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Learning from failures ( winter 2021)

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

Note: This passage was written awhile back, months ago, in 2021. I’ve learned to no longer depend on “my story” for learning, or for my “spiritual growth.” Really, it’s more of a process of dissolving than of “growth.” Anyway, I’m posting this to show the evolution, the changes in my awareness.

Occasionally, I attend virtual meetings with a group that follows the non-dualist perspective of Rupert Spira, as well as other spiritual teachers. I’ve just begun meet with them. One belief about myself that I’m working on “correcting” is that I “don’t work well with others,” that I can never be part of a group. I’m sure this goes back to kindergarten but I’ve never felt comfortable in groups. I generally avoid parties, or leave as soon as possible. However, I do enjoy discussions with individuals when I find someone I with whom I can communicate. I’ve adhered the spiritual teacher Groucho Marx’s adage that “I would never be part of any group that would have me as a member.”

But in this non-dual way of looking at myself and the world, I’ve realized that such beliefs are tentative, not really part of the “Self,” and malleable. We can change more than we often realize. This was most clear to me during the week when I attended a retreat with Rupert Spira at Garrison Institute in New York. I will describe what occurred there in another post. And the groups I have attended seem welcoming. I seem to have something in common with people who attend. It’s not easy for me, but I’d like to feel part of it.

Right now, I want to address an issue that came up in a recent virtual meeting of Friends of Rupert Spira. A couple of people were grappling with serious “failures,” or challenges, in their lives. This caused me to think back about failures in my own life, how they played out, what I learned from them.

One of the paradoxes (paradise?) in non-dualism is that ideally, we know that we have no history; our memories do not represent the “now,” they are not our current experience. In a way, since “thoughts are things,” memories are as real as other perceptions. But if we live in the now and experience what is right in front of us, memories are just a distraction. We can let most of them go, retain those we need to function. And they are “not me,” they represent memories which are illusory. They do not exist in true Awareness.

But surely we can learn something from our past, try to avoid similar missteps in the present. I’m going to describe these failures and my responses trying to take into account non-dual principles. It will be easy to second-guess this whole essay for several reasons. For one thing, if we view our current experience as “awareness dreaming,” as Rupert sometimes describes it, then memories are “reconstructions of dreams,” so they’re even more illusory.

Nisargadatta, speaking from total immersion in Reality, rarely gives “practical advice” (other than to contemplate on the “I am”). But when someone asked him how to distinguish good from evil, he said that good takes you closer to the true Self; what’s not so good takes you away from it. All three cases in my life demanded a change in myself. And I think the change was one of getting closer to the true Self. In two instances, I accepted that challenge; in one, in the flow of time, I was too late. But if reality is truly timeless, I hope to change in the now to meet that challenge.

One failure that occurred fairly recently, a couple of years ago. I had a close friend when I lived in Ruidoso. I was in construction, becoming a building contractor. While I waited for my license, I worked for awhile laying adobe bricks on a house. Ed was a friend of the owner and worked with me. We became close friends. He lived in a pickup with a camper built in the bed. He stayed in our driveway for awhile. My kids loved him; he was a great teacher and would play ball with my two-year-old son for hours, teaching him to throw and catch. He stayed with my son a few times so that my wife and I could go on a brief vacation. Ed was a socialist who didn’t want to work “within the system.” He mostly worked in national parks and private camps, leading kids on wilderness hikes into national forests. He was one of the most compassionate and caring people I’ve ever known. He inherited his parents’ small farm in Michigan, and every Christmas, he’d send me a long letter. He suggested finding a way to get together. I just never got around to responding, and just a few years ago, I quit hearing from him. Finally, I sent him a letter about two years ago, I think in 2019. About a month later, I got a letter from a lawyer handling his estate. Ed had hanged himself!

I haven’t gotten over my failure to connect with Ed. I play tennis with a retired therapist. When I told him the story, he said, a bit sarcastically, “Oh yeah, and if you’d just written him, I’m sure he’d be alive today.” But the point is, I failed to follow my heart and stay connected to my close friend. I kept my self separate. That failure still haunts me. I express my sorrow and my apologies to Ed in the now, and change in the now.

I will quickly summarize the events: In one event (the suicide of Ed), I feel the sense of failure often. It has not resolved itself. In another “failure” event, getting fired by a small company, I changed on the surface in a positive way: I knew I needed to make an effort of be part of a team, to be inclusive in my activities, to make friends, to interact with people more. In another failure apparent failure, I learned, once again, that I needed to go beyond my comfort zone, be part of a group, help others, be more available as a teacher.

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