Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence

 

Inner Work


For the week of June 4, 2007

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Success and Failure

Egoism and self-centeredness work in the subtlest fashion, employing an endlessly adaptable variety of approaches to maintain our illusion of separateness. One important source for this lies in our perceived failures and successes. When we fail, or feel that we have failed, egoism leads us to consider ourselves to be failures, incompetent, stupid, perhaps even worthless. When we succeed, egoism leads us to inwardly preen, swell with pride, feel invincible, and consider ourselves to be better than others. And then we tell ourselves and others our story of failure or of success. In either scenario we buy into allowing our self-worth and our own reality to be defined by events external to us, by the feedback we receive from the world.

Sorrow for and learning from our mistakes, as well as natural satisfaction in our accomplishments, need not strengthen our self-centeredness. But the great temptation of the poles of success and failure consists of ascribing them to our illusory self, feeling that it is I who have succeeded or failed, praising or blaming myself, and thereby perpetuating my misguided belief in this mirage of a self.

Neither great success nor continuing failures can fundamentally alter who I am. This is a hard lesson taught by experience. And since most of us never achieve what we define as great success, it remains an unattained goal, forever enticing us to look exclusively to externals for meaning and purpose. Furthermore, the ever-present marketing machine of modern culture continually promotes unquestioning enchantment with externals.

In Sufism, the first stage of liberation occurs when the seeker ceases to hope for or expect ultimate satisfaction through externals. We need not, however, shun the marketplace altogether. On the contrary, like in the last of the Ten Oxherding pictures of Zen, we can enter life with vigor and even seek success. But all the while we know that our reality is neither diminished nor enhanced by the results we do or do not achieve. Only our spiritual inner work, our striving for integrity and excellence, and our acts of creativity and kindness can enhance who we really are.

For this week, notice your relationship to success and failure.


        

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