On failure

I am beginning to wonder if there is such a thing as failure. Failure suggests an absolute system of judging correctness, success, goodness. But, in what has been revealed to me of the universe, there are few true absolutes—and certainly moral absolutism is far too small to be of universal consequence.

What I’m getting at is that on an individual level, failure is an illusion.  Take this morning. Despite all my preparations to help things run smoothly (but oh! Even now I am thinking of more things I could have done! My monkey brain working to accept responsibility for the failure of our morning), my neuro-eccentric daughter lost control and had another one of her fits. It could have been very messy indeed, but there was no shouting (from me at least), no holding of arms and legs, no attempts at “controlling” the situation. I sat and acknowledged that the natural consequences of her actions were sufficient. My children were late to school, but I feel no responsibility for that fact.

From the outside, I failed. According to society, my job today as their mother was to feed them, clothe them appropriately, and get them to school on time with all they needed. While this morning didn’t go how I had hoped, and my own schedule and emotional equilibrium was disrupted, I succeeded at being mindful in my words and actions. This success is significant for me. So much so that I cannot view the morning as a failure. But perhaps that is because I am getting better at not holding myself and my neuro-eccentric daughter to society’s standards of success.

This is the key. People like us cannot function well within the socially defined parameters for how one should behave or even according to the standard definitions of productivity and success. (Many would argue that it is because we exist outside those norms and many others that we are valuable tools for social change, while others would argue that that is precisely the reason we need to be locked up or at least medicated, sedated.) Thus, “failure” is a highly charged concept for a neuro-eccentric.

My point is, I have spent a great deal of my life feeling ashamed of my “failures,” holding myself to standards that were not meant for me. I did an incredible amount of damage to myself. From the age of nine, I have been aware that I am different. What I did not know was that that was something to be celebrated. So, I spent decades hurting myself in one way or another, trying to be more like something that was accepted, raging against all that was accepted, or punishing myself for not being acceptable. And for what? Some nonsense absolutist ideal of success and failure?

I wonder what I could have accomplished by now if my difference had been celebrated from the beginning. And then I hear a little voice that says that my value is in my path, in the way I walk that path, in the discoveries I make along the way. Not in accomplishments, because, quite frankly, no accomplishment would ever have been enough to make me feel truly accepted.

I don’t mean to get all pop-psychology here. I mean to talk about the false structures that inform our perception of who we are and what our purpose is. Society paints a backdrop of a world based on false absolutes. The world we see in that image is not the real world. The real world lies beyond the backdrop, and the way to see it is to dissolve society’s falseness in our minds. This is part of what the Buddha’s teachings mean to me.

So, I am not a failure, despite all evidence to the contrary. I am in fact making progress on my path.

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