For the past 9 years, I have had the immense pleasure of teaching a private yoga student. A highly successful businesswoman, she is a perfectionist, with a Type-A personality, determined to "master" even the most challenging postures. Often, I ask her to try seemingly onerous poses as a vehicle for teaching her self-acceptance and patience. While her need to attain even the impossible assures her success in life, it also carries with it the potential for emotional and physical self-destruction.
week, I instructed her to attempt a challenging pose. From her yoga mat, she glared up at me. As she endeavored the pose, her eyes burned with unwavering resolve. Unwilling to accept "failure"--or at least what she considered "failure"--she became frustrated when she could not "perfectly" execute the posture. From my perspective (and, yes, I can be a real asshole sometimes), her "failure" was success. She was being taught that she must love and accept herself through her "failures" just as much as, if not more so than, she loves and accepts herself when she "succeeds," because "failure" is only "failure" if she defines it as such.
As she huffed and puffed through the pose, I reminded
her that, although her conscious mind refused to respect her physical
limitations, her unconscious mind and body continued to love
her, without any judgment--involuntarily breathing, sustaining her, pumping
life through her entire being, and delivering oxygen to her heart, her lungs and her brain. Her synovial joints produced fluid, cushioning her articular
cartilage from friction and the pain that would otherwise result from her
movements. In performing merely one of its myriad life-sustaining
functions, her bone marrow manufactured lymphocites, supporting her immune system and protecting her from illness. Despite the fact that her unconscious body was doing all of this for her, her conscious mind was denigrating her for what she perceived as "failure"--her "inability" to "perfect" a posture.
Among the many beautiful lessons yoga offers, yoga teaches us to practice "Ahimsa," or, non-judgment. It is with much personal reluctance that I say "perfect" does not exist. Most of us are familiar with the French Dadaist artist, Marcel Duchamp, who, in 1917, asked the world to accept a urinal as "art." Duchamp was making a statement: when the urinal ceases to be associated with its function, it is merely a porcelain sculpture. Similarly, semantics is a field of linguistics that focuses on the relationship between signifiers--such as words, phrases, signs and symbols--and the meaning we attach to them. If we did not label those things that fly "birds," the word "bird" would be gibberish. It is by giving an object a label that this label, or, signifier, takes on a particular meaning.
So, and I am grossly oversimplifying here, if Dadaists proposed that objects have meaning as a result of the function we attribute to them, and linguists suggest that words have meaning by virtue of of the thing with which we associate them, then, by that rationale, we, as human beings, "fail" exclusively because we have ascribed some arbitrary meaning to the word "fail." Case in point, I perceived my yoga student's "failure" to "perfect" a pose as a "success."
In their book, "The Fifth Agreement," Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz so poignantly distinguish the objective truth from subjective virtual reality. They write:
"All humans are programmed to perceive the truth, and we don't need a language to do this. But in order to express the truth, we need to use a language, and that expression is our art. It's no longer the truth because words are symbols, and symbols can only represent or 'symbolize' the truth. For example, we can see a tree even if we don't know the symbol 'tree.' Without the symbol, we just see an object. The object is real, it is truth, and we perceive it. Once we call it a tree, we are using art to express a point of view. By using more symbols, we can describe the tree--every leaf, every color. We can say it's a big tree, a small tree, a beautify tree, an ugly tree, but is it the truth? No, the tree is still the same tree. Our interpretation of the tree will depend on our emotional reaction to the tree, and our emotional reaction will depend on the symbols that we use to re-create the tree in our mind. As you can see, our interpretation of the tree is not exactly the truth. But our interpretation is a reflection of the truth, and that reflection is what we call the human mind. The human mind is nothing but a virtual reality. It isn't real. What's real is truth. What's truth is truth for every one. But the virtual reality is our personal creation; it's our art, and it's only 'truth' for each one of us."
Where am I going with all of this?
When a relationship ends, we dub it a "failure." Maybe, we did something to contribute to the demise of the relationship--we think, "I messed up." Maybe, we did not see it coming--we think, "I'm so stupid." Maybe, our spouse was unfaithful--we think, "I'm unattractive. I'm unlovable."
However, the only truth is that the relationship has ended. Any words or reasons we ascribe to the end of the relationship are symbols--a virtual reality our mind has created after reflecting on the truth. This virtual reality is the catalyst for self-judgment, self-loathing and self-destruction. Yet, as I reminded my yoga student when she criticized herself for "failing," our bodies continues to involuntarily breathe for us, pump blood for us, produce lymphocites for us, cushion our joints and love us. That is the truth.
When your relationship ends, for whatever reason it ends, how do you escape your own virtual reality of which you are a prisoner?
There is no easy answer. It takes time and determination. You must begin by understanding that any adjective you use to describe yourself or your experience is not the truth, but your creation--your art. Next, you must take a step outside of yourself, and discern the objective truth from your subjective virtual reality. Which adjectives, specifically, do you use to describe yourself and your experience?
Personally, I find yoga and meditation help me to sieve out the chunks that obstruct reality, and distill my truth. These practices may not be right for you. You know yourself best. Where does your mind race most? Where is your mind at peace? Observe as you pass judgment on yourself. Observe which words your mind chooses to describe your experiences, to describe you. Be in awe of your mind for its ability to write such elaborate fantasy. Consciously love and support yourself as your unconscious body loves and supports you.
Failure assumes only the meaning you give it, and its meaning weilds only as much power over you as you allow it.
Perhaps, yours is a mind that refuses to see the truth. That is perfectly alright. You are the artist in your virtual reality. You decide the color of the paint, the length of each brush stroke, the size of the canvas. Create a new meaning for "failure." "Failure" is "success." "Failure" is my "opportunity to learn." "Failure" is my "teacher." How very exciting it is to "fail" at something. "Failure" is an invitation to leave behind something broken. "Failure" is a blank canvas.
The paintbrush is yours.