When is the last time you admitted to yourself that you failed at something? That, through a bit more focus, effort or energy, things would have turned out more positively? That you allowed yourself to speak from a less than Self place to another? For today’s #GoddessingSelfCare post, we’ll be adding to our previous discussion of caring for rejected parts by delving into failure—what it is, how to integrate it, and the lessons it teaches us. I’ll finish this series by analyzing how to handle setbacks (negative experiences outside of our control) in my next #GoddessingSelfCare post.
True failures occur when we had the tools needed for success but chose not to deploy them. They are genuine mistakes that didn’t “need” to happen. Our society revels in failure only to the extent that it has been conquered or fetishized; we are trained that dwelling for a time on failure in a healing manner is an unacceptable reaction to falling short of our goals. It benefits us to reassess our behaviors and work to recommit to our goals, but our inherent worth as a human is not constricted by our failings. Nothing we do makes us less than human, as hard as that is for me to accept as a trauma survivor.
Self-Forgiveness: Metabolizing Failure
What would it look like to allow ourselves to be humbled by feelings of remorse and to grieve when we’ve made a mistake, intentional or not, small or large? The guilt that is necessary for remorse is not the same as shame. Shame tells us we are less than human and unworthy. When we feel guilty and are remorseful, we acknowledge that we acted in a way that was less than our true potential and, through acts of humility, are spurred back into relationship and connection. This experience, especially if we receive ourselves with compassion, humanizes us because it nudges us to our shadow, where the rejected parts hide out. True remorse, met with compassion, are much more an inward than an outward expression; we likely agree on what “Oh, I’m sorry you feel that way” really means. Remorse without self-compassion can isolate. When we also allow ourselves to feel compassion and to then grieve, we are empowered to take restorative action.
When we are genuinely remorseful, we engage in humility. This often involves a stepping back and pausing which includes taking time to dig into what went wrong and why it happened. We may find that there is a part of ourselves that we typically reject, which expressed itself in an unhealthy way. Part of our healing involves taking better care of that part. Alternatively, we may discover that our mistake was the result of an assumption we made, bumbling into an area where we were less informed that we thought we were. In this case, humility includes acknowledging that we aren’t perfect and don’t know everything, and then taking the time to educate ourselves on the issue at hand. Finally, we may be pushing ourselves too hard overall; our mistake may be the simple result of a lack of sleep, too much caffeine, or rushing through something. Here an overall pause to reassess our level of self-care is needed. Humility admits that, when we try to keep ten plates spinning at all times, it’s pretty likely at least one of them will come crashing down at some point. In any of these situations, it is on us to do the challenging inner work. It is especially not an act of humility to turn to another, if we’ve wronged them, and expect them to tell us what we did wrong, why it happened, and how to improve ourselves. That’s on us.
Self-compassion in the face of guilt and grief is a part of the process that I see as vital. It strips away the layer of our excuses and reasons and meets us in the place of our pain. For me, this practice involves spending time in meditation, experiencing the love and healing Goddess offers. This allows me to know that my mistakes do not diminish my humanity nor do they cut me off from relationship with self and others. The felt sense of being loved just as I am is a powerful tonic.
Grief only comes when we feel the harm we’ve caused to ourselves or to another. Thus, it requires empathy. For me, it tends to come before self-compassion if my action was directed at another, and after self-compassion if it was an internal failing. Grief involves glimpsing the action that conveyed dehumanization and injury, as well as the effect of the action. By doing so, we are moved to a place of sorrow and a “feeling in” to what was wrought. Grief and self-compassion must operate in tandem, otherwise we will move to shame and stay stuck.
Reconciliation with Those We’ve Wronged
Those we’ve harmed, if our mistake went beyond impacting us alone, are doubly injured if we expect them to walk us through this process. Instead, we do well to turn to our support system, to Goddess and to our Inner Being to provide a safe space to work out our emotions. We can then, from a place of self-forgiveness, offer to make amends and to heal the interpersonal rupture. How different would the world be if we each took some time to do our inner work instead of expecting each other to do it for us, and if we attempted to engage with each other after we’ve integrated the experience? Note though that I do want to leave room for individual differences—for example, those who are highly extroverted may need to check in at various points in the process.
