You’ll want to sit down with a cup of tea and read this answer aloud to whoever’s in the room. Amelia is a well-spoken intellectual (who knew?! She laughed at my very juvenile jokes in class the other day.) She gives us a lot to contemplate.
What’s your definition of success? By that definition, do you consider yourself successful?
I hear the word success and the first thing that comes to my mind is a kind of spiritual ecology. There are those external measures of success, like what your zip code is, how much money you make, what your job title is, but those things don’t interest me as much as the concept of thriving. Thriving as in occupying a robust space of authenticity. Being willing to risk and dream and feel everything, good and bad. Residing fully in the deepest, wildest and purest form of life and longing, joy, sorrow, elation, disappointment. Being with and watching the ebb and flow of growth and decay with equanimity. Living and dying with radiant honesty and connection to the world.
I was formally trained in religious studies and philosophy (certainly the quickest path to financial success!) and I naturally think of particular passages that I’ve encountered in my studies. For example, in the New Testament in Matthew Chapter 6, where Jesus talks about storing treasures on Earth versus storing treasures in Heaven. It’s a great metaphor! We can idolize and treasure things and external measures of “success” which can all be taken away from us, or we can tune in and treasure the eternal, the unchanging, the “heavenly”- that which is not subject to being eaten by vermin or stolen by thieves, as he said.
Right after that he talks about worry and points out that the birds of the air are provided for, while we worry about what we’ll eat and what we’ll wear, what the state of our body is. But if we look around us, we can see glimpses of that fullness of provision in our natural world. That’s a meditation on success that interests me! The beauty of a flower that, as Jesus said, is more spectacular than the garments of a king. If we analyze our definition of “success” would we then say the birds and the flowers are “successful,” or does the typical connotation of the word start to sound a bit hollow, or even unworthy of much attention?
I also think of the ethereal wisdom of one of my favorite poets, Rilke. I can recite one of his poems for you, in an English translation by Joan Macy that I like which I think is worthy of this discussion:
I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
I’ve been circling around God, that primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?
This immediately makes me think of the expansive possibilities of life- what success can be. He hints of death, but he surrenders to it because he knows that the center of these circles is eternity. And the question he asks is a recognition of both how small and how vast we are in the creation we’re participating in, and how there is a Oneness and a mystery in all of it. What a great thing, too, to ask yourself if you’re a falcon, a storm or a great song! How we answer that could be a great insight into how we are settling into a full ecological sense of “success.”
So, am I successful? I think I’m finally embracing a life lived in widening circles. I’m certainly not wildly successful if one were to measure it by my material “treasures on earth.” But I do have spectacular treasures! I am surrounded by love and friendship, generosity, sacrifice, freedom and possibility; that to me feels like a fertile environment in which to really thrive! I’m learning to surrender to joy and sorrow, to feel everything and really reside in it; to live with an open heart and with honesty. I hope it goes without saying, but all of this is only possible because of that unbreakable connection to others and connection to this creation that I have and that we all have; in other words, it is only because of love. Being able to love- to give it and receive it- is perhaps the greatest measure of success I can think of! And I’m falling more in love every day! Success!