A version of this article appeared in the January 2102 issue of Namaskar.
Maybe you know the story: you lose your job, get dumped by your boyfriend or girlfriend, then the cat runs away and you tear your hamstring, all in the same week. Your morale takes a plunge. After all the work you’ve done on the mat and off, training in the discipline of yoga practice, trying to be good and wise, calm and centered, your confidence plummets.
You might feel gypped, like karma is not paying proper attention to your balance sheet.
“Hey, I practice every day! And I helped that little old lady across the street!” you yell to no one in particular.
You’ve been so good. Why is this happening? Because it’s part of the process of waking up. Sometimes you get knocked down on the path. It forces you to develop the muscle and the humility to stand up and shout, “I am alive.”
Confidence is not the opposite of failure– it is the result of it. That moment when you are your most vulnerable, without your protective shell of success, is ripe with potential. Anything can happen.
At that moment you have the chance to stand up, brush yourself off, look around and take stock. You choose a direction. Then, you put a gentle smile on your face, and take a step forward, even without a clue as to where you are going. That is how you establish self confidence.
We all have low points that challenge our self-worth. But failure can actually help fortify it. Failure throws us back to earth. Confidence is the strength we build by pushing against the ground that we fall down upon.
Confidence is not pride in your accomplishments. Confidence is not masking true feelings. So what is self confidence?
Confidence is trusting yourself, not to attain any particular goal, but to remain 100% present with whatever happens. To be authentically present, even when Life hands you a plate of mud. It is shifting your allegiance from ego’s endless struggle to pristine awareness, known by Buddhists as Buddha Nature.
Buddha Nature, or tathagathagarbha in Sanskrit, is the seed of enlightenment inherent in all beings. Tathagata is an epithet for the Buddha, garbha means “womb” or “essence.” That seed is in each and every one of us, no exceptions.
All you have to do is water that seed with practice, abhyasa, and non-attachment, vairagyam, and that seed will grow. As your roots descend into the earth and you grow gloriously toward the sun, you inspire others to do the same. Then you bear the fruits— peacefulness, kindness, wisdom, joy and equanimity– that ripen when you no longer react so much or so strongly to things not going your way. You don’t ride the emotional roller coaster as frequently, or as intensely. When you have the confidence to handle any situation that comes along, then fear has no hold. Instead, you think: So what if I may suffer another heartbreak? So what if I fall, yet again, or end up making a fool of myself one more time? So what?
If you want to live fully, these mishaps are practically requirements. You have to know the dark aspects of yourself before you can fully appreciate the light. You do that by living fearlessly in the present moment, open to whatever arises and staying with it when it does. Failure only serves to strengthen the trust you have in yourself because you see that it will not devastate you. It’s like this: you can let yourself be defeated, or you can use the energy of the downfall to catapult you to the next level of existence. You choose. Defeat from another point of view is simply letting go.