I missed my opportunity to post a blog entry yesterday and my head went to all sorts of netherworlds. “You aren’t good enough, you aren’t smart enough, see I told you you couldn’t and shouldn’t do this, who do you think you are, who do THEY think you are, your goals are unreachable, your failures are vast, when will you ever succeed, dot dot dot.”
Are you nuts yet? Those thoughts can bombard my mind all in the course of two or three seconds. Two or three seconds. I’m guessing I’m not alone in that. We are human. Smart humans (if we define smart by using the concept of linear and non-linear thought, of imagination and preparation). This smartness, these thought processes which were really put in place by nature to be used by Original Human, have gotten us into more trouble than I care to think about. As a species, we are obsessed with goals, challenges, betterment, failure avoidance, achieving greatness, happiness, enoughness, measuring our worth, improving improving improving. Every five minutes, someone is advertising a “four week challenge!” “Let me help you reach your goals!” “Lose weight! Now!” “Get fit!” “Be a better mother, partner, business owner, baseball player, musician, planner!” “Take the challenge and join others in a forum for support so you can stay motivated!” What I want to know is what happens after these challenges? When does it become the culture to create actual lifestyles, actual real and renewable thought processes that protect us and make us feel safe? It really doesn’t end and has only gotten worse as the bell curve of evolution rises.
There are two sides to this thin thin coin. One involves new revolutions in mechanics, electronics, technology, medicine and even schools of thought. These revolutions are exciting and intriguing. They hold our shorter and shorter attention spans in a curious way so that our questions keep the car running. We talk about education as though it is linear and can only be achieved in one way, one path. Recently with the rise of charter schools, homeschools, unschools, and online schools, people are finding that the diversity among learning styles should be celebrated and supported in ways that make kids feel confident and safe. Confident and safe. Why? So that they can be inspired to progress and get better and learn more and do more and more more more. STEM this STEM that! Lean in! Don’t fall! Get up! Keep going! Don’t sleep! Never eat! No weakness! No emotion! Ever. No one teaches them how, or that it’s ok and actually important, to fail.
Therein lies the other side of the coin. Failure. Our culture and, I’ll be bold enough to say, our species doesn’t allow for the healthy medium of failure as a tool. Sure there are myriad self help books on failure and we TALK about it being normal and natural so we can feel better about it, but we really don’t ALLOW for it at the end of the live long day. As a result, we are left inside our minds thinking that failure must be avoided at all costs. We actually often resist even trying something because of this notion. For failure to exist on its own, we must practice acceptance and THAT is what makes it so difficult. Often when we fail we say, “I’ll get up and do that next time. I can conquer. I’ll show them! I am NOT WEAK.” I’m sorry but where along the way did humans equate failure with weakness? Really think about that for a minute. Why is failure a sad dark depressed WEAK thing? We have connoted the word so heavily that all of us have become afraid of it, even though we don’t quite know how to define it. If we can’t define it, we certainly can’t use it as the beautiful tool that it is. We simply move on to the next “four week challenge.” Life is not measured in weeks. And success is not measured in time or challenges or met goals. Failure, then, is the same. Failure is something we experience, not something that “happens to us.” It is the direct result of something we did or didn’t do. And that doesn’t have to be bad. For me, I could list my failures here ad nauseam. And you could read them at length and gasp and think, ‘Gee, I had no idea she did THAT or this or that or, holy shit, even THAT.’ We look at each others’ failures and measure them against our own to shield us from the prospect of self scrutiny. It doesn’t work. It actually makes our inner voice more critical.
