I Am A Failure:

A reflective manifesto for the incarnation of quiet benevolence and spontaneous joy.

Endless Knot

The theme I want to discuss here is failure. Far from a depressing topic, there are many things we can learn from failure. Some might even suggest failure as a key to spiritual development. It is I think, an issue to which most of us can relate.

This article is a very personal reflection on failure, particularly in the context of spiritual seeking, self-realisation and liberation. I feel it is as much a portent to my own future, as a signpost to the eternal present. Very definitely it is a confession.

A Social Misfit

Josh is a social misfit. More than that, Josh is a failure:

I wet my pants in prep. I was a nerd in school. I was never any good at sport. As someone who would later identify as homosexual, I got detention for trying to kiss a girl. In self-defence classes I quit on no less than two occasions because I was intimidated by another kid. I severely insulted a martial arts instructor because I was impatient. I once played a game of chess with the school principal, I was such a nerd. I dropped out of high-school before the final year. I drowned a pet fish out of curiosity.

My physique has always been thin and for much of my life I felt weak. I have developed various food intolerances since my early teens. I dropped out of university after failing marketing not once, not twice, but three times (though in my defence, I still got 100% in the Oracle database exam!) I quit my full-time job of five years with depression, anxiety and very low motivation.

I have been declared bankrupt. I have had adult tantrums over both hunger and lust. I quit a job with performance anxiety.

I have had two short term relationships and dated several people, but never found 'the one'. Despite identifying as a homosexual man for much of my life, I have experienced little genuine interest in sex, besides self-gratification.

At time of writing, I own no vehicles, no property, no shares and have almost no money to my name. I have been out of full-time employment for over seven years. My only assets are my clothes and portable electronics. I am thirty-three years of age and presently living with my parents.

After eighteen years of dabbling with spirituality, I have discovered that I am lazy, full of fear, unmotivated and undisciplined. Not only did I not find an exalted state of endless bliss, I discovered that I am nothing and that I never really existed!

By the standards of our contemporary society, I am a dismal failure. Indeed, given this laundry list of woes I would forgive anyone for saying as much. Even in a spiritual sense, I am not really any different. I am as I have always been. In every conceivable way, Josh is a failure.

So the question becomes, how do I move forward from here? Is there anything that can be done?

Unconditional Love

The search for liberation has been a long and difficult path.

One of the last beliefs to be incinerated in the clear light of awareness has been the notion of how liberation should look. I had fallen victim to the popular notion that there ought to be something overtly blissful about a 'realised person' (whatever that is). Of course, this is pure nonsense.

Liberation implies very little about the nature of mundane life experience. Liberation means freedom. Freedom from what? It means freedom from that incessant, primal, existential imperative to be something other than what you already are. It means freedom from existential fear - both fear of anhiliation and fear of change. Liberation is the freedom to be completely present, in this moment. It represents flow in the most intuitive, creative and uninhibited play of life.

This translates as a deep intimacy and respect for all facets of life, not just the 'good bits'. In practical terms, this means that what might be labelled failure is as important as that which is labelled success. Actually such labels are of little use in relation to the ego or person identity.

So it is that I find myself able to embrace failure for the first time. Fear and insecurity may still arise but there is no longer any imperative to escape. In this way, old 'buttons' or triggers for anxiety are allowed to talk. They are finally heard and felt. In the light of awareness, they are understood and can finally be set free. I have been their gaoler, but they have been my baggage, my burden.

In so doing, I have made peace with the story of my past. I have discovered the true beauty of unconditional self acceptance, of love. Love does not reject, or restrain - rather it accepts and lets go just as easily. That frightened little boy is loved and at long last set free.

The Wisdom of Emptiness

In the first section, I presented a laundry list of my failures. That said, in the spirit of unconditional acceptance I think it only reasonable to follow that with a list of my successes:

Despite moving town or state almost once a year, I had many friends during my school years. Many of whom I have fond memories of today. I survived cracking my skull at a swimming pool and having two stitches.

I used Buddhist philosophy and meditation to pull myself out of depression in my late teens. I even saved a stranger's car from a down-hill runaway shopping trolly.

I was always really good with computers. I taught myself to program. I used to produce and sell licenses to my own software in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I have tutored business students and IT students at college and in University. I got one-hundred percent in my Oracle database exam at University, and in half the time everyone else took. In my early 20s, I was head-hunted by the IT department of one of the world's largest transport companies and I gave them everything I had for five years.

