Pema Chödrön on Failure: The Wednesday 1-2-3

published3 months ago
2 min read

Happy Wednesday Reader!

This week's email is coming to you from a lovely little café in the small mountain town of Buena Vista, Colorado.

For the past four days I've been here to celebrate a wedding, and in between festivities I've been finding myself absolutely astounded by the raw beauty of this place. From the mountains surrounding us on all sides to the rushing river that runs alongside the town, there continues to be nothing like our placement within this great "family of things" to remind me of the goodness present in the Universe.

If you haven't taken a good 30-minute walk in awhile and simply looked around, I hope this might serve as an invitation for you 😊.

As always, if anything in today's email resonates with you, don't hesitate to hit reply!

Here's 1 teaching, 2 questions, and 3 resources to explore this week:

1. Teaching

Today’s teaching is from the American Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön:

If there is one skill that is not stressed very much, but is really needed, it is knowing how to fail…

There is a lot of emphasis on succeeding. We all want to succeed, especially if we consider success to be things working out the way we want them to. Failing is what we don’t usually get a lot of preparation for.

So how to fail?

One of the ways to help yourself is to begin to question what is really happening when there is a failure…

Getting curious about outer circumstances and how they are impacting you, noticing what words come out and what your internal discussion is—this is the key.

If there is a lot of “I am bad. I am terrible,” simply notice that and soften up a bit. Instead say, “What am I feeling here? Maybe what is happening is not that I am failure—maybe I am just hurting."

This is what human beings have felt since the beginning of time. If you want to be a complete human being, if you want to be genuine and hold the fullness of life in your heart, then failure is an opportunity to get curious about what is going on and listen to the storylines.

Don’t buy the ones that blame it on everybody else, and don’t buy the storylines that blame it on yourself, either…

[It] is out of this same space that come our best human qualities of bravery, kindness, and the ability to really reach out to and care about each other. It’s where real communication with other people starts to happen, because it’s a very unguarded, wide-open space in which you can go beyond the blame and just feel the bleedingness of it, the raw-meat quality of it.

It’s from that space that our best part of ourselves comes out. It’s in that space—when we aren’t masking ourselves or trying to make circumstances go away—that our best qualities begin to shine.

This teaching is an adapted excerpt from Pema Chödrön’s commencement address to the 2014 graduating class of Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

2. Questions

  1. Think of a time, recent or long ago, when you perceived yourself as “failing.” How did you treat yourself in that moment? What narratives emerged within you and where did they come from? What did you experience in your body?
  2. What "masks" do you typically choose for yourself when you are on the precipice of a perceived failure? What are the "moves" you make in order to protect yourself and your sense of control?

3. Resources

⏪ If you missed last week's email:

I shared a framework for awareness called the Johari Window.

Sending you good vibes,


Join next month's 6-week class!

In October and November, I'll be leading folks through six weeks of practical, accessible inner work at the personal, communal, and societal levels.

Andrew Lang

I support folks who are questioning the stories they were handed (by religion, by capitalism, by their families) and who are seeking new practices that resonate with their evolving spirituality and identity.

Read more from Andrew Lang