My dearest friend,
I write in the hope that this short letter may help you avoid the snare that has on many an occasion been a source of much hardship to me. It is a matter that greatly hinders the living of a compassionate, mindful, and meaningful life.
And if left unaddressed, this obstacle may trip you as a vine wrapped around a leg causes one to stumble. It is a tendril of the past, an echo of a story that clings tightly to the mind. It will tether you and hold you back from serving in your great and noble work.
I speak of failure – or more particularly the ghost of past failure. You feel you have let yourself down. You believe you have fallen short of the high benchmark that you hold yourself to.
The feeling comes from moments when you knew you should have acted but didn’t. It’s from times when you could have made a difference, but did not put in the effort you knew was necessary. It’s from instances when you allowed fear, anger, or distraction to direct your life.
You look back with regret, wishing you could have acted differently “If only I could have shown more courage. If only I could have applied more effort. If only I didn’t hold back,” you tell yourself.
Sometimes you try to think about them in a positive light. You tell yourself that the situation worked out for the best in the end. You propose reasons why your action was indeed the correct one.
But deep down, you are not so easily deceived. You are too intelligent, too wise, to simply explain away your past actions. Trying to do so only makes the matter worse.
And so you become trapped by these past failures. They become part of the story you tell yourself – part of your identity.
Over and over in your mind you play the story of the past, distracting you from the opportunities available in the present moment. When the chance to show bravery or compassion does come to your attention, you cower back saying, “I’ve failed all these times before. Who am I to do this?” You start to act in accordance with the story of failure, compounding the initial error over and over again.
Yet there is an way out.
There is a path to being free from this trap of failure. It starts with honesty to yourself. Acknowledge the full truth of what has happened.
Yes, you have failed.
Allow yourself to feel the weight of that failure. Face the tangle of emotions that come along with it. Be still and ponder what has happened.
As you reflect on your past self, notice how afraid you were. Notice how you were frustrated. Notice the pressures you faced. See yourself with compassion.
Then, returning to the present, answer the question: what will you do now?
For no matter what has gone before, you have in this moment of time the opportunity to change direction, the chance to choose a different story. You can learn from learn from the experience and grow stronger. You can move on.
The past is gone. We can never know what could have been. But by acting differently right now, you can begin to write a new story. You can take a different path. You can live the compassionate and meaningful life you wish to live.
I believe in you.
PS: The above letter was originally written to me. Yet as is often the case, what is useful to yourself is often useful to others.