Receiving compassion from another after we’ve failed them is an act of grace—desirable but not guaranteed. Our self-forgiveness is not contingent on their acceptance of our sincere apologies or of the actions we take toward reconciliation. Self-forgiveness that misses one or more of the steps I’ve included is often hollow and will reveal itself as such when the actions to which we dedicated ourselves somehow fail to materialize, or when we are quick to “slip up” and slow to accept responsibility.
Failing at a Personal Goal
Failure may also come in the form of falling short of meeting a goal we set for ourselves. Perhaps we procrastinated or gave into our impulses or responded reflexively. In these situations, it is possible that a guilt, humility, grief and self-compassion process needs to take place. It is equally likely that our goal, not our effort, set us up for disappointment. External goals that appear “successful” but to which we hold little inner allegiance tend to evaporate. I think one vital question if you believe you’ve failed at something is to ask yourself whether it was something you truly wanted or if you’d in fact been working for someone else’s vision or version of yourself. We harm ourselves when we reject our bodies and our minds for “letting us down” when in fact we were either unable or uninvested in an image that wasn’t drawn by us. Things we believe we “should” do are much less impactful when we fail at them than things we feel compelled by our Inner Being to do.
Future Growth: The Possibility In Failure
If we allow our failings to become “real” to us, rather than denying or excusing them away, we open the door to potential growth. It is very difficult to know the limits of our development until we see where it falls short. When this happens, if we go inward and thoroughly process our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, as well as educate ourselves in our areas where we lack understanding, we may not only improve our relationship with ourselves and with others, we also enable ourselves to set goals that are both meaningful and challenging. Having a touchstone of “this is what happened when I didn’t take X seriously” as a motivation point for a skillset we are looking to build may not be sufficient to propel us to success in life, but it is certainly a stronger incentive than “I’m doing this to fit in.” I believe that as we age, we look back not so much in regret of where we went off-course, but moreso on where we had an opportunity and didn’t want to do the internal excavation necessary to take it.
Where have you experienced failure? How have you responded to it? What has your inner work revealed?
© 2018 All rights Reserved. Suzanne Tidewater, Goddesing From the Heart.
For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I want to share about my experience of being a witness to aloneness. I am not totally, finally and in all ways alone in the world. I have friends and co-workers (and a dog) who care about me. But on the “most important relationships” marker, I am without, as I do not have a romantic partner or child and am not in contact with my family-of-origin. Rather than attempt to downplay my lack of familying, I’ve come into awareness of the power and value of this position.
What I saw in my mind’s eye was a circle, but it was entirely darkened without any light. I saw those of us there, the alone ones, furtively cowering and enclosing ourselves away, ashamed of our position. Society tells us people are most worthy when they are “good” children to their adult parents, married, and parenting their own children. For each of those conditions that are removed, worth decreases in many people’s minds. This can be very subtle—not an outright rejection but rather a no-holds-barred fight to help the person escape the circle of darkness.
We see it that way, I think, as a pit. Somewhere no one should be—alone—and certainly not for very long if it happens. I’ve witnessed people staying in relationships far past their expiration date to avoid falling into this pit, as well as denying that, for all intents and purposes, they were in fact in it.
In my vision, I saw myself striking a match and lighting a candle in this place without brightness—illuminating that which is often denied, discounted or maligned. A knowing settled into me as I did this that I am probably in this for the long haul. Most people I meet who are in a state of aloneness are there temporarily, after a major relationship shakeup or loss. They stay there briefly and then move through this place. I do not wish to delay them on their journey. Rather, I want them to know that even in a place of feeling abandoned—unheard and unseen—they are still witnessed. They are witnessed because I (and others like me) are there shining light, existing unabashedly in this small corner of human existence.
All it took was for me to write one blog post and to speak my aloneness in one public setting for this aspect of my journey to feel solidified. I have been in this place for a decade, by and large, and yet have spent almost the entire time shrinking from who I am and feeling distinctly less-than the familied ones. Now I know I’m not, and that treating this way of existing as something to be rushed through or forgotten desecrates the sacredness which with I think it is imbued. Not everyone is willing to stand in the midst of experience that bucks our evolution and desires and own being there.
