THE COLUMN

No. 64 & 65/April 27 and May 4, 1996


ON NOT FAILING

IVAN HOFFMAN

I have never failed at anything in my life. To be sure, there have been a number, quite a number of rather unexpected, undesired results. There have been a good deal of disappointments. But as I have come to see, there have been no failures.

I did not always see these alternative results as anything but failures. It is hard to see the outside from the inside. But as I look back on the particular events, it appears that although nothing that subsequently happened ever changed the original "facts on the ground"-- what happened, happened-- subsequent events made me see those facts differently. Nothing changed except my mind. The difference between the two versions of the original "reality" depended upon how I looked at the same event given later events.

We define an event as a failure because it did not come out the way we wanted it to. Whatever dreams we have dreamed, if they did not materialize, we feel we have failed.

The idea of failure is not an either/or proposition. There is no objective measure of failure. It is not an idea that can be quantified. Not everyone that looks at a particular event will consider it the same way, as a failure. What is or is not failure depends upon what sort of standard against which we are measuring the outcome. And if that measure is absolute, fixed in our mind, then by definition if we fail to achieve that measure, we have failed. But if that measure is flexible, if the goal is one that we can let go of should it not come to pass, then we have the opportunity to redefine failure as success. And when we can see how what appeared as a failure has become a success by the unfolding of the later events that would not have happened except for the apparent failure, then perhaps we begin to see that original event as a success as well.

When we buy into the idea that what we envision for ourselves is the "truth" of our lives, we set ourselves up for failure. Often what we want and what the universe provides are very different. If what we want for ourselves is measured against anything but our hearts, then what we want for ourselves is really often only our ego. We use some outer-defined definition of truth to define an inner quality called, for want of a better term, self-worth. We believe that if we get "x" we believe we will then be a better person.

What the universe may offer us however, is a different form of "truth." If we continue to hold onto the old ideas about how we define who we are we may fail to see the opportunities we are being given to redefine who we are. If we are not given the things we want perhaps it is God's way of giving us a life lesson. If we accept the life lesson, we may grow to a higher level of self-love.

In order that we may see these unintended results not as failure but as success we must believe in some seemingly simple but rather far-reaching ideas. We must come up with a view of life, of the universe, of eternity, that is completely different from that to which we have grown accustomed. We must learn to see the connections between events as just as important as the events themselves. It is in these connections, what I have referred to as the "but fors" (see "The Tao of Love") of our lives, that the threads, the life lessons, begin to become apparent. We must see God operating in all parts of our lives, in the successes as well as in the apparent failures. Mostly in the failures. We must believe that none of those things that happen to us actually matter. And this applies to both the so-called "good" things as well as the so-called "bad" things. And we must not take any of these things personally. We must believe that there is a purpose in life beyond what we see, what we accumulate, what we win or indeed what we lose.

We must believe that we are here only to grow and become enlightened. If that is the only purpose of life then everything that happens to us is solely for the purpose of reaching that goal. And it is frequently the situation that in order that we grow, we must have some painful event so that God can get our attention. Our dreams do not come true not because we are not worthy of having those dreams fulfilled but because we need to not have them come true in order to grow.

And I suggest that what is really going on when we see failure, when what we dream does not come true, is what I believe is proof of the existence of a God. For what failure really is is another agenda.

And since it is, by definition not our agenda, not things we want, it seems to me that it can only be God's agenda for us.

Trusting in another agenda, in an agenda that we did not set, takes faith. This does not mean that we do not create our own agenda. It is what we do in our lives as part of the personal responsibility we have for ourselves. We show up. We do not reach spiritual intimacy by simply turning ourselves over to God without more. We have first to make these plans, create this agenda. But then we must let go of our plans, our agenda and turn ourselves over to God.

What can be the value of these ideas, ideas that seem so radical, so-in a sense-naïve? How can calling what others might clearly see as "failure" a "success" work to perhaps make your life different? Isn't this all just a rationalization for a situation over which we have no control? Isn't this simply putting a good "spin" on a bad situation?

Of course all this is a rationalization. God is a rationalization. Finding "God" in all things, since it cannot be proven in any concrete sense of the term, is something that must be taken on faith and faith is a rationalization. Faith is what we make up when we believe that there is a power going on in our lives that is beyond our ability to control. God can easily be confused with coincidence. Making the best of a bad situation does not have to be attributed to God. It can just as easily be understood as our own abilities to find the rainbow after the storm. But maybe that is God as well.

Under any circumstances, believing that my life has been and continues to be guided by that which I call God has given me the ability to see "failure" as success. It has enabled me to see a plan for my life, a plan that has not always matched my own expectations. And since I cannot figure out who or what would have the desire to plan my life except that which I call God, I have assumed that therefor it is God.

And finding this plan has enabled me to see a balance and a harmony to my life. The plan is, after all, totally balanced and harmonious even if it does not appear to be so to us--at least until we begin to see that plan unfolding despite all our efforts to contravene it through our expectations. Perhaps then we can see the harmony, the balance in our lives. Our lives are harmonious because everything that is supposed to happen is happening. And that which is supposed to happen is supposed to happen because the only purpose of our lives, I believe, is to reach spiritual intimacy, enlightenment.

So when we create expectations of particular results our goals are always going to come up short relative to God's goal for us, which is to become enlightened and live in harmony and balance. And because our expectations are based upon our narrower goals, it naturally appears that we may "fail" because our goals may not be God's goals.

And finding this harmony has made me feel that I have the ability to tap into the total harmony of the entire universe. Doing so has enabled me to see that this plan may be about providing me with other answers to any given situation. There are a myriad of possibilities for our lives. It is only we as humans, acting upon our expectations of a given result, that conclude that if a particular result does not occur, we have failed. Either/or is not necessarily something with which Eternity, God deals.

Being able to deal with more possibilities than merely one or two gives me many more choices for what my life can be about. One of the main benefits to this way of seeing our lives is that it can create options where none appeared to be. And seeing other options and believing that there is no failure, we can both trust our hearts more and take more chances with our hearts. We know that God is speaking to us through our hearts and if we follow our hearts, we may find that we are seeing the very options that before were impossible to see.

And by following our hearts, taking chances, we may end up finding out more about who we are and what are our potentials than we could have if we lived in fear of failure. We may find that we are far more than the person who we believed ourselves to be. We can only find out this information, I believe, if we have faith and trust in the other agenda.

As I have learned to live these ideas, my options have increased substantially. I have taken chances and I have not failed. When I die in this lifetime, I want an inscription on the can containing my ashes to read:

"At least he went for it!"

© 1996 Ivan Hoffman

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