Talk presented by Rich Hayes at the
Unitarian Universalist Gathering of South County,
Great Barrington, MA on Mar. 9th, 2014

Meditation Reading:

"Use pain as a steppingstone, not a campground." -- Alan Cohen


"Do not loose yourself in the details of life. There will always be some things in your life you do or do not like, but they are only a small aspect of your life. Life is whole; it is only by attaching yourself to the pieces that you become narrow, shallow, and partial."

A good friend had been telling me about an insight that came to her when she saw that much of her life had been lived looking backwards, preventing her from being present in the here and now AND because she was stuck in the “failures” and mistakes and painful experiences, investing her time wishing they hadn’t happened, she was blind to what these things could teach her. As she put it, “I could spend my whole life wishing for a better past…."

She compared it to being out to dinner at a great restaurant with a wonderful meal in front of you but complaining about the awful meal you had last week.

So this got me thinking about when things go “wrong”-when we mess up and make mistakes or don’t get what we want or think we deserve.

Joseph Campbell said, “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure”. I remember when I’d first heard this I wasn’t sure what he meant. At the time in my own life I had just come through a very painful period, one in which I felt like a failure and, in fact, had “failed” in a business I owned, as well as a marriage.

I felt I had not only stumbled, I had fallen, and this was how I saw it for quite sometime. But because of the pain of that time I began to ask questions, and these began to take me in a very different direction. A direction in which I discovered not only Joseph Campbell but a whole slew of other remarkable teachers, all of whom had suffered their own losses and failures. I found I wasn’t alone. And this was a comfort and an inspiration. When I stopped reliving over and over again the places where I’d gone wrong, I began to gain some perspective. Change became possible.

If you always had successes in life what would you learn? I heard Jerry Garcia once say when asked about some of the “wrong” notes he played in concerts that those wrong notes were leading him to the right ones-he said, “If you’re gonna dive for pearls you’re going to come up with some clams once in a while”.

I had heard author Richard Rohr speak of the spirituality of imperfection in which he said, “We learn more from doing it wrong then from doing it right”. I agree.

Rohr is a Catholic priest who often takes organized religion (especially his own) to task for its failure to address the deeper spiritual journey by staying on the surface. Spirituality is a very different thing than religion. In religion he says its all about doing things “right”-the right prayers, the right rituals, sacraments and blessings; it’s about fulfilling requirements and being rewarded in someway. Religion is about an end point: heaven/salvation: do this and that in just the right way (the way we tell you) and you get in to heaven and God's approval.

Spirituality is quite different. It's about the journey. Arrive at what you thought was an endpoint and you soon discover that there is another horizon. And I use the word discover here because that is what the journey is about-discovery; more is revealed as the journey unfolds. And this takes time as well as commitment and paying attention, cultivating mindfulness and a willingness to let go of the need to be “certain”- (Religion offers that).

Embarking on the spiritual journey (life)you need to remind yourself over and over again that you cannot see the full picture all at once, because if you did it would probably confuse the hell out of you and much of it would be meaningless.

You can only see what you’re able (
and willing) to see at any given point. And this is always based in one’s ability to understand. And this is an ongoing process.

Think of it this way: If a person has just learned basic math skills they’ll need to go through the various levels of math before getting to advanced calculus.

Looking back in our own life we can see that when we were 15 we saw the world framed through what we knew and understood at that time, and this is reasonable and as it should be. However, if we stay stuck there and continue to see in this way as the years pass we have a problem! Much trouble and suffering can come from this.

The point is that every one of us must start where we are, wherever that is! But “start” is the operative word here.

I would bet that we've all had the experience of re-reading something we’d read at an earlier time in our life and are amazed to find we understand it or “get” it in a different way then when we originally read it. You’ve probably wondered how you missed it that first time! But the first time you were in a different place in your journey and it wasn’t time yet.

There’s an old saying: When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Getting back to Joseph Campbell's quote, “Stumbling” is a place that catches your attention. Stumbling and failure can feel humiliating, but what Campbell is pointing to is Humility, which is very different. The stumble and the fall can be the beginning of humility, and this is the first treasure (or gift).
Humility is the ability to be humble, to ask for help, to understand that it is OK to be a beginner or make mistakes. Humility allows insight. Humiliation prevents it.

If we get stuck in the feeling of having been humiliated, we will rehash and relive the perceived humiliation. The danger and potential trap in this is that it can become a lens in which we view our life. We will, as my friend said, continually wish for a better past.

Humiliation warps character and personality and can create terrible dysfunction and shame.

Humility the opposite: it enhances character, invites reflection and compassion for one’s self, which translates out to others; it leads to generosity and willingness to give of one’s self; it doesn’t require recognition and accolades and exists comfortably out of the spotlight.

Again citing Campbell, this is the essence of the Hero’s Journey and the myths that tell this story. If the hero does not return and share what has been gained with the community then the journey has no value.

We are each on a spiritual journey-unique to the lessons we need to learn. I suggest to you that this is the hero’s journey each of us is called to take-our own version of it and we are the central character-it is our myth! It is a journey that goes up as well as down; “in” as well as “out”. We fall and we rise. In the falling and failing are hidden treasures. Remember this. It is our task to discover these.

The Spirituality of imperfection is alchemy: we change one thing into something else- pain, mistakes, defeats and failures become grist for the mill that bring us to our higher, better selves.

What is required to practice the spirituality of imperfection is honesty, openness, and willingness (H.O.W.).

We must strive to be as Honest as we're able about our flaws and mistakes, we must become Open to letting them go, and Willing to continue our journey even when it is painful and uncomfortable.

This path is one of alchemy and each of us are alchemists.

And in the end, hopefully through what we’ve learned and made of the experience, we leave the world better for our having been here because 
we became better (not bitter) people through recognizing our own imperfections and failings. We tapped them for the treasure and wisdom they contain, healing ourselves and in this process, become a part of the healing of the world, which is sorely needed at this time. Thank you.

CLOSING PRAYER: by Karen Wyle May I see truth when human appearance causes me confusion. May I be able to see goodness as it arises out of pain. May I forgive even what I think is unforgivable. May I surrender when I want to fight. May I feel my freedom when I’m imprisoned-either physically or by my thoughts. May I always arise out of the ashes of despair and not falter. May I have a vision when my dreams appear to be crumbling. May I be fully present when I want to disappear.. May I stand in my integrity when it would be easier to sacrifice it. May I love my neighbor when I am inclined to judge him. May I surrender my anger and irritation in the name of my own peace. May I remember to pray when I am lost. May I see and feel the joy in all that is joyful. May I play and dance and sing, and not hold back for fear of seeming foolish. May I accept all aspects of my being and see them as holy. May I soar to the heights of my own being when it’s more comfortable to stay small. May the love within me cancel out everything unlovable so that I am peaceful in God’s love. AMEN