I am not totally at peace yet with this place. I have voices internally (and sometimes in the real world) telling me that I am here to spare myself more grief—that I am “skipping” the hard parts of being married or of raising children. But this place is its own kind of sorrow. What I’ve seen as my purpose in life becomes clearer here—if I can speak myself whole in this way, I open space and give others permission to speak themselves whole in their places of grief. If we live long lives, we lose loved ones, sometimes unexpectedly and often too soon for our hearts to catch the blow. We are awful as a society at acknowledging, honoring and holding space for each other in these losses. Those of us who, like myself, are willing to simply stand, light in hand, and remind people around us that both they alone and their grief is seen, heard, holy and worthy, may not achieve the happy ending for which every story pulls, but we play a crucial role in the process of mourning.
What is your experience of being in a place of aloneness (without family)? How does it differ from the “in relationship but feeling alone” dynamic? To what extent do you, in whichever places your story has taken you, hold vigil for those who suffer similar losses or who grieve similar failures to find relationship?
I have been sitting with deep feelings of inadequacy for days now. The genesis of my current state was caused by negative feedback I’ve received in a few areas of my life, which then cracked open the feelings of shame and self-loathing with which I’ve always struggled. I have little interest in believing myself competent, superior or gifted in all areas of life; protecting my self-esteem comes at too high of a price if it costs me my honesty and authenticity. For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, we’ll be taking a deeper look at how to shift the paradigm away from projections of perfection into a viewpoint that captures our ugliness and envisions grace in its bumps and asymmetry.
Feeling judged, rejected or abandoned is an invitation into a deeper relationship with our inner world. We cannot truly know its state without keys to unlock the doors of what we hide from ourselves. I believe we spend much time shoving away anything that could cause us discomfort or make us question our abilities. If we sit with these difficult emotions, we may gain entry into internal places which we’ve never tread. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I have been amazed at the specific connections I am able to make (within the safe context of therapy) between my current feelings and my past experiences. It can be disheartening to realize we’ve been playing at the same script for decades, hoping this time the ending will vary, but it may be that only through this awareness that we can fully know ourselves and can then help to heal those little selves of past pain. The less we shy away from difficult realizations, the more the awareness they reveal can improve our self-care.
Goddess as Universe grants us an open window into how to respond to our foibles. I view Her as the ultimate creative force. Any time life dies back, She has in a sense “failed.” However, She is just getting warmed up. Into the void She tosses seeds, sprinkles showers and directs sunlight. There is no lasting failure, only the possibility of new growth.
We do not operate on the same time scale, so our failures feel more acute and permanent. Our corporal beings may not outlast our bare earth or charred stumps. This is where the interconnectedness of all beings comes into focus as a healing conduit to change. Perhaps we ourselves cannot not regrow or replenish completely, but our actions of turning over the decay and watering it through our tears could lead to future fertility. Grieving our losses and our neverhads is part of the heartbeat that flows between generations and through time. We may never say of a loved one “she mourned well” but our lives will undoubtedly be fuller and blossom for her having done it.
Grieving and gratitude symbiotically imbue with life essence the undergrowth of our life in places where traditional markers of success may go unmet. To whom would you entrust your soul, a person for whom roses take hold instantaneously or someone who has cut back the ivy, found only ruin beneath, and still stands in appreciation of the warmth of the sun through the clearing? Suffering and failure may not be grace, but pain—held with sorrow and appreciation for what remains—is the core of authentic life.
I think there are two way-stops on the pathway to grateful mourning. Many times we may barely take two steps forward, so strong is the pull to deny where we lack and to smile our perfect-toothed grin of false pride. Believing ourselves infinitely gifted and impervious to what others think may appear strong but belies the thin soil on which we stand. Those brave enough to journey onward may get sidetracked by esteeming incompetence—shallow mourning or masochistic desires for our defects to define our identity. In these instances, we take depressive emotions and pity as substitutes for vanity. Being given attention for where we fall short, we swallow the prickly gift and wear our suffering as an emblem commanding respect.
