of mindfulness and non-attachment. There is no failure. There is only the development of skill.”

Sometimes, I think about these words in their power for fat people. Our bodies are not failures. Our bodies are not apologies. Our bodies are part of our ongoing quest to live this life.

Tonight, I’m thinking about these statements in relation to the quotation from the Bhagavad-Gita that are in The Practice of Prayer:

“On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear.”

To be in relationship

It’s been a hard month in my house. We’ve been experiencing death and grief, illness and disability, and transitions of many kinds. It’s been hard, and my spiritual practice has shown it.

The difference, nowadays, is that when everything seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, my practice hangs on with toes and fingers. It’s not pretty. It’s not as centered as the guru-ego in me would like to be able to say it is. But singing happens. Candles happen. Incense, prayers, and Love happen. Not so long ago, nothing would have happened. I would have looked, a month would have gone by, and all my routines would be shot to hell. These days, my spirituality and  practice may get wounded, but they’re healing, always healing. Love keeps happening. Between my spouse and me. Among family members. Among friends. Among strangers. Among non-human beings and me. And between me and the indwelling Spirit.

And that – that Love – is the heart of what my spiritual practice is about. Spiritual practice is the practice of relationship. It is the flowers-bringing, dishes-washing, back-rubbing, haircut-noticing activity of relationship. Practice is an expression of the desire to perceive the Beloved as deeply as possible.

And so there is no failure. As long as we are in relationship—and as we exist in this Universe, it is impossible for us NOT to be in relationship—there is no possibility of failure. There is only the opportunity to develop, deepen, and more fully sink into the embrace of the indwelling Divine, the One Whose Love we find at our own center.

For more on love, yearning, and my take on spirituality and practice, check out this week’s Reflections newsletter. No, for real. It’s off the chain.

Sign up on this page, get the e-book, and then send me a note so I make sure you get the one that just went out. It’s quite something.

Love and blessings to you and to your house!


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