A part of the Radical Humans Series
Splat! A plate of food goes face down on the floor of my kitchen in Seattle. Darn, I’d just carefully prepared that plate and was really looking forward to eating it. But this time, in a manner that was very unlike the version of me that had prepared the food, l let out a big belly laugh and said a loud and raucous “Good!!”
The food was already a casualty of my inattentiveness, I didn’t need to make my self esteem another casualty. So I laughed as I cleaned the food up, and marveled at the fact that I was laughing. It seemed so bizarre to me, but it also felt like such a night and day improvement over what I would have done just months earlier - which would have been to beat myself up, criticize myself for making such a careless mistake, and just generally pickle myself in a sour mood for perhaps the rest of the day.
You see, when I learned this practice I was both incredibly ambitious and eager to grow, and highly self critical and a bit suspicious of anything “positive.” But I gave it a try that day and haven’t looked back.
Mistakes and messes are a fact of life as far as I can gather, so learning to flow with them gracefully is a worthwhile endeavor. And this practice is one of the simplest ways to flow with them that I’ve found. It’s as simple as I’ve described above - when you make a mistake or a mess, in that split second before you go into your habitual reactivity and negativity, say the word “Good!” out loud, with gusto, with an open chest, and a soft belly. Following it with a belly laugh, even if it’s a bit contrived, seals the deal. If you can change your physiology for long enough to ride out the storm of your impulsive and seemingly hard wired negative reaction, you can side step it all together.
It’s as if you’re on the “Feel Good Freeway” of life, just cruising along doing your thing, and then some bump in the road (a mistake) causes you to want to take the nearest exit into Critical Town. But if you can stay in your lane for long enough to pass the exit, you’ll stay on the freeway, and keep feeling good. You don’t need to fight the urge forever, you just need to make it past the exit.
In Buddhism this is often referred to as not shooting the second arrow. Pain is inevitable, it is baked into the human experience for we are mortal creatures. But suffering is a choice. Suffering is the result of unconsciousness clouding us from the deeper truth that those bumps in the road cannot touch us, cannot penetrate to the core of our true selves to damage us. Shooting the second arrow of self criticism and negativity is a choice. A choice I hope you learn to avoid making.
If I knew then what I know now, as soon as I’d cleaned up the mess I would have cleared the belief: mistakes and failure are bad, but without knowing the tools for clearing beliefs yet I was simply pleased that I had screwed something up so royally and yet somehow felt relaxed and unaffected, perhaps even joyful.
To get the true benefit of this practice, I suggest choosing it as a focus area for the next week. Make a concerted effort to bring mindful awareness to the moments when you make a mistake or do something you would typically judge negatively, and in those moments let out a laugh and a “Good!” or if all else fails, take a big breath and let out a guttural sound or cough while pushing your belly out. As if you were practicing a martial arts strike. By pushing your belly out, whether through laughing, speaking, coughing, or exclaiming, you’re sending a signal to your nervous system that it’s okay to be in a relaxed state. And in doing so, you actively control your physiology and create a state of non-reactivity.
You can install this as a new habit, and then take it with you on autopilot for as long as you like. And for as much as I talk about habits being the hard way, and as much that’s still true, sometimes the hard way is the best option. After you’ve cleared the beliefs that have been holding you back, it’s the time to start building some new and powerful ways of operating.