If you are new to this blog, you may not be familiar with the "Life Lessons in a Time of War" posts that appear here and there. I offer them occasionally as pauses in the rush of news and events and debate; as simple reflections that may contain a sporadic hint on how we may live independently and peacefully amid conflict and injustice. The one that follows is a small meditation on the definition of success.
The dictionary says that "success" is "the accomplishment of an aim or purpose; the attainment of popularity or profit."
Well, is that what it is? Money, fame, achievement? Is that a successful life? If so, then why are the wealthy so often miserable, and the famous, decrepit? Does money prevent illness? Does fame attract happiness?
Perhaps you have, in your own life, felt the black, panic-stricken emptiness of separation or divorce. If not, then you are in the blessed minority amongst adults in our culture. Or perhaps you have suffered from a mental illness, and agonized under the leaden shroud of depression or the needle edges of anxiety or obsession. If not, you have escaped a darkness that befalls nearly a third of Americans.
It is even more likely, though, that you have sometime felt lonely and desolate, as if dropped by Fortune onto the cold rock of Time. If you have never experienced this, then your life is the rarest of beauties, no matter its outward form or appearance. You have known such success as Hollywood icons and oil magnates can only dream about.
Yet we have been trained to believe that a successful life is that and not this; that it must include wealth, fame, power over others, and perhaps a manifest measure of institutional control or entitlement, in order for there to be success.
These things are all, of course, lies. They show us what we might have, not what we can be, nor even what we already are.
The truly successful life stands on its own; needs no props of glory or accumulation. Its roots reach deep into the earth; it stands tall but not stiff; it flexes but does not waver; it yields but is ever firm.
If you have suffered, then perhaps this is all clear to you already. Divorce does not arise from a lack of money, but a poverty of communication. We do not become ill from a want of fame or power, but from obstructions within the physical and psychic self. We are not made lonely by anonymity or material loss, but by fear and suspicion. We do not lose in life because we lose our possessions; but because we lose love.
Tear away the shroud of belief that obscures it, and the love you were born with will be returned to you from within, as clear and light and warm as an infant's breath or a lover's smile. Then you will know—in whatever form it may arrive for you—the meaning of success.