With eating disorders, I have learned, it is like that. Eating disorders arise out of wanting a change to our bodies so we don’t have to feel our feelings and so we can feel in control of SOMETHING. Perfection is the goal which, much to our dismay, simply doesn’t exist. The euphoria that accompanies the initial stages of eating disorders is very short lived until we are trapped in an absolute hell that controls our every move. Very early on, they stop being about the body, and start being about failure. Interestingly, those afflicted are attempting to avoid failure. Perfection is the only goal, the only measure of self worth. And, so it goes. On and on down the rabbit hole we fall and we are not only in this inner tumultuous world that our own minds have created, but we exist in cultures all over the world that repeatedly tell us that we aren’t good enough, that that thing we worked so hard on in school and actually SUCCEEDED in doing should only be celebrated for a moment before the next goal is immediately set. For us, fear of failure is twofold. And, in case you weren’t aware of the statistic, eating disorders are the most deadly form of mental illness around. The.Most.Deadly.
I was enamored by the yesterday’s Times’ article that declared ‘astronomers’ findings of the first image of the black hole. I was immediately shocked (well, as a woman, not really) when I learned that this discovery can be pinned on ONE person, a WOMAN who created the algorithm responsible for such a successful event. She wasn’t even mentioned in the article. Not once. Of course, social media abounds and there were articles left and right proclaiming, “Wait! Look at this lady! Here is the truth!” But, for me, that is always too little too late. The iniquities among genders in the workplace (especially in science) is a whole other post that I’ll save for a later (sooner) date. What inspired me to write for this today was the black hole. Here we are. A picture of an actual black hole. Are you kidding me? I can’t even conceive of that. What the hell does that mean? For one thing, it means that a huge string of failures lined up with the stars and the right minds to achieve this great leap of discovery. And for another, when we really look at what a black hole is, it has taken us full circle around to the very beginning. It is literally a place where time and space do not exist. They are eaten up. They are nullified. The article went on to say that the radiation from this black hole reached out some 5,000 light years into space. What??? That’s incredible. Which got me thinking. If that is the force radiating from just ONE black hole and they are theoretically all over the universe, then what actual forces are we being exposed to? It is my opinion that there are numerous forces working together to keep our bodies and minds in tact in ways that we are simply not meant to humanly comprehend. And this is a calming thing for me to think.
Somehow, our structures stay together, our bodies behave, and our thoughts flow. It seems, however, that our bodies are reminiscent of black holes. There is a gravitational force that holds everything together and some things can’t escape (like our thoughts, and our thinking, and our opinions about how we define things like success and failure, and our pre-conceived notions of how the world ‘thinks we should be’) and yet there is a sense of nothingness among the space between the atoms to which we can attach and liken ourselves to each other and, really, the organization of the universe.
Everything in nature and the universe is made of the same stuff. The same untouching particles that are, in themselves, communicating and failing and succeeding and all the ‘ings’ that they could possibly be thought to do. So where does it end? When do we let ourselves come full circle in all of our algorithmic glory and say, “Ah. Yes. There it is. There I am. Here I am. Now. Perfect. Hello!” When do we let go of the wheel and realize that, as much as we want to think we have the control over what we achieve and don’t achieve, there is some sort of force that will ultimately determine if it’s necessary in order to keep the fabric of the universe in tact or not? This is not about destiny. That point is beyond moot. This is so far beyond any discussion about destiny that I’m simply not going to go there. This is about metanoia. (google it.)
So I challenge you (and, no, not just for four weeks) to change the thinking. Get your definition of what failure is to work for you instead of defeat you. Understand that our thoughts and our behaviors are malleable and, at the end of the day, are simply gravitational forces that come together and apart while held perfectly where they are at any given moment by the magnets of the universe. And that those magnets are organized perfectly in some way so that YOU can exist, all on your own, in a way that supports the forces of the rest of the existence of the rest of the natural world. Then, in that space, I ask you to explore your failures. Really look at them as universal truths, stepping stones to, not your greatness, but the REALIZATION of your already and never-ending timeless greatness that has been there all along (because, magnets) and has only been hindered by your limited human mind and its English definitions of things.
Go out, be good, do the work of humans in a way that makes you feel confident and safe, but also in a way that helps you harness fear and failure as tools for the greater power that awaits your tapping. You’re worth it. I’m worth it. And together our continued beginnings will be measured not against our endings, but against our firm and important place in this world.