Measuring Success

In her book Anatomy of Spirit, Caroline Myss writes: “While we measure our own success in terms of our personal comfort and security, the universe measures our success by how much we have learned. So long as we use comfort and security as our criteria of success, we will fear our own intuitive guidance because by its very nature it directs us into new cycles of learning that are sometimes uncomfortable.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever measured success by comfort, though it has long been a favorite pursuit of mine. Why try for big adventures when you can stay home in the comfortable chair and get almost the same benefits by reading about people on big adventures? (Apparently, there is a place in our brains that translates such vicarious pleasures into its own reality, though I doubt you get the same benefit you would get if you were actually out on the adventure, and I know you don’t get any physical benefits, but it is definitely more comfortable.)

I have never measured success by security, either, though I certainly wish I didn’t have to worry about money. (Whenever I think such a thought, a tiny reciprocal thought appears — “well, then, don’t worry about it.”)

As for what the universe wants and measures, I haven’t a clue. Does the universe have cognition? It’s hard to tell. The universe doesn’t talk to me, and it has not yet imparted what sort of lesson I have learned from nearly destroying my hand/wrist/arm/elbow. Shouldn’t I have learned something? You’d think such a traumatic experience would have led me somewhere meaningful, but I cannot think of a single lesson I have learned.

This is all just semantics because, with my continued talk of going on a grand adventure, I obviously believe the truth of Myss’s statement — I  do feel some sort of intuitive guidance toward the very idea of doing an iconic hike. And she make sense of why I would dream of going on an epic backpacking trip that not only is seemingly impossible for me, but also terrifies me.  Oddly, mental stagnation scares me even more — while comfort is . . . well, comfortable . . . it certainly is not something to get the senses heightened, brain synapses firing, and the body challenged.

The more I think about the impossibility of an epic backpacking trip, the more I find myself guided by the thought, “but what if . . . ?” That “what if” keeps me focused on getting there (wherever “there” might be), and if an epic hike truly is as impossible as it seems, there will still be all the “practice” adventures, the smaller adventures that are supposed to prepare me for the big one, and each of those adventures will bring its own cycle of learning.

Learning has always been my main thing, even more than comfort or security. As frustrated as I get when trying to learn a new dance (sometimes my mind goes blank instead of processing the sequence of steps we’re given), it’s the learning that is as compelling to me as the dancing itself.

It’s the possibility of learning and the fear of how I might learn what I will need to learn that makes the idea of an adventure so frightening and compelling, not just the impossible dream adventure, but the possible ones. In the case of the possible dreams, the learning comes in two parts. The first part is the planning/researching, which is what fuels the fear for the second part — the doing. The more I learn about the vigors and rigors of various campsites or trails, the more I want to bury my head under the covers, but also the more I want to go.

(I just thought of something — it’s this comfort vs. learning thing that could be the block that keeps me from finishing my decade-old work in progress. Since I know what I want to write, there is neither the fun nor the excitement of learning something new to keep me going. Maybe I have to turn things upside down to see what happens.)

I will not consider myself a failure if I am never able to even attempt the impossible dream of an epic hike; I will, however, measure my success by the learning and adventures (no matter how uncomfortable) to which I am directed along the way.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.


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