Chapter 8 – Success

Sunday Service Discussion Notes for November 4th and 18th, 2012

For two weeks we discussed the subject of Success, as we referred to chapter 8 of Perceptions, a book written by UMS founder Damien Simpson. 

We started this discussion with a quote from the chapter of Perceptions that deals with Success:

“Happiness usually requires that we change our definition of success.”

Society trains to accept a certain definition of success: having money, owning a house, having a “respectable” career, raising children, owning cars, taking yearly vacations, being beautiful, being famous. We agreed that we should ask ourselves why we want these things. The question was posed to the group: “Have you ever found yourself striving toward something because you wanted to appear successful to others?” Many members said that this was so.

When talking about the myth of the perfect life in his book, Meditation for Dummies, author Stephen Bodian was quoted as saying:

“In my years as a psychotherapist and meditation teacher, I’ve noticed that many people suffer because they compare their lives to some idealized image of how life is supposed to be. Cobbled together from childhood conditioning, media messages, and personal desires, this image lurks in the shadows and becomes the standard to which every success or failure, every circumstance or turn of events, is compared and judged. … Whatever your version of the perfect life – perfect vacations, perfect sex, perfect health, even perfect peace of mind or total freedom from all tension and stress – you pay a high price for holding such high expectations. When life fails to live up to those expectations, as it inevitably does, you end up suffering and blaming yourself. … If only you had made more money, spent more time at home, been a better lover, gone back to school, lost those extra pounds…the list is endless. No matter how you slice it, you just don’t measure up.”

Letting the definition of success come from without (rather than within) can cause us to feel like we will never achieve success, or be worthy. And example was given in the now clichéd TV and movie plotlines involving a high school reunion where the main character decides to lie about their current career or achievements because they are worried about impressing their former classmates. These protagonists were allowing other people to define success for them, whether it reflected their personal desires or not.

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Stephen Bodian also writes: “As the Buddhists say, suffering is wanting what you don’t have and not wanting what you do have.” The group agreed that meditation could be one technique that would help us learn to focus on the present moment instead of always worrying about what how to achieve future goals.

An entry from the Tiny Budda blog was presented to the group, as writer Jake O’Callaghan discussed the myth that being obsessed with success will bring it (and happiness) into your life. The author relates how he had taken some advice that said he should want success as badly as a drowning person wants air, and shows how his single-minded pursuit of success causes him to be stressed out and unable to enjoy life. He says that at one time he thought, “Once I became successful, I would be happy, right?” He then discusses how he was able to turn his downward spiral around by letting go of his expectations and being present to do the things that excite him here and now. This caused him to be far more successful than the original, more stressful path.

Another example of a way to be present was given from the book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, where there was a chapter devoted to “Living in Day Tight Compartments.” Our lives were compared to large ships, which have water-tight compartments that can be sealed off quickly in the event that the ship sustains damage and begins to take on water. This compartmentalizing restricts the flooding to one small area and allows the ship to remain afloat. If we live each day for itself, treating a 24 hour period like it is a sealed off compartment, we can keep our lives afloat as well. It is only when we begin to worry and focus on all of our past problems and future worries that we “flood” the show structure of our life and allow stress to “sink” us.

We discussed how we can become very wrapped up in the procession of life, always looking to the next milestone and not enjoying the view from out current plateau. Essayist Logan Pearsall Smith was quoted as saying:

 “There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want, and after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second.” 

The group was asked how well do you think they enjoy the things that you have earned? Their house? Their car? Is their high paying job making a difference in the level of joy they experience versus their first job as a waiter or cashier?

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Comedian Greg Fitzsimmons has a bit where he says of himself and his wife, “As a single couple, we are no longer able to hang around with married couples ’cause they cannot be in our presence without getting very annoying. It’s always like, ‘So, when are you guys getting married? Huh? When are you getting married? When are you guys getting married?!’ I dunno, you’re married — when are you gonna die? You’re already married, death will be next. When are you gonna die? Because that’s the next step” Through the humor he makes a serious point when he goes on to say that fear plays a key part in the choices we make. We are afraid, don’t know what to do, so we create institutions (like marriage and careers) to help herd us through life. When we come to a crossroads, we can be afraid to make a decision, and maybe we use society’s goalposts to make a choice for us instead of using our own judgment. If we’re afraid, others can make our choices for us.

We also discussed the need to spend more time counting our blessings. We agreed that most of us do not place nearly enough value on what we already have, and may take for granted the great gifts we live with each day. We were asked to think about how much money we would take to give up some of the things we take for granted. Would you take $20 million for your right hand? How about $1 billion? What about your eyes? Your spouse, children? We were reminded that many of the things we already possess are priceless.

Many hands were raised when the group was asked who would admit to spending at least some time during the previous week fretting over things they lacked. We find ourselves complaining while we enjoy abundance.

All agreed that wealth does not ensure happiness. We chase things we don’t need without taking time to ask how the end result is going to make us feel. It was also notes that our failures can open the door to something new, and that we don’t have to let failures cause use to give up our passions. We have a choice to either get back on the horse, but also take the time to ask ourselves if this path (getting back on the horse) is what we really want to do.

We concluded our discussion with a reading from Perceptions to remind us that if we want to be a success, we would be better off not dwelling on our failures:

“Mutt and Jeff were two rats used in a behavior experiment. They were both champion swimmers, not normal behavior for this species of life. One night Mutt got caught in the wheel of his cage. He struggled all night to get free, to no avail. The technician found Mutt and freed him. The video tape kept on the cage revealed what had happened to him. Well, they gave Mutt a rest, but when the time came to resume the experiment, Mutt would not swim. Mutt just plain gave up. One traumatic experience and he forgot that he was a champion swimmer. Did you forget, so to speak, that you are a champion swimmer?

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