Even with a childhood anxiety of two-wheeled transport, I overcame my fear and learnt to ride a motorcycle. And despite several minor 'altercations' with the road and roadside furniture, eventually I taught myself to be a technically competent, defensive driver. I was an all weather rider for many years.

I was a single-man administrative revolution in the scholarships office at a prestigious Australian university for a short while. I worked as an ambulance officer for a world-renowned horse racing venue in Melbourne.

I have been friends with a plumber, a scientist, a computer engineer, an economist, a teacher, a backpacker and a martial arts instructor.

Computing history and the global open-source software community have benefited from my contributions. I have inspired young nerds with my amateur YouTube videos, and saved at least one such nerd in a high school exam. I have operated a personal website for almost eighteen years straight.

At least two ants and one spider have been saved by my hands. I have continued to donate to charity despite being without a job or any source of income. I once gave a stranger fifty-dollars for a bus ticket (supposedly!)

I have been a friend and confidant to many a friend and family member, when things got rough. I have found equanimity and compassion in the midst of another's emotional turmoil. I discovered my tender human heart on the spiritual path.

◇ ◇ ◇

This modest list stands in bright contrast to my earlier list of failures. Sure, I didn't cure cancer or end world hunger, but it is surely not a bad list of achievements either. Besides aesthetic and literary balance, however, there is another reason for sharing this list with you.

Emptiness, or non-duality, is a reference to the fundamental nature of reality. Conceptually, it can be understood as relating to the truth of the interdependence of opposites. For example, dark and light, cold and hot, up and down, self and other, success and failure, and so on. For each of these pairs, you cannot recognise the one without the other. In a broad sense, it means that all concepts are interdependent with other concepts. No single concept can be said to exist independently (without another).

There are many ramifications of this principle, not least of which is that there can be no independent self. That to which I draw attention here, however, is the absence of any fundamental difference between success and failure. Each of my 'failures', literally made room for a 'success'. Success is unrecognisable without the backdrop of failure; even if you try to replace failure with neutrality, you are merely playing with labels. Neutrality simply becomes the new failure - that which still isn't good enough.

This is not to be misunderstood, however, as denying any practical distinction between success and failure. Of course, if you fail to drive a car or operate machinery properly, there will be consequences. It is not an excuse to behave irrationally. Few people would intentionally set out to fail in this way. Our failures are just another important facet of our life.

Failures or mistakes are like lessons on life. They tell us something about who we think we are, what we think we want, and how we might go about getting it. In this sense, life could be seen as simply a succession of failures. It is only in the presence of these failures that we can define growth or development. Nor is it ever too late. No failure is too big. While there is another moment, we have the opportunity to learn and experience. Even when we fall victim to worry or regret, that too is just another lesson waiting to be heard. Waiting to be validated.

The story you are reading now would not have been possible without failure. Nor is it likely you would be reading it, if you had no appreciation of failure yourself.

Compassion

A healthy sense of compassion is as important to working with failure, as it is to working with the rest of life.

Unconditional love transmutes into compassion quite naturally in the presence of suffering. Compassion is the movement to relieve suffering and leave behind only peace. When compassion arises from love, it does not discriminate.

Connecting intimately with our own failure gives rise to humility. If we can allow ourselves to just feel, it will open our heart. We can begin to appreciate that we are all in this together. We can relate to the failure of another.

Recognising my own failure has enabled me to cultivate tolerance and patience for the perceived failings of others. If I can fail, so too can others. I never set out to fail, and nor did they.

The mere recognition of my own failure is a burden. It makes me uneasy whenever I look to help others. My motives may be pure, but my feelings betray me. The unworthiness deep within me makes me needy for something in return. Sometimes it is all too much and this simmering tension manifests as sadness, envy, iritation, anger and even hatred.

Appreciating my own failure has enabled me to develop compassion toward self. It offers release from the burden of my own failure. Embracing my failure brings a sense of wholeness. I am no longer rejecting a part of myself, or always keeping it at arms length. I am no longer yearning for love. In this way, my compassion for others no longer stirs tension. We are all worthy of love.

If we are all worthy, is there really a fundamental difference between self and other? The wisdom of emptiness implies there is no separate, independent self. Sure there are practical distinctions in everyday life.

Beneath this superficial conceptual façade of separation, however, there really is no separation. Experiencing deep compassion for another brings only deepening peace within one self. There is only one - there is no real other. Love and compassion are simply natural reflections of a deeper truth.

