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How Do You Measure Success?

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What does success look like to you? Is it a “bitch-goddess” that causes “moral flabbiness,” as philosopher William James once told H.G. Wells? Success is often just another word for wealth, and it’s this “squalid interpretation” that led James to call success “our national disease” over 100 years ago. Certainly Mr. James would declare it a terminal case if he knew the Supreme Court had blessed the notion of corporations being people. Wealth at any cost — is that success?

In Cash We Trust

At least I’m in no danger of achieving that sort of success. Compared to people I’ve met in Central America and Africa, yes, I’m outrageously wealthy. But in the U.S., going from nonprofit environmental work to freelance writing to (potentially) a teaching position pretty much ensures my “failure” in this area.

Dying to be Successful

To some, success means getting other people to do what they want. That might mean voting a certain way – a successful NRA lobbyist. Or buying a certain product – a successful firearms ad campaign. Those outcomes also involve cash, either directly or indirectly. Many firearms dealers give cash to the NRA, and the NRA gives cash to members of Congress to get them to do what they want. “Morally flabby” success, indeed.

What about Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi? In a sense, they got people to do what they wanted – a Civil Rights Act and an India freed from Britain. But they got murdered in the process. I guess that was successful. There’s no “moral flabbiness” in a martyr’s success, but it’s not something I hope to emulate.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civ...

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, look on. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), political and ...

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
Credit: Wikipedia

Was Jesus successful, also murdered for his beliefs? The story of his resurrection started a major world religion over two billion strong; but that isn’t what he came to do. He came to give individuals the power to change and to be transformed into the free, fully loving, healthy people they were created to be.  I can’t help but wonder how successful that’s looking from a cosmic perspective.

Adam

Transformative Success

I believe this is an ongoing story, that there is hope for all of us. While success is usually associated with outcomes, I’m thinking it has more to do with trusting the process and doing what we are all called to do each day to grow into our best selves.

This unfolding story of spiritual growth and transformation comes closest to my personal definition of success: becoming who I was meant to be, not giving in to the fear of being judged by others, letting go of my need to control outcomes, and reaching for the stars.

I have to believe that there is even hope for the “Christian leaders” who sputter through their TV make-up, judging others, pretending to be what they are not, and using fear tactics to prevent people from reaching their own glorious stars.

Reaching Our Potential

In 2013, I’ll measure success by how much freedom I give myself to become me, neither compelled by others nor trapped by my own crap.

Speaking of which: I enjoyed these ruminations from author Gregg Levoy on getting beyond our crap and reaching our full potential —

“It makes perfect sense that we should be called to go beyond our limits, because the One that calls us is beyond all limits.

I suspect that all the energy we have bound up in resisting our own potential is more energy than we’ll need to reach it. It takes as much energy to fail as it does to succeed.

The strategies are legion:

  • Hiding behind the tasks of discernment. By analyzing a call to death and picking apart all its varying implications and by poring over calculations that would put an actuary into a coma, we lose all the heat from the heart through the head, as if we had been in the bitter cold without a hat.
  • Waiting for the Perfect Moment. Waiting for just the right combination of time, money, energy, education, freedom and the ideal alignment of the planets….
  • Telling ourselves lies. For instance, “I can’t afford it….” [when] the truth was, “I won’t afford it.” I won’t reprioritize my life, won’t make sacrifices….
  • Choosing a path parallel to the one we feel called to. One that’s close enough to keep an eye on it but not so close we’re tempted to jump tracks. We become an art critic rather than an artist, a school teacher rather than a parent, a reporter rather than a novelist.
  • Attempting to replace one calling with another. Because we don’t like it, our parents don’t like it, it doesn’t earn enough money or prestige.
  • Immediately turning a call into a Big Project. Thereby intimidating ourselves into paralysis.
  • Self-sabotage. We feel called to go to art or medical school but are so afraid of finding out we don’t have what it takes that we “forget” to mail the application until after its deadline has passed.
  • Distracting ourselves with other activities. We suddenly become inspired to finish old projects we haven’t thought about in ages.
  • Playing “sour grapes.” We believe we won’t succeed … or will suffer unduly, so we try to convince ourselves we don’t want it anyway.
  • Trying to make ourselves unworthy of a calling. Hoping that God will decide we’re not the person for the job and take it back.

