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The Space Between Winning and Losing

tennis-net“Win as if you were used to it, lose as if you enjoyed it for a change.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

These opposites have more in common than we might expect. Learning how to win or lose with grace is another way to define how to live and grow with maturity. Richard Bach summed it up when he said: “That’s what learning is, after all; not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we’ve changed because of it and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games. Losing, in a curious way, is winning.”

In the midst of another state tennis tournament I am witnessing hundreds of boys who have worked throughout the year to get to compete. Already I have seen some boys head hung low, dejected after hours of playing their heart out and coming up short. My own son has suffered the same fate several times. In some cases it took weeks for him to come to terms with who he was as a player and a person. This is the gift of losing, the self-examination and forgiveness that must process through you for you to be a player at any game, and life itself.

My recent business win, which has revolutionized the way that everyone including myself thinks about the work and promise of Good Clean Love, has been surprisingly stressful. Not just in the details of working out what winning means, but rethinking my work in terms of being a winner surprisingly takes the same introspection and self acceptance as losing. Winning adds the pressure of everyone else’s expectations, and even my own internal drive to succeed is turned up several notches. Learning to win is about seeing yourself as capable, competent and available for success. This is the place that stops most people from winning.

The truest thing about winning and losing is how fluid the space is between them. Rare is the case for the continuous winner or loser, most lives move within an ebb and flow between the more and less desirable outcomes in life. Buddhist training in equanimity is based in the recognition of the changing nature of circumstances and works to develop the ability to see with patience. Cultivating a wider view of life prepares us to live with the wins and losses in life as equally useful teachers.

In fact there is probably no more changeable and fluid experience of winning and losing as the same as in love. Finding equanimity in our relationships and even more deeply in our ability to relate as a winner, even when we must let go of people we hold dear is the most intense and worthy training for every other aspect of life. It is also the one, which we are least prepared and so invested. For love to win in your heart and life you have to be able to live in the space between them.

Learning how to win and lose with balance is the point of the game of life. As we grow our integrity and inner strength, it gets easier to give up the labels of good and bad and even win and lose. The true victory of being able to stand and hold ourselves in the midst of all the winds of change, with decreasing judgment and increasing peace is all the achievement of a lifetime. It awards you the courage to keep at it, and an ever-widening heart to appreciate the game for what it is.