Intimacy with Life

Discovering that we are able to give unconditional acceptance to even the challenges in life is to develop trust. The conviction grows that behind the complex narratives of success and failure, self and other, there is a deeper truth. Acting on this intuition, we are challenged again and again to confront our fear. In every moment, our trust grows. One day, the depth and breadth of trust is so deep and so wide we can no longer see any limits. Our trust permeates the whole of each and every undivided moment.

That the ego is a failure is a signpost to this trust. If success and failure are so intimately related, how can we determine our direction? The signpost of failure points away from ego. But ego itself is not a bad thing. By ego, I am referring primarily to your personality and skills. An ego is necessary to basic functioning in the world. That ego should not be responsible for our direction and our self-worth, is a reflection of a deeper truth about who we are.

I recently met a young, well-travelled man in the local shopping centre. He was working to drum up support for a well-known charity, and to highlight the plight of those without access to even the bare essentials of life. Upon walking toward this man, I felt a minor anxiety. I am already donating to four other charities on a monthly basis and I presently have zero income. Add to that a long history of being what others may describe as shy, reserved or quiet, and you can maybe see where this is going. I felt some momentary discomfort.

The discomfort was short lived. Something in the clear awareness of consciousness was able to see what was happening. The discomfort was merely the experience of my conditioning coming into contact with the situation. Over a lifetime of belief in separation, these habits can easily rule and limit our life. In seeing and not ruminating out of fear or lack of confidence, there is space. It was within this space that there arose an intuitive movement, a moving toward the situation.

Our ensuing conversation became a confirmation of my trust in life. It is a trust that everything is an opportunity. In time, we may come to see that everything in experience is symbolic of a deeper movement toward truth and understanding. In those few minutes, an old pattern of aversion was loosened and a new habit was strengthened. We both parted on a high.

The next day, I returned to the shopping centre and bumped into the same young man. He told me that our conversation the previous day had given him a really positive vibe. He related that subsequently four or five more people signed up to give a monthly donation to this charity, and that our conversation had really set the tone for his day. Apparently this kind of interaction often seems to determine whether he has a good day, or a bad day.

Life is not a passive, objective experience. Our trust in life sends a signal to the universe. Each moment, our thoughts, actions and intent form a conversation with life. We are not separate from life. The development of trust is a reflection of this underlying unity. Failure is a foreplay. It is an invitation to become intimate with life.

Self and Ego

Intimacy with life marks the true beginning of the end of ego identity. Ego identification is when that which we are confuses self with the ego. We believe we are the ego, or what it represents. Unexamined, the ego offers a convincing story of separation and independence. It becomes an unquestioned assumption that we are separate and fundamentally alone. In seeing everything through this lens of separation, everything in life seems only to affirm and strengthen this belief.

Ego identification is a deeply held belief that the projections of ego are an accurate representation of our identity and our existence. It is the mistaken belief that we are a separate being (whatever that may be). As a direct result, there is always a deep seated fear at our core. It is a fear of anhiliation or unwelcome change; it is a fear of failure. This fear percolates up through consciousness as an imperative for control and survival. It is the root of all selfish action.

The deeper nature of what we are 'sees through' this charade and our inevitable suffering is the result. Failure and suffering call upon us to question our deeply held ontological beliefs. They call upon us to recognise the true magnitude of our failure, to suspend our belief, and to investigate at the root of our predicament. Who are we really? If we exist at all, what can we know for certain? Where is this knowing? Are there really two of me - my self and my ego?

The ultimate purpose of spirituality and religion is to discover that you are not an ego. You are not an independent being. There is nothing stable upon which to build an identity. Every nuance of being is constantly in flux, constantly changing. Every nuance of being is interdependent upon every other. There is a obviously a body-mind (or body-mind-spirit if you please), but this is not the essence of who or what you are.

Realisation is seeing through this mistaken identity. The seeing happens at the level of silent knowing. The conceptual mind of thoughts, language and narrative must halt temporarily to make space for this deeper understanding. That 'Aha!' moment when you finally understand, is always acompanied by a momentary pause in the mental chatter. All insight, intuition and creativity arise in silence. They flourish when the ego becomes indistinct from conscious experience. We forget our self.

Equanimity is abiding as spacious peace, regardless of our circumstances. It is the abundant peace that is naturally present when absent the imperative of ego identity.

Joy

The flickering of ego identity coincides with the experiential realisation of emptiness. All conceptual distinction becomes translucent. You can see it and you can see through it. The mind is transfixed in the moment. The darkness of the unknown is only our adjusting focus. The light of awareness is at first too bright for us to see. Beginning as a faint glow, that which is revealed becomes steadily brighter.