These are very difficult statements as I think they reveal a hard truth—suffering by itself is movement but I think we can go further. We can metabolize our pain, digest our lack, and recycle it to the world through our weeping and our uplifted hands in praise of that which we do have. Those are the people I most want to know, those who know where they are weak, who care for their weaknesses, and who move through them to integrate them into their strengths. Those who have spill many drops of grief for what life has cost them, and who are not afraid to have it take from them even more because they know the value they may pay will return a thousand-fold in future generations.
What is your relationship with your weaknesses and flaws? Where in your life have you, through mourning and/or gratitude, transformed your suffering? Are there other way-stops in which people may get stalled before access grief and gratitude?
For today’s #Thealogy Thursday, I want to share a spiritual knowing that revealed itself to me. I do not in any way claim that it is Truth, but rather, share it as an outpouring of the blessing it gave me. I’ve written recently of my difficulties with finding family, so this envisioning held special meaning to me. I find my belonging and my being encapsulated in it.
In my vision, I saw four altars: to Self, a romantic partner, my family of origin and my children. Everyone would have these stones of sacrifice, although the recipients of our dedication may vary. In relationship, each altar becomes a table of living reverance, on which we gift of ourselves. When the object of our devotion is no longer in our lives, the altar transforms to a grave – table to headstone. The meaning of the relationship and the lessons learned from it inscribed themselves on it. My altar to my family of origin is a grave as that relationship is irrevocably severed. For romantic partner and child, I hold the liminal space between conception and decay, uncertain as to whether to mourn their absence or whether to pour of myself to enliven the dedication. On my altar to Self, I make sacrifice; I invest in myself and venerate my body. At times, I’ve clung to its rocky facade as the only relic I had.
As this knowing unfolded, I saw myself turning ’round in this sacred place. The landscape was dotted with circular altars. One stood out from the rest. The altar to Goddess, to Earth, to the World and Universe, to all of Being. So large that every human and every creature could fit around its circumference. Sacrifices here return to the giver in abundance. Life-giver, guardian of the deep, all that is. Tunneled in every direction from this altar was a web connected to each of the individual altars; She under-girds all we do.
Everything to which we dedicate ourselves exists within this medium. There is no escape in the most affirming way possible. Sure, we can enslave ourselves to false pillars from which no life has ever emanated. We can serve graves and mourn the living. We can spend decades holding fast to the cold marble of bygone or neverhad, unaware of the abundance which would flourish if we would simply unfix our gaze. But we don’t have to anymore. More than knowing, I experienced this reality—the belonging to and for and how that for so long has evaded me.
I find a profound justice in this model of the world. No matter the altar, each of us meets our end on this outstretched plain. She calls everyone to Her when they die, returning all to Herself. No one gets to write the last lines of their story except for Her.
In the glow of this revelation, I think transcendence occurs when we are able to glimpse our altar to Self turning to grave and relish the gathering dust as our final gift to the world. We can die not clinging to the edifies of what was or should have been, but prostrating ourselves in gratitude for what has been received as well as taken. Only in the exchange of being held and losing refuge do we meet love.
Does this mean we should not grieve what is gone and what could never be? No, but I think we do well to know when it is that we face memory and when it is that we face possibility. Mourning is relevant, sacred and true. It may mean we spend time clinging to and scrapping at rock, willing life where it no longer blossoms. If we give ourselves over to it wholly, I think mourning eventually allows us to set our back against tomb and to recircle ourselves with all who celebrate Her. Love is daring to devote ourselves to Self and others, with an embodied understanding that time loops us all into non-existence or at least recycles every bit of who we are. Life is so precious that nothing endures.
Toko-Pa Turner has noted that sacrifice means to make sacred. My vision revealed the depths of this for me in a way that has unbound my heart and released my holding to flimsy and false rockface. I have home now, stone steps and the wide berth of granite that goes on forever. I rise to meet Her there, carefully placing each flower and spoon of honey and grain offering in turn. She consumes them as She envelops me. I am remade each time I offer myself, returning lighter and deeper and fuller. There is nowhere we can go without Her, and no one She cannot transform at the World Altar.