(This post originally appeared in the Dou Yoga Blog)
I recently took the Yoga Tune Up(R) level 1 teacher training with two wise and fabulous teachers, Dinneen Viggiano and local Dou celebrity Ariel Kiley. If you’ve been in my class lately, you’ve heard me talk about it, and you’ve tried out some of the moves I learned in this very cool training. But I’m not here today to talk about YTU. I’m here to talk about failure.
Until recently, the very idea of failure made me uncomfortable. Every time someone successful in the public eye sang its praises - daily, it seemed - there was a decently-sized portion of my brain recoiling like a 12-year-old boy at the word “puberty.” My brain hated this talk. My brain thought it was flat-out wrong. My brain thought “Yeah right, successful person. Easy for you to say with all your success and your money.” In my prejudiced brain, what I heard was, “First you fail lots of times and then magically you succeed.” It didn’t add up. And it sounded unpleasant.
At the beginning of the training, we were asked to create a sankalpa. You’ve probably heard of this. A sankalpa is an intention, the thing that you need to be true for your life, or for this class, or for this training, that would allow you to proceed with your clearest, most true self. I was nervous about the training. At some point, right before we were led on a sankalpa-building exercise, Ariel spoke the word “failure.” I don’t remember the context. What I remember is that it struck such a bolt of fear through me that I knew very suddenly, “Oh shit, this is not going to help. This has to be handled. This is already unpleasant.” So I built my sankalpa around it. My sankalpa was designed exclusively to convince me that failure was okay.
Did it work? Yes! Did it work right away? No. Did it work always? No. My sankalpa worked after being told “Repeat your sankalpa to yourself,” and reluctantly following those instructions countless times. It worked after trying a YTU exercise that felt weird and foreign to my body, and feeling like a failure at it, and crying. Multiple times. It worked after thinking “Why aren't these wise, fabulous teachers seeing my discomfort? Why aren’t they giving me a pass? Where is my cookie?” and realizing, reluctantly, that it was on me to be wise and fabulous towards myself. Many, many times. I can’t emphasize the reluctance or the repetition enough. Am I still working on it? Yes.
But here’s what I learned, besides the real value of a sankalpa. I learned that failure is a way through. You can spend your life, as I have done, cultivating perfectionism. I still grip really hard sometimes (lots of times), trying to cajole my experiences into a lovely, faultless mold. But it can start to feel like bouncing off progress, bouncing off growth, bouncing always back into a stale safety bubble. Failure offers something new. It is uncomfortable, but it’s also interesting. If you can stand to fail, you will have learned something. You will have learned what doesn’t work, and that is powerful, even if it feels shitty. If you can stand to fail multiple times, you start to build up your tolerance to those shitty feelings, and then it doesn’t hurt as much, and you can pay more attention to that interesting stuff. If you can stand to fail, then instead of bouncing back to your safe starting point, you can end up someplace different. Someplace new. And the air might be fresher there.