The words are symbolic, they are metaphor. The experience of which I am speaking is to come face to face with reality, with our true nature. It is the present moment, free of any hint of that existential imperative to be some place else.

Initially such experiences often seem to quickly reach a point of emotional runaway. What starts as a trickle quickly becomes an overwhelming flood. As the flickering ego identity continues to fade, longer periods of equanimity reign.

What is left is ever-present. It is in the sudden release of years of pent up emotion in a meditator. It is in discovering that you can hold suffering in all it's guises. In discovering that to hold suffering is to invite wisdom. In discovering that this simple effortless act of trust can bring unparalleled relief to both ourselves and others. In spontaneous gratitude for just this moment of existence. It is your surprise at the arising of this gratitude, and it's immediate return to you ten-fold. In the 'chance' appearance of a 'stranger' who played an integral role in undoing personal neuroses.

It can manifest as tears of joy over a tofu sandwich. It can manifest as unfathomable calm in the heat of an argument. It can manifest as bliss at the mere appearance of a glass of water, or in a single sip of tea. In the play of autum leaves. In the ineffable hues of a sunset. It can manifest as a towering office block under construction. It can manifest as ants scurrying. Even as a ball of dung, teaming with life. In the steam rising after a rain. It is felt as writers block and fatigue. It speaks to you through your own words, long after they are written. It is a smile.

It is an ever-present undercurrent of joy. It is the enigmatic stillness of being. It is the mystery of the eternal now, reflecting back upon itself. It is the total failure of ego!

The successful failure of ego identity is to know abundant peace and joy.

Meaning is Everywhere

Paradoxically, the more conceptual mind subsides into the background, the more fresh meaning seems to arise everywhere. The more ego is seen to be a failure, the more trust develops. The more trust develops, the more ego identity falls away.

After the dust of realisation settles there is a silence. In the solitary moments a gentle awareness may arise of the symbolism behind every object, every action, every person, every dream and every nuance of consciousness itself.

They are not dead, lifeless concepts, but always surprising, fresh and alive. They are disguised in sacred appearance.

Transformational Elixir

Lingering habit patterns of bygone success and failure are witnessed amidst the backdrop of peace and stillness. Revisiting the past one final time, the mystery beckons from the abyss. Suffering scorches the last vestiges of identity. The smoke of identity failure is a searing, potent, transformational elixir. Inhaling deeply, this dark wrathful smoke becomes an omnipotent aphrodisiac that dissolves to reveal the truth of sacred union between emptiness and form.

The infinite mystery is a devine interpenetration of form and emptiness. It is that which cannot be named and transcends all. It is our true nature. Yet this infinite play of potential is reflected in the mundane. In the contrast of opposites. In the masculine and the femanine. In the eternal now, forever dying and reborn. It is the undercurrent of adventure, intimacy and joy that is entwined in the fabric of reality and reflected in the most primal acts of passion.

The sacred union is the perfection of love unconditional whose potency knows no bounds. It overcomes even the most stubborn and intractable delusion.

Failure is a transformational elixir: drink up!

A Benevolent Dance

Da da da dum,
Da da da dum,
Goes the beat of the drum.

Da da da dum,
Da da da dum,
Da da da dum.

No more cattle,
The shaman offers himself,
And plunges the rattle.

Da da da dum,
Flesh tears and blood smears.

Da da da dum,
He shivers, is that fear?

Da da da dum,
The darkness descends,
To pluck out his eyeballs,
One by one.

Da da da dum,
Arms flailing,
Scarlet embossed on pale dust,
A symbol of weird lust.

Da da da dum,
Time failing,
The shaman's pale face,
Gaunt bloody remains.

Shoulder to shoulder I dance,
The wretched corpse does yet breathe,
Does yet writhe in fear and pain,
The bitter-sweet music,
Of a love with no name.

Da da da dum,
His lanky form flops,
On to the pyre,
I make love to demented hips,
Vitriol spits and dribbles forth,
Out blistering lips.

Da da da dum,
Da da da dum,
My dancing dolly,
Still on the run.

Da da da dum,
He staggers back up,
Seems still not yet done,
Yes he still wants some fun!

Da da da dum,
Goes the beat of the drum.

Da da da dum,
The eternal masochist,
His tenderness, his benevolence,
Measureless.

Da da da dum.

Da da da dum.

Da da da dum.

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