The degree of resistance is probably proportionate to the amount of power waiting to be unleashed and the satisfaction to be experienced once the “no” breaks through to “yes” and the call is followed.”

Source: Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life

Reach for the Stars

What does success mean to you?

What stars are you reaching for?

If you aren’t reaching, what’s holding you back?

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The Spirituality of Attention Deficit Disorder

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Having a touch of Attention Deficit Disorder can be a boon for the spiritual life. It’s never easy to live fully in the present moment, to gratefully embrace all that life brings, or to balance our “being” and “doing.” But I think that ADD can be an ally in these spiritual pursuits.

Being Here, Now

Spiritual sages throughout history have urged us to live in the present moment, fully aware of the sacredness in all that surrounds us. They say this is a universal pillar of spiritual growth. Making it an intentional practice can lead to wonder, which leads to gratitude: one of my favorite fruits of spirituality.

Brother Lawrence, a simple monk who lived in the 1600’s, is recognized as having learned to fully “practice the presence of God.”

Brother Lawrence

Brother Lawrence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“In the noise and clatter of my kitchen,” he said, “while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.”

This tranquility is usually far from us, since our minds are often occupied with worrying about what’s just happened, or preparing for something that might happen. We can be everywhere but where we are.

For me, though, with my lively ADD mind, I can be fully present from moment to changing moment. As the moments pass by, my brain and emotions happily follow, like a bouncing ping-pong ball. I’m wired that way. I can go from despair to joy fairly easily, like a child, in some ways.

Are You In or Out?

I was talking with a friend today about the inward-outward journey and how the spiritual life consists of both serving others and also finding time for solitude and silence. We need a balance, because if you’re all service and don’t take time to re-charge, you’re going to burn out, and if you’re overly monkish, you’re not helping the world.

I suppose you could argue that – I believe that monks and nuns praying for peace are indeed adding goodness to the universe. But most of us don’t live in convents, and we need balance.

Here again, my ADD allows me to move from contemplation and prayer to calling up a depressed friend in a matter of moments. Yes, I distract myself and sometimes have trouble with staying on task (unless I get into obsessive mode — another story), but my day is usually a balance of “doing” and “being,” just by virtue of the fact that I bop back and forth.

The Yin and the Yang

Here in the compartmentalizing western world, we talk about the yin and the yang, shadow and light, while in Chinese philosophy, it’s yin-yang: a dynamic, interactive relationship.

But even in this melded Chinese word, it’s still black and white. There’s no grey in the circle.

I’ve come to believe that, while life flows, it doesn’t flow from yin to yang, from good to bad, or from easy to hard. It’s both at the same time — two rivers together.

When my mother was dying, I was desperately sad, but at the very same time, I could see that those last days were treasures. I loved her more than I ever had, and I valued her life, every day of her 91 years. It was a privilege and a joy to be with her on her journey, till we got to the door I couldn’t go through. I am so, so grateful to have experienced that profound but terribly difficult time.

Again, I think that perhaps it’s easier for someone with mild ADD to appreciate this confluence. We have to hold a number of things in dynamic, non-linear tension all the time.

The Dog Ate My Homework

ADD is not a serious condition for me, and I don’t mean to make light of it. I am aware that people’s lives can be dreadfully disrupted by it.

I am frequently frustrated at my inability to get anything done because I get distracted, or lose things, or go running off in a different direction. For instance, right now I’m supposed to be designing a writing course, but I keep changing my mind about the content of the course. So I’m blogging instead of doing my homework.

dog eating homework

(As it turns out, bouncy brain is also a help to blogging. I am interested in *everything* and enjoy bounding from subject to subject.)

At any rate, my point is that ADD is yin-yang – it might frustrate me, but I can see some spiritual advantages, and I’m grateful for that revelation.

“Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com”

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